In Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 2009), Quentin Tarantino argues that Hollywood World War II films are the Jewish revenge for the Nazi genocide.
The film opens like a western, and, by the time we are introduced to the titular Basterds 20 minutes later, I had already become convinced that Tarantino wants us to read the film in light of The Searchers. (Other than a vague cinematic feeling, all I can really point to in terms of evidence for this claim is the Basterds’ use of the Apache technique of scalping their enemies, a theme in The Searchers.)
In John Ford’s western masterpiece, there are numerous parallels between John Wayne’s character and his nemesis Indian chief and we eventually see that the cowboys and indians are two sides of the the same coin. Here Tarantino links the Nazi “Jew Hunter” with his nemesis American Nazi hunter. (Most obviously, compare the scenes where the hunters interrogate their prey about their reputation. “What have you heard about me?” Also, compare the Nazi requirement that Jews wear the Star of David with the Basterds’ habit of marking Nazi survivors with a swastika so “we can spot them”.)
On the one hand this parallelism of character asks us to see the Jews in the position of the Indians (not, I should point out, the historical Native Americans, but the cinematic indians who were the enemies of the cowboys in movie westerns). From there, having established the metaphor of Jews-as-indians, the film goes on to chart a revenge fantasy where the Jews/Indians kill the Nazis/Cowboys.
One interesting thing here is the historical revisionism. In the end the Jews win and kill Hitler. (Perhaps this is the meaning of the misspelled title: Tarantino is drawing attention to the skewed perspective of this history.) This aspect of the film is interesting in light of my previous posting on remixes and artistic redemption.
Part of what Tarantino is arguing is that the Hollywood World War II film is the Jewish revenge. (At the film’s climax, when Hitler is being killed in a movie theater, one character proclaims, “This is the face of Jewish vengeance!”) From now on, history will remember the Nazi’s as “inhuman” (as the lead Basterd calls them, reminiscent of an earlier scene where the Nazi “Jew Hunter” compares the Jews to “rats”). The Nazis will never be able to take off their uniform; they will forever have the swastika branded on their forehead.
So one side of the Jews-as-Indians metaphor is to establish this revenge fantasy. But there is another side of Tarantino’s argument. As in The Searchers, the heroism of Tarantino’s protagonists is ambiguous. The methods of the Basterds are the mirror image of the methods of the Nazis. The historical revisionism of this film is not unlike the revisionism of a Goebbels propaganda film.
Most damningly, when we reach the final climactic revenge scenes of Jews shooting Nazis, we are tempted to rejoice — except that we have just seen the Nazis rejoicing at a film of a German killing Allied soldiers. We are forced to see that we are not so different than the Nazis after all.