Jewish Journal


August 13, 2009

‘Inglourious Basterds’ and the Jewish revenge film



Throughout a history of persecution, Jews aren’t used to getting revenge against those who did them wrong—at least they haven’t been since the Romans kicked them out of Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple.

In no case, though, is this more clear than historical depictions of World War II and its aftermath. Holocaust films typically hinge on suffering and survival. “Munich” tipped that scale—remember that line from “Knocked Up?”—but nothing like Quentin Tarantino does in his new film.

In the new Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg has a great piece about Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” and why no Jewish director could have ever pulled off such a “brazen” film.

Goldberg, whose memoir on the Middle East is worth reading, opens with an account from his childhood:

Early in the spring of 1944, when I was quite a bit younger than I am now, I parachuted into Nazi-occupied Poland as the leader of a team of Brooklyn-born commandos. We landed in a field not far from the train tracks that fed Jews to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. My team laid explosive charges on the tracks, destroying them utterly, and then I moved quickly on foot to the death camp itself, where I found Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death, in bed. I shot him in the face, though not before lecturing him on his sins. Before I killed him, he cried like a little Nazi bitch.

Then I woke up, ate a bowl of Rice Krispies, and walked to school—the Howard T. Herber Middle School—where a sixth-grade pogromist named Patrick Harrington and his Cossack associates pitched pennies at me in a game sometimes known as “Bend the Jew,” which ended, inevitably, with me being jumped for refusing to pick up the aforementioned pennies, and also for killing Jesus. It is in part because of young Mr. Harrington and his lieutenants that I would later join the Israeli army, and that, more recently, I found myself sitting beside Quentin Tarantino’s pool in the Hollywood Hills, listening in wonder as the writer and director of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction diagnosed what he saw as the essential, maddening flaw of every Holocaust movie ever made.

“Holocaust movies always have Jews as victims,” he said, plainly exasperated by Hollywood’s lack of imagination. “We’ve seen that story before. I want to see something different. Let’s see Germans that are scared of Jews. Let’s not have everything build up to a big misery, let’s actually take the fun of action-movie cinema and apply it to this situation.”

Fun is an odd choice of words when talking about the Holocaust. But I get what Tarantino is doing here—and I think I’m going to like it. It certainly sounds like Lawrence Bender, “Basterds” producer, does:

Lawrence Bender, says that after reading the first draft of Inglourious Basterds, he told Tarantino, “As your producing partner, I thank you, and as a member of the Jewish tribe, I thank you, motherf—-er, because this movie is a f—-ing Jewish wet dream.”

Read more about how “Basterds” differs from “Munich” and “Schindler’s List” here.

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