Despite the controversies and critiques elicited by Tarantino’s film Inglourious Basterds and the Schindler’s list, both films have been described as masterpieces by many movie analysts in regard to their approach in addressing the atrocities committed in the Holocaust of the early 1940’s. Both films use tricks and meta-cinematic tendencies that aim to align audiences with their preoccupied ideas on the Holocaust, and also make viewers see different aspects of the movies from the writer’s perspective. Assuming that the views of these two films are taken up by contemporary film writers or producers, it is safe to predict that a lot of movies hitting the market today will convey ideas in the most unconventional way. My aim in this paper is to address the preoccupation of filmmakers with the subject matter of the Holocaust, discuss how the goal of some Holocaust feature films may conflict with the conventions of film drama such as the sexualization and eroticization of characters for entertainment value, and finally discuss the advantages and limits of the comic mode in addressing the Holocaust.
Inglorious Basterds is a film that was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. The film tells us about the fictional Holocaust that was meant to destroy the Nazi-German-political leadership. The Holocaust presented by Quentin Tarantino, although many Holocaust Scholars view fictional as a sad event addresses it as an incident that was necessary for eliminating Hitler’s brutal rule and serving justice to American-Jews soldiers. In the opening scene, the idea of Nazis’ rule is brought up by the introductory on-screen text and the camera long shot of the Nazi soldier approaching the property of Monsieur Lapadite that has been suspected to be hiding Jews. The conversation between Colonel Sanda and Lapadite that is taken by a medium-close upshot introduces audiences to how the Germans or the German Soldier view the Jews. This sets a background explanation as to why the Jews have been subjected to prosecution from the Germans. When Colonel Sanda talks about the animosities experienced by the Jews, Tarantino tricks the audience into believing that potentially Sanda would let the Jewish family hiding underneath the floor escape. That expectation disappears when Sanda shows his determination in catching the family. In the end, Sanda orders the killing of the family, but the audience is forced to complete the scene in their minds; a technique that can be seen as trying to make the audience be accustomed to violence or the idea of Holocaust. The chapter doesn’t show the actual filming of the murder or the bloody scene but it’s left for the audience to imagine what happened.
The second scene brings to the attention of the audience the Basterds, whose aim is to kill as many Nazis as possible. The scene shows dead bodies of German soldiers that have been murdered by the American-Jew soldiers in medium close up shots that show a background filled with blood and destruction. Extreme close up shots show the fear and tension the captured German soldiers have. The use of sound in the scene captures an American soldier questioning a captured German soldier who admits to having killed some Jews. Tarantino uses a black fade and the sound of a baseball bat hitting against a wall to build tension and suspense when the Bear Jew is called to come and kill Rachtman, the German soldier. Tarantino manipulates the audience into supporting the killing of the Germans by bringing the conversation between the bear Jew and German Sergeant Rachtman who considers the murdering of Jews as a heroic act and shows no remorse for it. He evokes feelings of sympathy towards the Jews and anger towards the German soldiers. The sound makes the audience understand how happy the Basterds are when they kill the Nazis. The Basterds celebrate and cheer when the Bear Jew kills the Nazi. By exposing the audience to violence, Tarantino makes them hope for other violent scenes only for them to find out that they did not get what they paid for.
Tarantino continues to build on the idea of the Holocaust within the fifth scene in which the camera takes a medium close up shot of Shosanna dressed in red in preparation for the premiere of Nation’s Pride at her film theater. The red color is a symbol of the justified violence the viewers have been waiting all along which is the killing of Hiller. The music in the scene gives the reflective mood that Shosanna is in and arguably shows an anticipation for violence. The camera moves in to show an extreme close up of Shosanna’s eyes, giving the audience a feel of the anger and need for revenge. The camera makes some impossible moves by tracking Shosanna movements, and a bird’s view angle shows her leave her room for the theater where the killing of Hitler is expected to happen. At the theater, the camera takes a medium close up shot of Hitler laughing at the slaughtering of their enemies then shifts back to show a close up of Zoller warning the Germans.
The screening of the film is halted when Shosanna appears on the screen and declares death to the Nazis. The camera shows the violence that ensues by taking close up shots of the Nazis who are sprayed with bullets by two members of the Basterds. The stage then busts into flames. The theater is shown exploding from a vertical angle shot and a medium long shot. The terror that the Nazis are subjected to is captured by their screaming sounds, the burning stage, and the final explosion. On criticizing the film perspective, Tarantino makes a mockery of his audience by making them wait and anticipate the slaughtering of Hitler which doesn’t happen. The actual death of Hitler is not shown, and again, Tarantino uses the trick of letting his audience imagine events as compared to filming the real happenings. Von Dassanowsky (2012) points out that instead of Tarantino making the most out of the death of Hitler by creating a dramatic spectacle he does the opposite. Tarantino chooses to reveal what he wants and hides what he doesn’t want to show. He denies viewers that satisfaction of Hitler’s death. Hitler doesn’t get the satisfaction of becoming an eternal image, and the audience doesn’t get the same satisfaction of indulging in Hitler’s suffering.
Spielberg goes beyond the limits of representation by giving viewers a scene that most conventional movie analysts have described as obscene. The shower scene is criticized for showing naked women being escorted into the shower chamber. Spielberg has forcefully gone beyond these limits and has violated, transgressed and desacralized them. The goal of most conventional films drama concerning the concept of sexualization and eroticization is usually to break monotony and tap into viewers’ sexual interest and expectation in a film. Nonetheless, Spielberg choses to use the concept to depict the powerlessness of the hundreds of Jews who were brutalized by the Nazis. Spielberg uses this scene to demonstrate the fear, suffering, and misery that millions of European Jews were subjected to. Medium and close up shots show tension on the faces of the women and their screams give the audience a feel of the tribulations they are going through. The women in the gas chamber know very well that it is not a shower room but a gas extermination chamber. They wait in fear for the gas to flow out of the taps but instead water flows. In that state, these women are at their most vulnerable, but their lives are spared. Spielberg uses nudity and the gas chamber to show viewers how the Holocausts of the 1940’s were carried out rather than entertain them. He wanted to showcase the true atrocities that happened instead of a fictional Schindler’s list use of nudity is also meant to emphasize the state of matters at the time rather than entertain the audience. Schindler’s list has deconstructed and violated the taboo images that previously existed in the popular culture. Spielberg has managed to alter public perception towards Holocaust by the use of nudity and profane scenes.
In the sixth scene in life is beautiful by Gilman Sander, we come into contact with how humor has been used to address the subject matter of the Holocaust. In the scene, we find the leading actor and a group of people who have been dramatized as Jews locked up in a room by the Nazis. The camera takes a medium close up shot of the German soldier who enters the room and orders anyone who speaks German to stand. It’s could be viewed as humorous that the leading actor who doesn’t understand German steps forward. The fact that he chooses to translate German into a language that all the people in the room do not understand makes the scene more humorous as it denies the audience who do not understand German an opportunity to know what the German soldier is ordering the people in the room to do, and instead makes them laugh at the translation being given by the leading actor. It denies them the satisfaction of knowing the atrocities that were committed by the Nazis to the Jews. In the seventh scene, (I don’t Want to Take a Shower) the director has used humor to trivialize the way the Nazis used to commit mass murders of the Jews in gas chambers. That event is dramatized as a simple act of taking a shower, with some characters in the scene saying “I Don’t Want to Take a Shower”. During the Nazis’ rule, Jews who were subjected to unimaginable atrocities had no choice. They were killed whether they liked it or not. So for the scene to make it look like they had a choice, to some point it misinforms. In the scene, we also see a German soldier spare an old lady from going to work in the iron plant. Sparing some Jews from work leaves the audience to wonder or answer themselves as to whether old people were killed by the Nazis or not. In the ninth scene (The Final Game) humor is used to show some leniency on some of the prisoners. We also see a lorry transporting what the audience can only assume are prisoners being taken to the gas chamber to be killed. The main character after escaping from one of the lorries is captured and sprayed with bullets in one of the dark corners of the prison.
The last and final scene (We Won) depicts the joy of the survivors of the brutal rule of the Germans in the prison where they were held. Use of comedy in the scene is evident when the boy mentions about the “points” they have earned and it takes us back to the translation incident that misinformed them. All along, they have lived to an idea that was never there. The comedy in the scene serves to give joy to the real survivors of the 1940’s Holocaust as it can help them think of how lucky they were to survive the ordeal.
The use comedy to address the subject matter of Holocaust may misinform people who want to know what happened in the days of the Holocaust. The real victims who were subjected to the harsh rule of the Germans in the time when they were killing the Jews in their masses can feel cheated because comic films do not present facts as they were, but only seek to entertain their audience by playing around with a historical matter. Some other advantages of the use of comedy in addressing the issue of holocaust include, assisting victims of the Holocaust atrocities endure the pain they went through. A other advantage could be that it tackles the existing framework of power, for example, societal hierarchies of power and in turn, initiates a new Holocaust discourse which could help society to come to terms with the reality of the Holocaust that was taking place in the 1940’s. According to Morreall (2001), the comic films of Charlie Chaplin helped people who were in denial about the killings of the Jews come to terms with reality.
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