Hateful and Forgetful: Tarantino’s Latest Chooses Gore over Racial Commentary

Hateful and Forgetful: Tarantino’s Latest Chooses Gore over Racial Commentary

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“The Hateful Eight” promotional photo. Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company, 2015.

Is Minnie’s Haberdashery, the one room stagecoach stop in which all but a few scenes of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight take place, the director’s version of hell? If so, hell is a cold place of contradictions, unexpected alliances, violence, vulgarity, and truly bad coffee. Stuck in Wyoming blizzard with a half-dozen unsavory characters, John Ruth (Kurt Russell) must keep himself and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) alive long enough to reach Red Rock and claim a $10,000 bounty. This not-yet-committed murder mystery whets the viewer’s appetite, but the film’s pace is lugubrious, as if slowed by the very snowdrifts that trap its characters. A full hour passes before wordy monologues introduce all “Hateful Eight.” But the film accelerates as the plot thickens: one of the eight is not who he claims to be. Despite its historical guise, Tarantino’s eighth feature is not about the West or postbellum America. More Reservoir Dogs than Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight is another Tarantino argument for rhetorical, physical, and sexual violence as a creative art.

Production Still. Image courtesy of Andrew Cooper and Entertainment Weekly, 2015.

The Hateful Eight is big in every sense. With an ensemble cast and a score by Ennio Morricone, the maestro behind the music in classic Westerns like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Hateful Eight runs 187 minutes (for the Road Show edition), is shot in Panavision and presented in 70mm widescreen. Like Morricone’s contribution, its format is an homage to the Golden Age of Westerns and epic films. Much heralded, the 70mm presentation feels underutilized in the close confines of Minnie’s. Those expecting the deep snow banks of Wyoming to recall the sweltering sand dunes of Lawrence of Arabia will be disappointed. The few shots of the Wyoming wilderness make the format seem like plenty of pomp but little circumstance.

Tarantino fills the film chock-full of monologues, flashbacks, twists, and a series of whodunits topped with gratuitous gore (he has a reputation to protect, after all). Yet the film’s under-explored themes make it seem hollow. Tarantino’s lusty use of racial epithets drowns out provocative lines about race in post-slavery America, memory and massacre, and the meaning of justice in the West. He condenses the complicated and tragic history of race in postbellum America into a one-Noun punch line.

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Sheriff Chris Mannix. Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company, 2015.

With war criminals, outlaws, bushwackers, and bounty hunters trapped together indefinitely, Tarantino constructs an eternity in which the violence of the Civil War defines the postbellum, too. It seems simple: kill or be killed, question it and be killed, too. “That’s the thing about war, Mannix, people die,” John Ruth reminds the new sheriff, a former Confederate raider. But while characters condemn bloodlust in others and debate the meaning of “dispassionate justice,” this movie is ultimately about its director. It is Tarantino who decides who lives, who dies, who suffers and how, all the while expecting laughter and applause.

The Hateful Eight is rated R for bloody violence, language, and a scene of violent sexual content. (187 minutes).

 

Tom Foley

Tom Foley is a graduate student at Georgetown University. He can be reached at tfoley2@gmail.com.

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