The Hateful Eight (2015)

Poster for The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight is only the third Tarantino film I’ve seen in the theater (the other two are Jackie Brown and Django Unchained). I’ve seen most, but not all, of Kill Bill on TV, but nothing else. I have a hard time with the hype around Tarantino, which started right away with Pulp Fiction and has never let up. I also find his public persona such a complete jackass that I have a hard time getting past it. I know I shouldn’t judge an artist by their public persona, but sometimes I’m weak that way. I have the same problem with Lars Von Trier. ┬áSo it’s probably not saying much to say that of what I’ve seen so far, The Hateful Eight is by far my favorite Tarantino film. Jackie Brown was my previous favorite, and I still have to give it points for the character of Jackie herself, who is unusual from what else I’ve seen by Tarantino so far in that she isn’t driven by the need for vengeance.

I saw The Hateful Eight in 70mm, which I’ve heard is a different, longer version of the film than the regular format version, although I really haven’t dug into the details. Despite the fact that the Pacific Place projection looked just slightly out of focus to me, it still looked magnificent, the Morricone soundtrack is thunderously great, and the acting is excellent from top to bottom. I hadn’t realized going in that the story was once again the Matter of America, which is to say slavery and the Civil War. But Tarantino atones for the boneheaded move in Django Unchained of making the house slave a greater villain than the slavemaster. Here white racism is endemic and pervasive, and the price paid by the black characters, including Samuel Jackson’s bounty hunter, is painfully clear. What’s interesting, however, is how Tarantino indulges in a utopian resolution (and this is at least a mild spoiler) in which the racist cracker sheriff finally makes common cause with the black bounty hunter, which is one of the fondest dreams of white American progressives but which sounds a particularly false note in a year in which racist crackers are reacting to their hatred of a black president by rallying around the fascist Donald Trump.

It’s also telling that the great alliance dreamed up by Tarantino is made in the cause of (spoiler again) killing a despicable female character. Jennifer Jason Leigh is utterly terrific in the role, but once again Tarantino bathes us in testosterone and blood, with phallocentric climaxes both in Jackson’s eloquent and hilarious monologue on his humiliation of the son of a Confederate general and in Jackson’s own painful comeuppance in the end. I don’t think I’ve ever used the word phallocentric in a sentence before, but it seems completely appropriate here. There are some more female characters in the film, mostly in a flashback in the final act, but for the most part this is a sausage fest, and Tarantino gets to add “bitch” to his edgy, provocative (or self-congratulatory?) freedom with the word “nigger”. I guess he thinks he has a Bitch Pass to go with his Nigger Pass.

So while I loved this movie, I still don’t love the film maker. My invidious diatribe would be that it’s shameful that Tarantino gets money thrown at him to make these feel good blood baths while a truly great and challenging director like Kathryn Bigelow hasn’t gotten the funding to make another movie since Zero Dark Thirty, possibly because too many nitwits wanted to be told that torture is unequivocally evil rather than be asked the more conflicted question of whether the killing of Osama Bin Laden was in fact worth the moral price we collectively and complicitly paid. Same as it ever was, I guess. End of rant, and carry on, Quentin. Now I’m curious to see the non-70mm┬áversion and how it might be different.

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