Is it wise for me to tell you that my opinion of Inglourious Basterds has changed dramatically over the past few weeks?
I don’t have a review yet to back up that claim. I keep starting to write one, and then my thoughts and feelings continue to evolve.
Let me just say that my opinion of the film hasn’t changed because of any angry reactions to my initial posts about the film. It hasn’t happened because I’ve become numb or insensitive regarding the violence in the film. And I am every bit as disgusted with the way Tarantino talks about the movie as I have been from the beginning.
It has changed because of a few conversations I’ve observed between critics I respect, critics who respect other people’s responses to the film and proceed without contempt or condemnation, but humbly and honestly share their own experiences and views. Those experiences have been revelatory for me.
And this is good because while I had a very disappointing experience watching Inglourious Basterds, I have always found Tarantino’s films to be worth exploring. I’m still an admirer of Pulp Fiction, and while the Kill Bill films are full of things that delight me and full of other things that trouble me, I was disappointed by the way many of my peers merely dismissed the film as a glorification of violence.
So the experience of the last few weeks has been both exciting and frustrating. It’s affirmed my increasing conviction that reviews should not be written within the first week of seeing a movie for the same reason that a steak should not be swallowed before it has been cut into bite-sized pieces and chewed. And it’s shown me that, now more than ever, I need to seek out ways to encounter movies outside of the typical American moviegoing audience, because the increasingly thoughtless nature of audiences creates a disruptive and deceptive because the current moviegoing experience, at least in America, can make it almost impossible to experience cinema as art.
My ability to see the movie and think about what I saw has been complicated by much of what Tarantino has been shouting about the film in his typically egomaniacal fashion; by the way his studio marketed his work; by the way the viewers in the audience around me giddily celebrated acts of brutal violence; and by the way some people around me responded to my initial reaction by labeling me and sneering at the feelings I shared about it. None of these factors gave me any desire to give the film a second thought.
I often disagree with my favorite film critics. And I like it that way. My favorite film critics examine films through so many different lenses that I cannot help but come away learning something. They bring academic rigor to their work, but they also reveal quite a bit about themselves and how they perceive a film in relation to their own experiences and convictions.
Because of this, I regularly read Steven Greydanus, Michael Sicinski, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Roger Ebert, Doug Cummings, Darren Hughes, Michael Leary, Andrew O’Hehir, Stephanie Zacharek, Christian Hamaker, Ken Morefield, David Bordwell, and a variety of others.
This week, I discovered that I’ve fallen behind in reading one of the most consistently interesting film critics online: VJ Morton (Rightwing Film Geek). While his “verdicts” on particular films are often quite different than my own, his reviews sometimes become more thought-provoking for me than the films in question.
Lo and behold, he gives Pete Docter’s Up a perfect 10:
I think UP may be the first Disney(-ish) animated feature that actually has more for adults than children. Even at their best in THE INCREDIBLES, the TOY STORY movies, and CARS (shut up, everybody), the Pixar folks have made children’s fantasy movies; though, like the greatest of fantasies and fairy tales, the works are wise beyond their apparent years and appeal to adults too. Obviously, UP is not adults-only stuff like FRITZ THE CAT or HEAVY METAL. But its primary themes are adult matters (or at least issues that adults are likely to have first-hand knowledge of) and its central protagonist is an old man, named Carl Fredricksen. UP’s already most-famous scene is a several-minute wordless montage I hereby dub “Scenes from a Marriage,” which covers nearly Carl’s whole lifetime (for economy, eloquence and relevance in the tiniest details, it deserves comparison with the breakfast montage in CITIZEN KANE). But it concerns such adult matters as losing a child and having one’s youthful dreams, in this case to go to South America, not work out. For one reason and/or another, and not all nefarious or poor excuses.
This is a universal theme: One of my idols as a boy was Muhammad Ali, and I wanted to be heavyweight champion of the world and be as brash and funny as he was. That didn’t happen, for multiple reasons, but it’s fundamentally a realization most of us have in our 30s and 40s. Things work themselves through in UP — it’s about leaving behind even disappointment itself, and accepting your “thrownness” as the grounding for new possibility. But even plugging into the problem in the first place requires an adult sensibility — the sky is not the limit, you can’t do whatever you want, believing in yourself is not enough, etc.
But … and this is the true measure of the Pixar genius here, even this very adult material doesn’t exclude children, one way or another.
He also gives Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist a 9. Didn’t I tell you he’s interesting?
… you really get the sense that Von Trier means it all (the audience I saw this film with was rapt and nobody stirred during the credits). And through the slow catatonia of the first part and the violence of the second, wants the audience to share his experience of depression. Which is why only an idiot would criticize the last part of this movie is either too violent or illogical — that IS the logic of depression; the repercussions have to go too far and have to be randomly inflicted on self and other.
But does it wind up meaning anything? I think it does and I think the title both is and isn’t misleading. It certainly doesn’t refer to the biblical figure from Revelation. Nor does it (as I was kind of expecting) really play as a straightforward hell portrait — there’s no reason for the two-sided dynamic between the couple, e.g. What I’m leaning toward instead, I think, is that this film is merely a raw production of Von Trier’s inner depressive state, which in theological terms would be Gnosticism — that creation (the world) is evil, the work of the devil. Von Trier has an impish reputation, but I think (as someone who’s felt really a soul connection with Von Trier since seeing BREAKING THE WAVES in 1996, just a few years after my his conversion and my confirmation) — that he’s really being more honest and blunt than he lets on. That he uses his Biggest Asshole in the World persona as a way to say what he thinks and duck it at the same time. This really is as simple as a depression movie — a portrait of how the world looks from the black pit. As someone who’s suffered from depression (to one degree or another, with varying levels of knowledge thereof) for most of his life, I can say with authority that it’s very easy when you’re in the utter depths to see the world itself as evil, irredeemable, hellish and write it all off. It’s also very easy to see your therapist or therapy as the cause of it all (that’s probably, ultimately, why I stopped going). And, to judge from this film, Von Trier clearly has no use for therapists — Defoe plays He as a self-centered, unethical, controlling jerk. Yet despite the personal connection I had with the material, I wasn’t as *moved* by it as I thought I should have been. The film doesn’t have a character like DOGVILLE’s Grace or WAVES’ Bess. It therefore resists emotional involvement because “identification” in the usual sense is impossible — the only two people in it are a dick and a nut.
(I bolded one line just to prepare us for the parade of film critics who will soon, whether they’re right or wrong, fulfill Morton’s definition of “idiot.”)
I also recommend you read his lament over an audience’s response to Carl Dreyer’s Gertrud, his hilarious observations on the Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, and his disappointment over Michael Haneke’s Cannes-award-winning film The White Ribbon (which is surprising, since he praises Haneke as his “favorite Austrian film artist”). I’m eagerly awaiting his explanation as to why the new Coen Brothers film only rates a “1” on his scale of 1-10.
And what, I wonder, does he make of Inglourious Basterds?