Tarantino. You love him or you hate him. The gore, the humor, the twisting plot lines, the elaborate characters, the shock value, the gorgeous cinematography. “It’s not for everyone” is the consensus. If you love Tarantino, you are likely an individual who knows how to appreciate good cinematography, character development and who can enjoy these things even without the old-fashioned good guy versus bad guy plot line. You don’t need to be attached to a conventionally heroic character in order to get invested in the film, you transcend that. These are the same kind of people who love abstract art or dissonant music. Finding beauty in the traditionally non-beautiful has become a trait of the intellectually elite. Or you are on the other side of the spectrum, and you simply love the shock value. You watch Tarantino for the same reasons you watch UFC or bullfighting. It’s an indirect channel for aggression, a fix. Appreciation of gore as a part of the intricate artistry of the films is a prerequisite for self-identifying as Tarantino fans, and if you are one of them you love all of his work and you share in the sense of disdain toward selective Tarantino fans.
I cannot hate The Hateful Eight. After the elaborate plot-line of Pulp Fiction, the gore of Django Unchained and the character development of Inglorious Bastards, Tarantino pulled out all the stops on this film. To mixed reactions from critics, The Hateful Eight is emerging as one of the most quintessentially Tarantino-esque films to date. As with most of his films, you love it or you hate it. Many avowed Tarantino fans have finally turned away in disgust at this ultimate show of gore, and many have pronounced it his best film yet. I walked out of the theater in the full awareness that I had just witnessed a masterpiece in the areas of art and cinematography and also with a heavy conscience and a vague urge to shower that I hadn’t felt since I watched Pulp Fiction almost a year ago.
I could elaborate on the aesthetics of the film. The breathtaking footage, the ingenious plot-line which unfolds within the confines of a small cabin, the immaculate cast, the artistry of the way in which the film was broken down into “chapters,” the depth of dialogue and the meticulous attention to detail. Peter Bradshaw’s description of it in his review for The Guardian as “breathtakingly stylish and clever” does not begin to scratch the surface of what this film accomplished with regards to presenting a truly intricate piece of artistry. The shock value goes much deeper than mere gore. The film is also shockingly beautiful.
But aesthetics alone were not enough to make me love the film. It wasn’t just that the film was brutal, nor was it the lurid glee with which the band of members mutilated and hacked each other apart. This was to be expected. What I did not expect was the pervasive nihilism that was reminiscent of Pulp Fiction and which other films, such as Django Unchained and Inglorious Bastards sidestepped. Handling social issues such as racism, anti-Semitism and sexism with a sort of candor and humorous disinterest is a trademark for Tarantino. However, such raw and horrific portrayals of oppression and pain are combated by characters who seek to tear down barriers and viewers are handed a character that they can love and admire with all the fervor with which they hate perpetrators of injustice. Despite unspeakable gore and pain, empathy, transcendence, love and justice are the resounding message of films such as Django Unchained, and something wholesome within me responds to that. As film critic Mark Kermode pointed out, The Hateful Eight differs from other Tarantino films in that “political sentiments take second place to sensationalism.”
So no, I cannot love Tarantino’s work impartially. I can appreciate his talent, but I can only love such morbid and brutal films if I can love a character in them who combats meaningless pain. The need for a conventionally heroic character who stands for truth, goodness and beauty has become outdated. But these characters are the only glimpse of hope or redemption that Tarantino extends to viewers. Without them, his films are rendered bleak, hopeless and anarchic. Sitting through them either becomes an act of masochism, or, if true enjoyment at the hands of meaningless death and gore ensues, a soul-shriveling and sadistic fix.
I didn’t hate The Hateful Eight. I hated the dirty and hopeless feeling I had as I fell asleep after watching it, but I would have hated it even more if the movie hadn’t made me feel dirty and hopeless. The film was intricate and artistic, and because of that, I can’t pronounce it unequivocally bad. But the nihilism, the bleakness and ultimate meaningless of it all makes it impossible for me to call this a film that I love.