Reputation Is Everything In This Examination Of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds’

Reputation Is Everything In This Examination Of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds’
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” So ends John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” the last masterpiece of Ford’s in a career full of them. Quentin Tarantino, no slouch in his unadorned love for the western genre and Ford, took that saying to heart when he made 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds,” which fitfully ends with a character pronouncing the final line: “This may just be my masterpiece.”
The highly acclaimed Tarantino film uses legend and fact to build up its characters’ traits and reputations. The people that fill up Tarantino’s twisted revisionist WWII film take pride in the mythic reputation that has been built up around their names, as Drew Morton explains in his latest video essay for Fandor Keyframe, “Tarantino: Reputation is Everything.”
We get our first glimpse at mythic name-making when Hans Landa asks at the beginning of the film, “You know what they call me?”, and of course we do because Landa, now an infamous movie character etched in the cinematic time capsule, is known as “The Jew Hunter” and he rides by that reputation for the duration of the film. He’s the Nazi that has a worldwide reputation of capturing Jews in hiding. “I love my unofficial title precisely because I’ve earned it,” he claims mid-way through the film.
The same thing can be said about the heroes of the film, who are in the polar opposite of the spectrum, ambushing Nazi troops and scalping them throughout the land. “The Germans call them the Basterds” says Mike Myers’ General Ed Fenech. Their reputation precedes them and the Basterds wouldn’t have it any other way, as they take pride in the legendary status the Nazis have bestowed upon them. “Through our cruelty they will know who we are” exclaims Basterds leader Lt. Aldo Raine, himself granted the name of “The Apache” by the Germans. The blade-sewn swastika the Basterds place on their victims’ foreheads is their way of telling the Nazis “the Basterds were here.”
Landa and the Basterds constantly tell other characters about their actions. They take pride in their accomplishments and ride with their legend. Just like in ‘Liberty Valance,’ the legend has become fact and it gets printed throughout the film’s deliciously lurid 153 minutes. “Inglourious Basterds” is about characters trying to manage a reputation that far exceeds normal life. Sgt. Donnie Donowitz, as played by Eli Roth, is known as “The Bear Jew” a baseball-bat carrying menace so legendary and feared by the Nazis that just the sheer mention of his name sends chills down a German spine. At one point Hitler tells his commander “the bear Jew is never to be referred to as the bear Jew again” for he knows the name alone instills fear.
“Inglourious Basterds” might be a WWII film, but it is indelibly drenched in the DNA of Westerns that also thematically played with the ideas of legends, myths, and reputations. Check out this video essay and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.
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