On Hateful 8 and the heinous characters within…
With The Hateful 8, Quentin Tarantino opts for the same narrative trick employed by David Chase with The Sopranos: Let’s take some violent, destructive sons-of-bitches and see how long the audience rolls with them. Tony Soprano’s such a compelling force because he combines relatable charms and anxieties with genuine sociopathy. His love of the ducks swimming in his family pool backs up against his orders to dump asbestos in New Jersey waters, threatening the lives of ducks among other animals.
With the Hateful 8, Tarantino does away with conventional hero and villain personalities. And thank christ he does. In a flick like Iron Man, Tony Stark takes on an anti-hero persona because he drinks too much and gets snippy sometimes…all right, it works for PG-13 family actioners but Tarantino’s flying on different wings. Samuel L. Jackson plays the ostensible lead, a black man in a white world who claims a past correspndance with Lincoln. We’ve also got Jennfier Jason leigh, a woman in a man’s world, beaten and bloodied. But as the film unwinds, we see the sadistic side of the former and the genuinely evil side of the latter. Other characters share abysmal traits as people. They’re homicidal, racist, and/or duplicitous…usually and. With The Sopranos, we didn’t just witness the odious actions of gangsters. We saw the complicity and complacency of their wives, the entitlement of their children, and the acquiescnet nature of family members, friends, politicians…almost any with whom they came across. Kurt Russell wants that bounty and Carmela loves her fur coat
To say Tarantino encourages audiences to whoop it up every time Kurt Russell’s bounty hunter beats the hell out of Leigh isn’t exactly innacurate. He films these flashes of violence in a damn-near comedic fashion, making the smack of skin-on-bone really POP. And Leigh’s pain provokes either amusement or nonchalance from other characters…including herself. She does not carry herself as a victim. To see her as one means ignoring her virulent racism, psychopathy & absolute disregard for any one but those in her own small, viscious circle.
Characters played by Bruce Dern & Walton Goggins express pride in the role they played as Confederates during the Civil War and hardly turn bashful on the subject of the scenes of carnage they initiated. So, as 21st century audiences, we’re not exactly pre-disposed in their favor, either. I don’t want to spoil the movie in case you haven’t it but I don’t think I’d send anyone a case of the vapors by mentioning that the characters played by Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, Demian Bichir & Michael Madsen also fail to bring to mind the gentle countenance of Jimmy Carter.
We do see the victims of the so-called Hateful and the film’s better for it. Sticking 8 fuckos in a room for 150 minutes might make for fun banter but it doesn’t necassirily amount to a whole helluva lot. By slipping innocents into the margins of the narrative, Tarantino allows for a measure a tragedy to permeate the loathsome surface. Just as The Sopranos gave us Dr. Melfi, turning away from the temptations of crime and vengeance even as Tony’s magnetism kept her close to his realm.
You’re all hopefully smart enough to make the following point unnessecary but what the hell, maybe you’re not: Depiction does not equal endorsement. I was astounded by the response to WOLF OF WALL STREET in which detractors claimed it celebrated its characters debauchery. My ass, it did. But what do these Puritans want, the Jordan Belforts and Confederate marauders of the world to sit in darkened rooms contemplating their sins? Look at the white south today. It stll boasts legions of oafish crackers clinging to Confederate imagery. These aren’t men and women stricken by guilt over the atrocities committed in the name of slavery and secession.
So we can’t expect Bruce Dern and Walton Goggins to take on the rhetorical patter of a recent Oberlin graduate. Likewise, we can’t expect them to slither through the movie whilst expelling pussy venalities. There were men of charm, men of humour, men of, in the combat sense of the term, courage fighting for the South. A racist consumed entirely by ugliness offers no threat because he boasts no followers. But racists with loving families, devoted soldiers, positions of prominence…these are men who can espouse the wretched ideals which spread across the lands. Tony Soprano was a man of violence and of appeal. And thus he led his own crew hellbent on sacking the Eastern seaboard.
Tarantino gave us the articulate assassins of Pulp Fiction & Kill Bill…the Inglourious Basterds Nazi who accepted the bashing of his skull over betraying his troops. Men of deplorable action still earn a level of fascination or even respect when presented in a certain light. Tarantino takes such a notion to an extreme with the Hateful 8, revealing the ugliest elements of the post-Bellum America. But it was a very real element of America, one easy to overlook as a time of wretched violence years in the past and thus forgotten. By lacing moral corruption into scenes of humour and realistic interrelationships, he re-opens a sadistic world still present within our own. The best and worst among us bitch about coffee and do our damnest to stay out of the cold, just as the children of mobsters fill out the same college applications as the children of pediatricians. We live in an interlocking world.