Inglorious Bastards: Better Than The Holocaust?

(Photo courtesy of Seattle’s Guild 45th and The Stranger.  I’ll let you form your own opinions of the image)

(I typically won't post film reviews, but I felt like this film warranted it as it touches on many of the same themes of hip hop, namely the basis of human emotions.)

I finally got around to seeing Inglorious Bastards last night and it didn’t disappoint.  In vintage Tarantino fashion, the film was filled with the over the top violence and dark humor that we’ve come to expect from him and, like his masterpiece Pulp Fiction, opened the door for philosophical questions of what it means to be human.

The Holocaust was one of the worst tragedies ever to befall humanity.  An example of ignorance and hate taken to the extreme, the Holocaust and WWII tore Europe to pieces costing countless lives and irrevocably changing our image of hate.

But why do we hate?  Is it an inborn human reaction to that which is different?  Is it a product of our survival instincts to naturally view that or those not in our in-group as a threat and thus not deserving of the rules which govern society?

I’ll leave it to the most despicable character of the film, Colonel Hans Landa, better known by his moniker the “Jew-Hunter,” to explain (I find it interesting how the characters the audience are meant to most loathe are typically the ones best able to glean the “truth” that the sane characters can’t…see Smith in the Matrix trilogy).  As he comments to the farmer Perrier on the hate of the Jews (which German propaganda had characterized as rats),

 “Unless some fool is stupid enough to try and handle a live one, rats don’t make it a practice of biting human beings.  Rats were the cause of the bubonic plague, but that was some time ago…I propose to you any disease a rat could spread, a squirrel could equally carry.  Yet I assume you don’t share the same animosity with squirrels that you do with rats…yet, they are both rodents, are they not?  And except for the fact that one has a bit bushy tail, while the other has a long repugnant tail of rodent skin, they even look rather alike.”

The simple truth is that there is no basis for our animosity towards one group or another.  At least none based in rationality.  What we can glean from Landa’s philosophy is that to be human is to be irrational.  The sad truth is that the same cause of the most beautiful emotion love, is also the cause of our least admirable trait, hate.

To be human is to experience the scope of the human emotion.  Hate, love, happiness, and sadness alike are all a part of what makes us human.  Regrettably, removing one of those emotions (hate) would dampen our perception of another (love).  Unfortunately, as human beings, much like we must experience suffering to fully appreciate the good times, we must experience hate to fully appreciate love.

To be human is to be beautifully and horribly irrational.  Perhaps this is the reason why we find Landa to be the most despicable character—because he is the most cold-blooded, rational person in the movie—the least human.  Landa doesn’t stand for anything other than himself.  All of the actions he commits in the film are for his own benefit whether it be hunting Jews or turning on his former masters.  We are able to emphasize with other Nazis (the film rightfully doesn’t display each and every Nazi as monstrous) such as Wilhelm who only wants to see his baby son and Fredrick who, though misled, we still recognize as being a brave, and clueless romantic.  Yet we despise Landa because he is self-centered and rational (after all, if you look at it from a cold-blooded, rational perspective, the best thing to guarantee one’s own survival is to be self-centered).

Perhaps the message we should attain from Tarantino’s latest cinematic epic is that, as human beings, we are defined by divergent ideas.  We are united, not so much by our rationality, as by our love and hate alike.   What unifies us as a species is our great capacity for both humanity and inhumanity.

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