The recurring revenge theme for underrepresented populations in Quentin Tarantino Films
The theme of revenge is one of the oldest recurring subjects in literature; it is used in numerous works of art from Greek mythology to Shakespearian tales. A thin line exists between justice and revenge, but the biggest difference between the two is that the desire to seek revenge is actually a natural instinct towards certain situations. It is true, in reality, that seeking forgiveness within one’s own heart is better than to become consumed by seeking vengeance upon others. In fantasy, however; not only is anything possible, but also the lines between justice and morality become more than blurry—they become non-existent.
Although the spiritual activist Gandhi once said, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” that hasn’t stopped the media from promoting revenge, or audiences from enjoying every second. During the past 16 weeks, I have gathered research and investigated the connection between diversity and revenge in the media. More specifically, I’ve studied and will elaborate on the recurring theme of revenge with regards to underrepresented populations in renowned director Quentin Tarantino’s four most recent films: Kill Bill Vol. 1, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained.
Quentin Tarantino, probably best known for his film Pulp Fiction, is one of the most famous directors in Hollywood, and perhaps of all time. He is known for many recurring elements within his movies including: foot fetishes, lip close-ups and, most of all, tons of blood and gore. “His filmic signature is the signature of what it’s like to be alive right now – the frenetic energy, the black humour, the Shakespearean bloodbaths, the mishmash of themes and images and dialogue,” (J.S. Porter, InRetro). The underlying theme of a movie is undoubtedly the most important aspect to Tarantino’s work, as it is the heart of the ultimate impact said piece will have on an audience member. It is for this reason that the theme of underrepresented populations receiving revenge was the choice trend for media advocacy with regards to Quentin Tarantino’s four most recent films.
While Tarantino has many other films that give a subtle whisper to the means of revenge, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2 mark the first two of the four most recent and revenge-centered films, which each include a member of an underrepresented population as the plot’s protagonist. The plot of Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 center on the character Beatrix Kiddo and her journey to find vengeance for the man and his assailants responsible for shooting her and, as she later finds out, for stealing her baby.
The theme of these movies is immediately evident with the first screenshot of the Kill Bill Vol. 1. Before the credits or movie begins, a black screen reveals white text and a very famous quote, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” As the plot thickens and the audience is shown the act and aftermath of the domestic violence lain upon Kiddo, the opening quote ties in with Tarantino’s tale.
While it certainly isn’t legal for victims of domestic violence to go about killing their abusers, these two action-packed, rage-fueled and blood-galore films invoke emotions of justice anyway. “Nowadays, with the use of elaborate legal systems of trial and punishment, personal revenge is often perceived as ‘barbaric’ and unnecessary. On the other hand people can often sympathize with revenge plots, if it is obvious that the ‘law’ provides insufficient retaliation,” (Suzanne Klatton, MA Thesis). In other words, audiences set aside their legislative beliefs if an act is seen to be unjustifiable by the law, or is simply too horrific to not take action in to one’s own hands.
In the second film, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Bill speaks with his brother about Kiddo recently awaking from a four-year-long coma. His brother, Bud, states, “That woman deserves her revenge, and we deserve to die.”
Not only does this quote reinforce the audience’s desire to root for her bloody vengeance, but it also shows that the abusers are, in fact, aware of the punishment they deserve for their past actions.
The third most recent film in his installments of revenge-seeking plots is Inglorious Basterds. “The film tracks two separate, though converging, plotlines: the revenge conspiracy of Shoshanna, who, after her escape from the almost comically evil SS officer Hans Landa, recreates herself as a cinema owner in Paris; and the deployment in occupied France of the ‘Basterds,’ a squad of American Jewish Nazi-hunters led by an officer nicknamed ‘Aldo the Apache,’” (Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic). This film was the first of Tarantino’s to ‘recreate’ history.
A critic from Rense eloquently explains, “Tarantino manages to resolve the clear discrepancy between the cinematic ‘Jewish innocence’ and the Jewish nationalist ‘murderous reality’. He does it all through a fantasy,” (Gilad Atzmon). In that, he took historical events that ended horrifically, and created a satisfying fantasy of what could have, should have or would have happened according to the director.
Inglourious Basterds is, in a nutshell, about Jews dealing out justice to the Nazis who are trying to exterminate them. “Through a cinematic fictional plot, history has become a homogenous continuum in which Jewish past and Israeli present are unified into a relentless expedition of suicidal vengeance,” (Atzmon). Tarantino blurred the lines between fiction, non-fiction and vengeful desire in this piece that will forever represent the emotion behind the Jewish community because of the Holocaust.
It takes the blood and horror of the actual historical event, and plays role reversal. As Aldo the Apache, leader of the Basterds states, “We will be cruel to the Germans, and through our cruelty they will know who we are. They will find the evidence of our cruelty in the disemboweled, dismembered, and disfigured bodies of their brothers we leave behind us.”
Undoubtedly Aldo, the Basterds, and Shoshana are all seeking the utmost revenge on Hitler and the Nazis: torturous death. Not only are swastikas carved into Nazi foreheads, but we also see a character known as The Bear Jew cave a German soldier’s head in with a baseball bat. The carnage in this film is abundant, to say the least. While this may sound disturbing, Tarantino’s presentation and approach to said subject is a form of gory eloquence that spatters across the screen.
As an audience member, Tarantino certainly doesn’t disappoint. “There’s just nothing quite so satisfying as seeing some of history’s greatest injustices fixed through two hours of big screen slaughter,” (Scott Harris, Next Movie). The film ends with the mass-incineration of Hitler and a movie theatre full of Nazis, and Shoshana proclaiming on the projected screen, “This is the face of Jewish vengeance!’’ While carving swastikas into Nazi’s foreheads and scalping SS soldiers sounds as though it would be quite controversial as a movie, the film has become a classic and is revered for its courageous premiere of rewriting history through fantastical fiction.
The most recent film by Tarantino also focuses on revenge through the recreation of history as well. Django Unchained, stars Jamie Foxx as a slave and Leonardo Di Caprio as a slave owner. Django sets out to reclaim the love of his life from Di Caprio’s property, and to reclaim the freedom of the land our constitution promised for all people.
After Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino declared that he would continue with a trilogy of revenge-based films tied in with his own version of what should have happened in history. “Perhaps the best thing to be said for Django Unchained is that it shows that Inglourious Basterds was no anomaly. Tarantino leaped forward in that film – in his ability, skill, meaning and purpose – and he gives nothing back with Django. He has found that elusive spot that all artists strive for, complete spontaneity and absolute control,” (Mick LaSell, SF Gate). Similar to his previous revenge films, Django’s character does indeed get his bloody revenge on the white southerners, and the movie ends with him and his love rejoicing on horseback for their bright future ahead.
Due to the success of his previous two films, he will complete a trilogy of ‘recreated’ historical revenge films with his newest project, but has yet to reveal the minority group chosen to receive revenge. “He also knows where the good scenes are, and by now he’s developed a repertory company of actors who can pitch their performances right on that Tarantino border between real and unreal, farce and tragedy,” (LaSell). Although there hasn’t been a reveal yet, the audience can be sure it will be as satisfying, if not more so, than the previous three.
The distinction between reality and fantasy is most important when discussing Tarantino’s use of revenge in filmmaking. Although his previous four films have done extremely well with regards to the every day audience, there has been quite a bit of political controversy surrounding his work. Specifically, the political issues surround his two most recent films, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained.
Certain movie critics and political journalists have criticized these films for, not surprisingly, racial reasons. “The racial situation in America has swung so far to the other side of the pendulum that Hollywood is now making racially inflammatory movies to cater to the bloodlust in an emerging market of anti-White racial snuff films,” (Hunter Wallace, Occidental). It has been argued that the portrayal of white and black people is one-sided and static in the two most recent of Tarantino’s vengeance fueled films. “There isn’t a ‘racial double standard’ here: it is a single standard that blacks and Jews are noble beings and Southerners and Germans are savage beasts who occupy another rung of the racial ladder somewhere below them,” (Wallace). Django Unchained certainly stirred up more controversy than the two previous films before it, but why?
The lack of controversy over Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 and Inglourious Basterds shows no comparison to that of Django Unchained. The three previous films don’t put the entirety or even a large sector of American whites in a negative light. In fact, white southerners are actually the heroic gang of Nazi killers in Inglourious Basterds. However, when Tarantino unleashed a film about blacks getting their revenge on whites for their enslavement, controversy turned into a divide.
Many critics argue about the film’s historical inaccuracy, one-sidedness and purposefully imposed ‘white guilt.’ The amount of controversy over Tarantino’s three movies prior to Django Unchained simply doesn’t match up. But the only difference between this movie and the previous three is the fact that blacks are staked against whites, and, in this version, blacks prevail over their abusive oppressors. Once again, the underrepresented population is set as the protagonist, and the oppressors of history are ultimately turned into victims by the oppressed. This most recent installment of his revenge-driven films may have been the most controversial thus far; however, controversy is not something that will get in the way of Tarantino’s filmmaking.
A notion that I’ve previously quoted and mentioned throughout this paper is the difference between reality and fantasy. Criticism of these films about revenge for underrepresented populations isn’t justifiably supported. Art isn’t something one can put limitations, boundaries or political institutions on. Quentin Tarantino is in the art of making films, and therefore has the right to create whatever fantastical re-envisioning of history’s horrors that he desires. Not only does he have the right to continue this cinematic art form, but he also has the inspiration to do so in a manner with the utmost balance between reality and fantasy regarding historical accuracy.
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Goldberg, Jeffrey. “Hollywood’s Jewish Avenger.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 01 Sept. 2009. Web. 14 May 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/09/hollywoods-jewish-avenger/307619/?single_page=true>.
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Porter, J.S. “Quentin Tarantino & the Theme of Revenge.” InRetro Magazine InRetro Radio. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2014. <http://www.inretro.ca/2013/03/quentin-tarantinos-revenge/>.
“Quentin Tarantino Talks about the Appeal of Revenge Movies.” Total Film Movie News RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2014. <http://www.totalfilm.com/news/quentin-tarantino-talks-about-the-appeal-of-revenge-movies#null>.
Wallace, Hunter. “Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino’s New Anti-Southern Racial Revenge Film.” Occidental Dissent. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2014. <http://www.occidentaldissent.com/2011/05/05/django-unchained-quentin-tarantino-anti-southern-racial-revenge-film/>.