September 15, 2023 | ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT | By Charlotte Maley
During a week in July, I made it my mission to watch every single Quentin Tarantino film. I was trying to understand the hype. At the time, I had only seen “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which, controversially, I thought was one of the most boring movies that I had ever seen. However, it seemed that everyone had a Tarantino film in their list of top five movies of all time, so I gave him another shot. After having seen all nine of his films, I think I’ve figured out a casual film goer’s guide to watching Tarantino.
First off, let me just say that I agree with most people when I say that Tarantino is a prolific and industry-changing artist with unquestionable talent. That being said, I only found three of his movies to be truly incredible and worth watching: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Reservoir Dogs,” and “Hateful Eight.”
The next three movies I watched were banal at best and complete wastes of my time at worst. He is a difficult writer to get in line with if you’re someone that’s well-versed in feminist ideologies and anti-racist rhetoric. Yet, Tarantino redeems himself through such works as “Inglorious Bastards,” “Django Unchained,” and, of course, “Pulp Fiction.”
To understand the contemporary film landscape, one must watch “Pulp Fiction,” which is arguably the film that made Tarantino the phenom he is today. “Pulp Fiction” is not really a story that can be described because it’s not the plot that makes the movie. However, in classic Tarantino fashion, it is the characters, dialogue, and monologues that make it as prolific as it is.
What makes the movie unique is the shocking displays of violence that follow completely unextraordinary conversations. Not only that, but I believe that Tarantino introduced a new way of writing complicated women through this film. The female characters are unique to one another, but interesting and charismatic, nonetheless. They are in no way perfect, or maligned, or even symbolic. They are just people.
This is quite different than the irksome portrayal of women in his other films, such as the violent degradation of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character in “Hateful Eight,” the perverted and impersonal portrayal of Patricia Arquette’s persona in “True Romance,” or the complete and utter lack of any female characters in “Reservoir Dogs.” To me, “Pulp Fiction” is not only an incredible film for its entertainment value and brilliant writing, but also for its fetishization of difficult women.
My next favorite of Tarantino’s’ films is “Inglorious Bastards,” a historical fiction taking place in Nazi-occupied France. Like many of his movies, this one begins with a mind-blowing opening scene which allows the viewer to step into the mind of the villain.
Hans Landa, a Nazi who ends up at a French cottage that’s been suspected of hiding Jews, explains to the owner that there is no reason for us to hate rats and not squirrels, we just do, and that is why he hates the Jews. “All you know is that you find the rat repulsive,” he says. This scene is followed by a mass execution of a Jewish family hiding under the floorboards of the cottage.
From this scene onward there is a violent procession of Nazis getting murdered, and quite a few more delicious, and sadly fictional, take downs of the “Third Reich.” This is one of Tarantino’s better films, for it provides the viewer with a unique satisfaction and turns the World War II genre in a direction that steers far from trauma porn.
Although Tarantino is known for egregious displays of violence in his movies, when he wants to, he can intentionally avoid the fetishization of historical traumas that are often exploited in films depicting horrific events. This is perfectly displayed in his work “Django, Unchained.”
Instead of exploiting the suffering of African Americans during slavery, Tarantino uses the abuse of the movie’s main character only as far as he needs to for there to be justification for his “vengeful’ behavior later in the film. Additionally, whereas Tarantino’s habitual, not to mention ridiculously excessive, use of the n-word in many of his movies seems unnecessary and childish, his use of the word in “Django” carries incredible significance, as it is used to invoke discussion, not to shock.
Unlike in his other films, where Tarantino seems to use the plight and subjugation of Black Americans for entertainment, “Django, Unchained” is a powerful, unique, and well thought out piece on revolution, powerlessness, and America’s complicated history. “Django, Unchained” may make my top five movies of all time.
In short, I would never call myself a Tarantino fan, and can’t say that I recommend his work overall. But these were some true gems that I found, and I think everyone should watch my three Tarantino favorites: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Reservoir Dogs,” and “Hateful Eight,” at least once.