August 20, 2009

Tarantino's Apache warfare fiction

'Inglourious Basterds'

Quentin Tarantino's World War II movie has blood, but its heart doesn't beat.

By Kenneth Turan
Here are a few of my not-favorite things: scalps graphically removed, throats savagely slashed, heads brutally beaten by baseball bats, necks forcibly strangled, fingers sadistically twisted in open wounds. The ideal person to be reviewing Quentin Tarantino's violent World War II fantasia, "Inglourious Basterds," I am not, but as the Basterds knew all too well, sometimes a man has to do what a man has to do.As I noted before, I don't think the Apaches did much scalping. I think their most notorious form of torture was burying people alive to be eaten by ants. Which is horrific, to be sure, but I doubt the Apaches sat for days watching the victim's suffering. When they tortured people, they didn't necessarily take a sadistic pleasure in it.

I'm not even sure the Apaches believed the terrorist's usual excuse for killing and maiming people: to intimidate everyone else. The book Once They Moved Like the Wind suggests they tortured people for other reasons. To test people's courage through pain, to prevent enemy spirits from stalking them, even to "honor" their foes. You may not agree with their thinking, but it's different from torturing people because they enjoyed seeing them suffer.

Inglourious Basterds presumably doesn't show Aldo the "Apache" burying people alive for days. It wouldn't have been cinematic, but it also wouldn't have fit Tarantino's stereotypical notion of Indian warfare. To him, apparently, Indians are nothing but sadistic savages. They revel in killing viciously, brutally, and cruelly because they're not quite human.

What did most Indians do when the US forced them to give up their freedom? They forswore their warring ways, pledged to uphold the treaties they signed, and began working within the system. Far from being typical, Geronimo was notable as one of the tiny minority of Indians who refused to play by the rules.

So Tarantino has taken an extreme case and built his movie around it. It's as if he found one historically accurate story of a greedy Jew and created a "Jews control the world" fantasy. Or one historically accurate story of a black Uncle Tom and created a Song of the South-style fantasy. Apparently Geronimo is his excuse for a multimillion-dollar movie that exploits the worst Indian stereotypes.

Tarantino's childhood fantasyThe plot alternates among a group of bloodthirsty Jewish American GIs under the command of Lt. Aldo "The Apache" Raine (Brad Pitt), a fugitive Jewish woman named Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) who owns a movie theater in Paris and a German SS officer, Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), who specializes in ferreting out Jews. (The Jewish element may sound strong, but it's just a plot construct: The characters might as well be renegade Benedictine monks for all the difference it makes).Some critics have called Inglourious Basterds a "Jewish revenge fantasy," but that seems to be misleading. Tarantino apparently didn't care about making some moral statement about Jews fighting back. He wanted an excuse to reenact his childhood daydream of Apache-like Cherokees vs. Klansmen.

So he made his "heroes" Jews, since you can't argue with the Jews' desire for vengeance. And he made his "villains" Nazis, because you can't argue with executing war criminals. He basically gave himself a pretext for presenting a couple of hours of gory, gratuitous violence. Watch Jews act like Apaches--i.e., homicidal maniacs--and kill everyone as sadistically as possible!Having just as much fun is Pitt, who seems more relaxed and comfortable in these comic character parts than in conventional leading man roles. His Aldo the Apache, a direct descendant of mountain man Jim Bridger, with an accent to match, does not mince words when he gives his squad of eight their behind-the-German-lines marching orders. The Nazis, he says, need to be "dee-stroyed." And the man himself personally requires 100 Nazi scalps from each of his men.I don't think Jim Bridger, who mainly operated in the Rockies, had anything to do with Apaches or Cherokees. But never mind. His descendants could have even if he didn't.

Again, we see Tarantino's falsification of Indian-style thought. Typically Indian warfare was about humiliating the opponents, not "dee-stroying" them. It was probably rare for a tribe to declare its goal was to wipe an enemy off the face of the earth. That kind of genocidal thinking was much more common among Europeans.

And no way would an Indian leader require a scalp quota. Scalping was all about taking a prize to glorify an individual victory. Indians didn't try to kill large numbers of people so they collect as many scalps as possible.


In short, Tarantino's version of Indian-style revenge is almost a pure fantasy. By highlighting the most extreme elements of Indian culture--Apaches! murder! torture!--he's perpetuated the most extreme Indian stereotypes. Inglourious Basterds isn't much different from 1950s-style Westerns in which people go on a rampage because they're "half-breeds." They kill people because the Indian inside them impels them to.

Perhaps Tarantino's next movie will show characters emulating Indians by honoring their pledge of allegiance to the US. You know, by serving in the military, getting college educations, and passing legislation. Maybe, but I doubt it. Tarantino wants audiences to leer and slaver at Indians, not understand and respect them.

For more on the subject, see Tarantino's Indian Revenge Fantasy and The Best Indian Movies.

Below:  Tarantino's idea of a typical Indian.


Greg said...

You are reviewing this movie as if it is a movie about Indians. They called him Aldo the Apache and he asked his men for scalps. This 3 to 4 minutes scene in a 2.5 hour movie is what you are basing your WHOLE review on. To take one small part and condem a whole movie is as wrong as saying Mr. Tarantino thinks all policemen rape black men because you saw it Pulp Fiction.( This scene actually lasts longer than the Aldo/Apache scene.) As an aside, you wrote that they like to torture people because they wanted to test their courage or to keep their spirit from stalking them and they buried them alive so ants could eat them slowly and you are woried that the director slighted them??? This is just as comical as you saying Geronimo was the lone bad Indian in all of Indian nation.
Since when is this film supposed to be an historical document? Hitler died in a movie? I dont think so. You are right in one aspect of your review...You are not the ideal person to review this film, You need to be reviewing Pocahontas, just dont slam that movie by saying the director thinks that all Indian girls fall in love with white men.

Joy Reed said...

Tarentino is very twisted, but that is what makes him famous.

Manna Calla Horsi said...

In Hostel 2, Tarantino must be saying that Italians are more savage than Native Americans because his Indian hero from the original Hostel who took on all the crazy Continentals and won gets his head handed to him when he goes to Italy.
Mammamia! I toughta we onaly cuttoffa da horsa heada!

Becky H said...

I just googled "Apache scalping" when I got home from the movie because I wondered how it fit in with the Jewish revenge fantasy. What I found out was that Mexicans introduced the practice, and paid bounties for Apache scalps, including women's and children's. So then I thought, Tarantino is making his message more complex by going back in American history and adding an element of Apache revenge fantasy. Are we any better than the Germans? But I take your point that if you only watched the film the stereotypes could be offensive. Much about the film was, and I didn't exactly have fun watching it, but I don't think it's dumb.

Rob said...

Kenneth Turan was the one who said he wasn't the ideal person to review Inglorious Basterds, Greg...not me. I am the ideal person to review its Native aspects.

Not that I'd call my posting a "review." It's an analysis of one part of the film, not a review of the whole.

Does the killing and scalping continue throughout Inglorious Basterds? Then the entire movie is based on an Indian premise even if the premise is mentioned only briefly.

I explained how the Apaches' reasons were different from pure terrorism. If you didn't understand that explanation, go back and reread it.

Are you really ignorant of how movies have shaped our perceptions of Indians? If so, go to The Harm of Native Stereotyping:  Facts and Evidence and educate yourself on the subject.

Rob said...

I didn't know Hostel and Hostel 2 had an Indian character in them, Manna. Neither did Wikipedia, which doesn't mention such a character. Please elucidate.

For more on Inglorious Basterds, see Al Carroll on Tarantino's Scalping and Scalping on Tonight Show

Anonymous said...

wow man you completely missed the boat on this one. This movie is not about indians. not even remotely. The group of soldiers the movie follows is not based off of indians, but rather exists separately and happens to share the fact that they scalp their enemies in common with indians. Thats it. Its not meant really meant to be a historical depiction of native american culture. And also, its more like the basterds were likened to the sterotypical idea of apaches after the fact, rather than being based on them to start off with.

So please, sharpen your movie-watching abilities and your logical reasoning skills before you write movie reviews on them.

I Know Things said...

"you can't argue about the jews' desire for vengeance"
actually, yes you can, otherwise one side of a battle is not morally superior to the opposing side (like high school football). if they want revenge then "JEW" is synonymous with "NAZI". I didn't see that movie, I don't see many recent movies because they all bear a distasteful liberal lean.