“Inglourious Basterds”: Is it really a “fun … Jewish revenge fantasy?”

Inglourious Basterds scene 23 This is part of a week-long series on violence and provocative themes in hit movies.)

Quentin Tarantino’s masterwork takes us from the science-fiction allegory of “District 9” (see Part 1) to a World War II alternative universe, with plots to kill Hitler and a band of Jewish American soldiers taking bloody, brutal revenge on the 20th Century icons of evil—Nazis.
    “Inglorious Basterds” is a “fun, action packed Jewish fantasy,” says Irwin Kula, an eighth-generation rabbi. Probably not what you would expect a rabbi to say, right?
    Here’s what he means, excerpted from his piece in the Huffington Post
Inglorious Basterds is a flight of the imagination, a meditation on vengeance, and the cost of not owning and recognizing the feeling that lies deep beneath the surface of many of us: Kill every last one of them.
    “Or as Aldo the Apache (Brad Pitt), leader of the Basterds, says: ‘We will be cruel to the Germans, and through our cruelty they will know who we are. They will find the evidence of our cruelty in the disemboweled, dismembered, and disfigured bodies of their brothers we leave behind us.’
“Oh how we wish we could! Removing the Talmudic moral complexity and parsing, the Woody Allen angst, the liberal genteelness and conservative embarrassment from the equation, what we really want is to scalp Nazis, burn Nazis, torture Nazis, murder Nazis, brand Nazis like cattlemen brand cows (or God brands Cain) with their very own swastikas, and brutally bash their heads in with baseball bats.”

Inglourious Basterds scene 24     Tarantino’s film gives voice to repressed thoughts and feelings, says Kula, to what is “the most primal and honest response” to the torture and killing of millions, Jews and non-Jews.
Displacement is the price of long-repressed rage and anger, he argues. The repressed desire for revenge is channeled into “seeing every enemy as a marked Nazi.”
    Jews see Palestinians, Palestinians see Jews, Americans see Arabs, Arabs see Americans, even opponents of health care reform see Barack Obama, and supporters of health care reform see noisy town-hall opponents as Nazis,” he writes.
    Repressed, disassociated, displaced feelings turn everything into a God-versus-the-Devil morality play, each side vilifying the other, denying that the other has any legitimacy at all, and compromise and conciliation become impossible.
    What do you think of Rabbi Kula’s analysis?
    Do you agree or disagree with his thesis?

    PLEASE, Add a Comment—whether you’ve seen “Basterds” or not, we’d still like to hear from you.

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