INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. Mystical Cinephilia and Tarantino’s Black Boxes

Cinema becomes the final battleground, and film stars and film critics contribute to the victory.

Maciej Niedźwiedzki

18 September 2023

melanie laurent in inglourious basterds

In Pulp Fiction, waiters dressed as pop culture icons serve Mia and Vincent in the exquisite restaurant Jack Rabbit Slim’s. Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight are, of course, standalone films, but immersed in the genre of Westerns from decades past. In Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s cinephilia overflows at every turn and is one of the leading themes of the film itself. Erudite displays, distinctive dialogue, a web of intertextual and aesthetic references, narrative experiments, reflection on the significance of culture—both elite and popular. It’s the standard, expected, and astonishing repertoire of Quentin Tarantino’s filmmaking techniques.

In Inglourious Basterds saturated with these elements, it’s also about expressing a love for the Tenth Muse. Cinema becomes the final battleground, and film stars and film critics contribute to the victory. Tarantino’s sixth production could share its title with the allied spy operation “CINEMA.” After all, the film here undergoes no less modernistic deconstruction than the course of World War II events.

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Tarantino’s cinematic history manifests itself in various ways and returns in many variations. Through quotation, paraphrase, analogy, or similarity. This enumeration is certainly not a discovery, but I would like it to stand in contrast to a particular scene in Inglourious Basterds. It employs a known technique in modernist cinema (film within a film), but it serves a slightly different purpose. The director takes us into the territory bordering on metaphysics. The scene described below does not have the character of eschatological contemplation, of course. Such film essayistic musings have never interested Quentin Tarantino, who is enamored with B-movie action. Instead, it is an intriguing sketch, a captivating hypothesis.

Fredrick Zoller, a war hero and star of the just-shown Nation’s Pride, leaves the box and goes to flirt with Shosanna (aka Emmanuelle Mimieux) once again. Impatiently awaiting the moment when her cinema will be set on fire, Shosanna once again rejects the advances of the German soldier. Enraged, Fredrick bursts into the projection room, only to be shot several times by Shosanna moments later. However, on the screen, as a film protagonist, he continues to live, continues to fight. Fredrick reaches for a pistol just before his death and kills Emmanuelle. Dead Shosanna returns to the screen, revealing her identity and true intentions to the audience. It’s a posthumous voice, but simultaneously a testament to existence and continued participation. For Fredrick and Shosanna, the film projection becomes a life-preserving force. In both of these analogous cases, intricately connected through editing and not happening by chance in the projection room, the same mechanism occurs. The projection becomes a mystical, life-giving invention.

In Tarantino’s filmography, here and there, we find certain metaphysical tropes, but they have never been as explicitly manifested. In Pulp Fiction, Jules’ conversion or the famous briefcase allows us to read the film as a parable about the soul and redemption. Spiritual themes are found in the bloody journey of the Bride in Kill Bill. The case of Shosanna and Fredrick points to yet another interpretational dimension.

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In Tarantino’s films, this second dimension is within reach. In Pulp Fiction, the briefcase of Marcellus Wallace is enveloped in transcendental power. In Inglourious Basterds, this power is possessed by the film reel in a can. Two black boxes with supernatural properties. This issue, of course, goes beyond Quentin Tarantino’s film universe. It is the voice of a fanatic cinephile and filmmaker in discussions about a much broader context.

In Inglourious Basterds, the film medium conserves and protects life; it serves as its epilogue. The director perceives cinema as a magical vehicle. If one were to seek transcendence somewhere, it would be in his sanctuaries, in the reels of film. For some, such a magical place might be the Christian heaven, for others, it might be Elysium, the Great Beyond, or any other afterlife, understood in countless ways. All of these are visualizations of the same abstract concept, representations of the same unknown. Quentin Tarantino in Inglourious Basterds suggests another possibility. A sincere proposition, but as incredible as all the others.

Maciej Niedźwiedzki

Maciej Niedźwiedzki

Cinema took a long time to give us its greatest masterpiece, which is Brokeback Mountain. However, I would take the Toy Story series with me to a deserted island. I pay the most attention to animations and the festival in Cannes. There is only one art that can match cinema: football.

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