INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS

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Overall Impression – Whether you’re a fan of Tarantino or not, if you love the language of movies you must, Must, MUST see this movie.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS

Who’s your main character? – There are really TWO stories at work here, however the main character is Shoshanna Dreyfus .

What’s she trying to accomplish? – Professional: Kill Nazis. Personal: Not be discovered to be a Jew in hiding.  Private: Avenge the death of her family.

Who’s trying to stop her? – At the most basic level, SS soldier Hans Landa.

What happens if she fails? – She will be discovered and killed.

THE FOUR ARCHETYPES

Orphan – Shoshanna’s family is wiped out by Nazis when they are given up by the dairy farmer who has hidden them.

Wanderer – Shoshanna inherits a movie theatre in Paris where she blends into the city life until she is courted by the pestering war hero Frederick Zoller.

Warrior – Zoller convinces Goebbels to hold a premiere at Shoshanna’s cinema, inspiring Shoshanna to come up with the idea to kill all of the Nazis who will be in attendance.  She recruits her lover to help, and together plot the destruction of her theatre and all the people in it.

Martyr – Shoshanna gives up her beloved cinema and ultimately her life to carry out her plan, unaware that there is a band of murderous “Basterds” in the theatre with the same idea.

AND, IN THE END…

Quentin Tarantino seems like such a train-off-the-rails in interviews that it’s hard to imagine him inspiring so many talented people to work at the highest levels in the business which they so clearly do in his movies.  But perhaps I’m just jealous, because here is a man who doesn’t just loves movies more than I do, he loves them more than ANYONE does.  That love must be contagious because not only is INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS a lesson in audacious dialog, it’s a master class in filmmaking and acting.  Every shot is beautifully composed and lit; every performance is startling and pitch perfect.  Much like PULP FICTION, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is a multi-strand story, layered with stunning dialog and punctuated by machine gun fire.

Why have I pegged Melanie Laurent’s character ‘Shoshanna’ as the main character when it’s Brad Pitt’s face on the posters?  I’ll grant that it’s tricky identifying the hero of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, but  I always fall back on five principles when trying to determine the main character:

Principle #1The climactic battle  is always ‘the Good Guy vs the Bad Guy over the Stakes.’ In INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, one might argue that at the end it’s Brad Pitt’s character battling Landa over whether he’ll stop the Basterds plot to kill Hitler, but it’s not much of a battle.  More of a chit-chat.  Shoshanna is fighting to carry HER revenge plot to it’s conclusion.

Principle #2The main character is the one who changes the most from the start of the film to the end.  Aldo is exactly the same at the end as he is in the beginning.  Shoshanna goes from dirty, scared girl to self-assured, self-sacrificing woman.

Principle #3The main character is exactly like the main opponent, but with a moral center. The Nazis want to kill Jews.  Shoshanna wants to kill Nazis.  And while it’s true that so do the Basterds, their desire is built on racial revenge: they’re all Jewish.  Shoshanna is the one whom the Nazis were personally cruel to, the one with the deepest wound.  She has a moral centre, and the Basterds…well…perhaps less so.

Principle #4The main character drives the action. Aldo gets his order from OSS.  Shoshanna comes up with her plan on her own, by her own.

Principle #5 The main character usually gets the biggest martyr moment at the end. Hands down, Shoshanna gives up the most in order to see her plan through.

Not unlike PULP FICTION, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS doesn’t violate the rules of storytelling (vis Contour) but demonstrates how structure need not be formulaic.  It’s also an object lesson on scriptwriting that gets noticed.  I often caution people against trying to launch themselves with a script that’s too difficult.  I have to believe that if Joe Blow from Ogallala had written INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, people would have sat up and noticed him.   An ear for dialog, an understanding of human nature, the ability to communicate your love and passion for story with single-minded devotion, an innate comprehension of how stories work, and cajones the size of Nazi-Occupied France are all you need to be your own Tarantino.

– Jeffrey Alan Schechter

4 Responses to “INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS”

  1. David Goulet December 23, 2009 at 9:25 am #

    No vampires? No golem? Well I guess the script better be darn tight!

    I’ve always felt that Tarantino is more style than substance. But boy does he nail the style like nobody else.

  2. Jack Brettschneide April 15, 2010 at 4:12 am #

    I have been a reader for a long time, but am a first time commenter. I just wanted to let you know that this has been / is my favorite post of yours! Keep up the great work and I’ll keep on checking back.

  3. Peter Callan December 6, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    I second Mr. Brettschneide. Kudos.

    As to Inglourious Basterds, I lasted maybe 30 minutes. The opening showed promise. Then it seemed everything settled down to a nice long chat between the greasy Nazi Walz and the stone-faced French actress Laurent. Then Pitt shows up with yet another wacky zany accent and a crew of psychopaths.

    When I came out of my coma, I went home.

    I think enough time has been wasted on Tarantino. Should have learned my lesson after Kill Bill.

  4. MC4 January 3, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    Who is the Stakes Character? Is it Shoshanna herself?

    I’m trying to generate a multiplot story similarly structured to this film, but am having trouble bending my head around the structure. Any thoughts?

    I think with geniuses (and I don’t use the word lightly or because others have) like Tarantino, PT Anderson, Wes Anderson, Coppola, etc, recognition is due to their masterful manipulation of structure and archetype. Who but Quentin could make a war / art / western film with only 7 scenes in it?

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