on the Influence of Surrealism in the Early Work by Spike Jonze: A Critical Analysis of “How They Get There” (1997) and“Being John Malkovich” (1999)

Surrealism is a daunting term for a movement that originated in the 1920s by French writer André Breton. Over the course of decades, his movement grew roots and expanded worldwide; challenging the core beliefs of people everywhere in a post-Great War age, but also provoked the group’s members against each other in the very definition of what makes a work surreal; in their quest to unleash the unconscious mind and attain a firmer grasp on ‘life.’ Breton’s viewpoint on surrealism as initially described in his First Manifesto of Surrealism changes as he grows older, sparking confusion, enlightenment and disjointed unity in a people devoted to thinking differently. So differently, that Breton is famous for kicking out his own followers if their views differed too far from his. As the expectations, explanations and perspectives on what makes something surreal were defined and refined, the very essence of its meaning has been ultimately lost to the majority of those who use the term today to describe a visual quality, not a ideation process. Renown for being the father of “pure psychic automatism” or, the true functioning of thought, Breton details how a work that is in acknowledgement of key elements can subvert the hierarchical nature of society, and speak volumes on any given topic without explicitly stating its thesis aloud. Enter the world of the dream: where our conscious and subconscious tell dreamers things that we would not be able to hear in the waking state. Take part in a world inside a world, where life resides between peaceful coexistence and chaotic anarchy. The illusion so irresistible, so delusional, so real yet so unreal that artists and thinkers alike have adopted surrealism, its message and its terminology in their own work, commenting on a multitude of subjects in hopes to reach the sleeping listener, the ones who dare to dream.

Spike Jonze is considered by the entertainment industry to be one of those dreamers. His prolific work spanning decades began in photography, skateboard and music videos, with narrative work coming to fruition in the mid to late 1990s, followed by refreshing, new work for the advertisement world. His short film How They Get There is a brilliant early example of Jonze’s surrealism at play. The two and a half minute short film tackles the age-old question of how worn shoes find themselves in odd places. This nonsensical set up of a film opens with a close-up on a shoe turned on its side; symbolic for the fate it will inevitably have in the coming minutes. The shoe belongs to a man drinking milk, as he watches a woman pass by on the opposing sidewalk. He follows her. As they each walk down the two sides of the sidewalk, Jonze cuts back and forth between the two, as they delightfully mimic each others’ actions in a quasi-flirtatious encounter. As the audience observes the pantomiming back and forth, we get to see a budding relationship take place in an absurd way. Surrealists enjoy the use of mirrors, as the surface of a mirror reflects reality back at itself. As the two characters take part in their mimicry—Jonze is really just holding up a mirror between them, showing a disconnect from the rest of the world—a car approaches. The woman breaks her trance but continues the role of the mime: covering her mouth at the horror she’s about to experience. The man is still stuck in this world of make-pretend and covers his face as he crosses the street, but it’s too late. He turns and is hit by the oncoming car. The music swells and all chaos breaks loose in a frantic, amusing way as the man slams into the windshield, shoes flying off his feet, the car diverting off the street and flipping itself in mid air—all in cinematic, bombastic style that would appeal to the surrealist who’d enjoy nonsensical destruction caused by the silliest of circumstances. As the music dies down, and the audience gets a breath after the climax, we watch the shoes land near the gutter, bringing us full circle in the short story. 

Jonze’s first feature film Being John Malkovich could be called surreal from the very moment the film starts. The opening shot depicts a curtain and a performance arena that sets the stage for a puppet show. Involving puppets and trickery; the film juxtaposes one reality (the outside world) with another (the world and stage of the puppet show) especially as the puppeteer falls in love with the female lead Maxine and has delusions involving a romance with her and an occupied John Malkovich body. Jonze’s humor shines through when the protagonist Craig Schwartz is punched in the middle of a street performance by the father of a young girl, observing the puppet show. The father takes issue to the puppets air humping each other in some neoclassical puppetry rendition of Romeo and Juliet, and therefore takes specific action to rectify the atrocity his daughter is witnessing by responding with a different style of violence. He slugs Craig square in the jaw. The far-fetched suddenly becomes believable in Being John Malkovich. A fistfight can erupt from the minuscule, and there are such things as a floor between 7 and 8 called Floor 7 1/2.

Set in a city building that requires the elevator to be manually stopped, and a crowbar used within the elevator to get to where Craig is going, Floor 7 1/2 favors Surrealist’ humor by catering to the bizarre. The height of the 7 1/2 floor is rather short, requiring Jonze to work with production designer K.K. Barrett to build a set made for Alice in a place like Wonderland. The doorways stood at less than 5 feet tall, with other objects in frame made to scale with the appropriate size of an office floor. (Interiors: An Online Publication about Architecture and Film) All the actors on set had to slouch in order to fit inside the low-ceiling sets. The nature of the rooms’ construction never becomes familiar to the audience as it is so disassociated from life as we’re used to, yet the characters who occupy the space acknowledge it only so far as to bend over to accommodate traveling through these spaces, but don’t so much take issue to the uncomfortable conditions that are endured: metaphoric for the conditions presented within society at large. We are stifled by expectations and unnecessary desires of indulgence and yet we stoop ourselves to accommodate the short ceiling, instead of build a higher roof. After watching the explanation on the low ceilings in an introductory employment training video, Craig turns to another newly-hire and remarks, “Moving story, huh?” She replies, “Unfortunately, the story’s bullshit.” (00:14:57)

The CEO of the office space gives an absurd explanation for the low-ceiling predicament: “Low overhead, my boy! We pass the savings onto you.” (00:12:24) The use of dialogue becoming a prominent focal point to consider as the characters try to exchange through the five levels of communication, yet fail to connect at all whatsoever. A series of misfires and miscommunications bring our puppeteer protagonist through the “mind of the other.” What language can mean on a very simple level can often lead us down pathways we never intended on taking due to dictation, vocation and connotation of the language used—therefore specific language can lead the mind to other, more intentional conclusions. This mind-fuckery is seen at the bar as Craig and Maxine have a drink when Maxine asks if Craig is a fag, or when Craig’s wife Lotte is directed to the bathroom: “fifth door from my left” and is greeted by a series of doors facing multiple directions, or when Craig has difficulty responding to the receptionist who does not pronounce his last name correctly. 

The true mind-fuckery occurs when Craig’s “mind of the other" truly becomes someone else’s. As a puppeteer, Craig’s desire to become another character and live in their skin is put to the test when he discovers a small door hidden behind a filing cabinet. Curiosity draws him in, and it’s too late before Craig gets swept up and forced into witnessing life from another human’s perspective; John Malkovich’s to be exact. The very premise to an impossibility made possible and grounded in reality as concretely as Jonze could ever visualize: Craig is sucked up and spit out in unrealistic fashion. In an essay to The Guardian, the film’s screenwriter Charlie Kaufman writes, “Most people think perspective is a good thing: you can figure out characters arcs, you can apply a moral, you can tell it with understanding and context. But this perspective is a misrepresentation: it's a reconstruction with meaning, and as such bears little resemblance to the event.” (Charlie Kaufman: Why I Wrote Being John Malkovich) When he enters Malkovich’s perspective for the first time, he is sucked through the hole corridor he is crawling through, and when he leaves Malkovich’s perspective, Craig falls into frame from out of thin air. Both physically impossible and unrealistic scenarios that are made possible with some surreal, creative thinking and the presumption that the audience can mend the in-betweens. The process becomes the physical manifestation of the film’s thesis: the human desire to be someone else but then forces you to question your own perspective on the world.

Actor playing himself John Malkovich discovers the ploy, and goes through the portal himself. When he comes out the other end, he finds himself in the land of Malkovich: his own head attached to every living body within a restaurant, every menu item his own name, and every word that is uttered; “Malkovich.” Kaufman’s illogical screenplay provides perfectly logical insight provided by Jonze on the human condition through a surreal journey: venture far enough into yourself and the ego within swells out of proportion. But it’s through this same surrealistic device that Jonze explores the state of living, as a soul leaping out to claim its vessel, claim its own body. The underlying tragedy in this thought leads to a dark conclusion: those who feel dead inside are anxious to escape their problems and their bodies, to become someone new, to start over, or to end it all. The differences in these outcomes rely on personal interpretation of the perspective history the subject has experienced over the course of their lifetime.

“There’s the truth and there are lies and uhh, art always tells the truth: even when it’s lying.” (01:28:50) John Malkovich says in a TV broadcast for his new puppeteering show. The ultimate puppeteer is Craig, pulling the strings controlling John Malkovich through the portal, who in tandem is controlling the puppets. This controller-within-a-controller scenario is purely surreal; as the TV audience does not know what’s real and what’s fake. In this ‘John Malkovich’ puppeteering broadcast there can be truth, but there is also deception—an unfortunate truth/lie about the world we live in. 

While Being John Malkovich comments on the nature of celebrity culture, it more so utilizes the ability to be someone else to analyze the environment of the every day individual: a resemblance of a lonely, seeking, desiring anybody who wants the opportunity to escape the waking state and live in a dream. Surrealism’s influence on Spike Jonze has been present from the very start.

In Spike’s early days he filmed a skateboarder doing a jump off a multi-step staircase. When the skater landed the trick, Spike and a team of demolition experts triggered explosives that blew the staircase to smithereens. As he filmed the action in slow-motion, Spike had the picture already clear in mind: the skater would land the trick, prompting the explosion to occur. This foresight is crucial in how surrealists conduct their work: that they have a vision and see it through to fruition through exploration, discovery, collaboration and in times, authoritarianism. The conclusion of an explosion once after a skater lands his trick is similar to the journey one embarks after following their thoughts in pure, psychic automatism coined by the founder of the surrealist movement Breton: that the explosion is the extension and result of riding a thought through to completion. Spike Jonze’s repertoire of films share the sort of existentialist comedy that Surrealists look for, and he will always be remembered for allowing us to become someone else.

Bibliography

Jonze, Spike, director. How They Get There. YouTube, YouTube, 1997, www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0C11en8tXo.

Karaoghlanian, Armen, and Mehruss Jon Ahi. “Being John Malkovich (1999) - Interiors : An Online Publication about Architecture and Film.” Interiors, www.intjournal.com/1113/being-john-malkovich.

Kaufman, Charlie. “Charlie Kaufman: Why I Wrote Being John Malkovich.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 3 Oct. 2011, www.theguardian.com/film/2011/oct/03/charlie-kaufman-how-to-write.

Lim, Dennis. “A Second Look: 'Being John Malkovich' Is a Surreal Mind Trip.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 13 May 2012, www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-xpm-2012-may-13-la-ca-second-look-20120513-story.html.

“Spike Jonze.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Apr. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spike_Jonze.

on Narrative within Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) and Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950)

Known as two of the greatest films of the mid 20th century, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon share distinct similarities and differences that highlight “narrative” as they lay the groundwork for new interpretations on how stories can be told on the screen. Both films throw new, exciting plot devices into cinematic language. Both providing tilted, subjective and often times perverse and contradictory versions of the same events that lead us through the stories. What I mean is: Citizen Kane, a morally political film, often uses populism (the common man must rise up and form a union to overthrow the clutches of big government) in order to deceive the audience into letting Kane rise to power; therefore providing a subjective view that ultimately leads to Kane’s downfall. While in Rashomon; one character claims they’ve found a body in the woods, while others influence the narrative by offering different, subjective points of view to the same incident. This is all to say: narrative, as well as its narrator, is highly important in the execution of telling a story, and shows a natural flaw in ourselves that we may never be purely unbiased; that our own stories and historical accuracies are of the utmost importance as storytellers. Knowing this provides insight into why filmmakers like Welles and Kurosawa received millions to make their pictures as they provide their own perspective to making it: not Joe Shmo. (Joe’s my neighbor! Good guy.) Both films show us that man is only interested in himself, so much so that he’d go to extremes like ruining his only home in the pursuit of temporary well-being. To be able to influence within the narrative is critical, otherwise you’ve lost your audience. 

on Bradley Eros' Solar Anus (2001), Museum of the Moving Image, and 9.5mm Film Stock

In the permanent installation of MoMI resides a light box. Within it, colorful film strips help illustrate the film projecting process to the unfamiliar, naive eye. By exposing the images in sequence on the strip, one can understand that when projected in quick succession, the trickery of movement occurs in our brains. A particular artifact that caught my eye was a small strip of 9.5mm film, donated by the one and only Bradley Eros. Having interned at Anthology Film Archives many years ago, I had the opportunity to be in Bradley's way many times over a summer. His eye-liner always stuck out to me, it didn't really compliment his face but who's to say what someone can and can’t do with their own image? He's a peculiar one because he also visited a class of mine; giving a lecture on a non-camera movie he made from strips of 1970s porno flicks superimposed with childish cartoons of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. He described the creation to us very simply: "I had no clue what to call it, and as I thought, the frame that was projected was of a warm sun, juxtaposed with the sight of a perfect asshole." The audience (my class) gasped from Bradley's off-color remark. "It was a perfect anus." He said. "And so I decided to name the film Solar Anus."

I'll never forget that story, of how Bradley was able to disgust a room full of people before lunchtime and easily leave without having to say another word. I draw a parallel from Bradley's remark and his super interesting persona to the rarity of the 9.5mm film stock he donated to the museum. Having not been commercially available since 1960, (you can still hardly acquire the format from dedicated enthusiasts who custom manufacture the stock) this rare strip of celluloid represents the same kind of rarity that is found within the spirit and soul of Bradley... as crazy as he may be. Symbolizing his auteurship in a way, a process I thought was absolutely fucking fascinating. The film strip object signifies that, like the film medium, these specific formats aren’t always made to last, that the process of filmmaking is ever evolving and that an encapsulation within a 9.5mm film frame can signify a whole lot more than the image it projects, but it seeks out an interpretation from within...

on Color and Light in There is Only One Sun (2007) by Wong Kar-Wai

There are only certain auteurs who can handle explosions of color and properly wrap them in a fever dream of perceived reality. Three come to mind off the top of my head: Gaspar Noé, Wes Anderson, and Wong Kar-wai. In his 9 minute short: There Is Only One Sun, Kar-wai transports the viewer from the color palette of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey Slit-Scan Sequence and throws them into a surreal world made of warm tungsten, neon green and other 6 inch high-heeled paranormality. To contrast his protagonist from this abstract world, Wong Kar-wai dresses his lead character in a black dress with stockings; devoid of color, obviously sticking out from the world she lives in. Also worn is a pinkish purple dress, with a hue that complements the rest of the film. Wong Kar-wai and his DP Philippe Le Sourd experimented with light leaks in their frames; giving incidental, innocent and completely natural additional boosts in color that celebrate the canvas they chose to paint their picture on. Although the film serves as a simple cannon fodder as a commercial for Philips LCD televisions, Kar-wai doesn’t stop there. His protagonist’s voiceover throws in additional complexity; “Sometimes we need to see things through a screen. On one side of the screen, memories fade. On the other, they glow forever.” I think, Kar-wai’s unabashed nod to his love of cinema and of film-making. Yes, There’s Only One Sun in our solar system, but Wong sees several in his, for there are others that can supply their own color and even more suns that supply their own light. 

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on The Assertion of Power and Dominance: Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (2009) by Luke Marcus Rosen

Worldwide, the protagonists of our lives fight for power and dominance in their quest for leadership, status and wealth. Similarly, the characters within the worlds of the films by Quentin Tarantino struggle with these very same things; and Tarantino masterfully uses the consumption of food and drink within his stories for his characters to assert their power and dominance. How do these characters declare themselves as top dog in Inglourious Basterds? By luxuriously indulging in culinary pleasures to establish their position on the social totem pole, spoiling themselves to these simple and exquisite hallmarks of nutrition, Tarantino is able to further convey to the audience who these characters are on the inside, where they stand, and how they utilize sustenance to establish their power and dominance over others.

The answer can be found as quickly as the first six minutes into the film. French dairy farmer Perrier La Padite (Denis Ménochet) receives a visit from SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) who must conduct a thorough investigation of the farmer’s premises, suspected of hiding Jews in Nazi-Occupied France during the Second World War. The farmer greets the Nazi colonel with dignity and respectful resilience, although trembling on the inside once its revealed to the audience he is really hiding Jews underneath his floorboards. Having traveled a great distance and knowing the man he is speaking to is a dairy farmer, Colonel Hans Landa asks for a glass of “delicious milk.” The situation is uncomfortable; La Padite’s daughters serve Landa milk, and he graciously drinks it in silence, in one large gulping. (00:06:00) Landa’s high-ranking position in the German military demands the utmost respect from victims of the occupation, and he utilizes his position and the long silence that accompanies his chug of milk to his advantage; seated, he drinks the milk and lets his finishing of the glass be the determination of when and how the conversation may proceed: he is in direct control of the situation at hand. Tarantino even amplifies the sounds of his gulping to further isolate this silence, only adding to the uneasiness of an already tense predicament. Without a burp, without contention and without a dull moment, Landa praises the farmer’s family and his cow with an eloquent remark in the farmer’s native French: “Mister, to both your family and your cows… I say, Bravo.” The transference of his compliment to the farmer as another indication that Landa is the authority figure in the room.

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Later in the conversation, Landa asks La Padite to excuse his daughters so that the interrogation can begin. As they discuss the whereabouts of a Jewish family that has gone missing, La Padite asks Landa if it will disturb him if he smokes; a subtle indication that La Padite (even in the comforts of his own home) must ask an invading Nazi if it is acceptable to do something that wouldn’t otherwise need permission. The simple questioning gives way to who has more power in the room. As La Padite packs and smokes his pipe, he discusses the rumors of the Jewish family’s escape, detailing who they are, and how old they were. Landa goes into an analogy between Jews and rats, in hopes to procure a reaction from La Padite. Then, Landa asks to smoke his pipe—pulling out a rather large, impressive Meerschaum Calabash pipe. Compared to La Padite’s, Landa’s pipe is much larger in this mystery detective’s tale of who’s pipe is bigger; that can seemingly run in a million directions. The inner Sherlock Holmes is revealed in Landa; a cunning detective at heart, able to traverse a range of human emotions and pinpoint the very information he was looking for in the first place. Another moment of silence as Landa fetches the matches to light his pipe. He speaks in between puffs; another use of silence in his quest for asserting power over La Padite; “Now… my job… dictates… … … that I must have my men enter your home… and conduct a thorough search before I can officially cross your family’s name off my list… and if there are any irregularities to be found, rest assured there will be, that is unless you have something to tell me that makes the conducting of a search unnecessary.” (00:17:20) Landa corners La Padite with his words, all while indulging in his pipe, asserting his power at each puff of the way. An astute eye would notice La Padite has stopped smoking his pipe; perhaps his system cannot handle the hardship thrown at him. Perhaps Landa is making him sick. As the grandfather clock ticks the seconds away in the background, the dairy farmer’s eyes swell with tears, and the case is officially closed. Landa was successful in determining that La Padite had sheltered enemies of the state. 

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Meanwhile, a rogue troupe of elite Jewish-American commando soldiers makes their way on a glorious warpath against the Nazi machine. Led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) of the First Special Service Force, we peer in on their escapade as they overtake a bunker and hold German soldiers in captivity. While eating a bagel, Lt. Raine questions a German sergeant (Richard Sammel) who does not give in to Raine’s questioning. Raine summons the Bear Jew (Eli Roth); a Jewish-American soldier who kills his subjects with a baseball bat. Bagel in mouth, Lt. Raine claps for the Bear Jew, knowing exactly what is about to take place. (00:34:18-00:34:52) No exchange of power had occurred; the German sergeant remained prisoner, Lt. Raine remained the high-ranking officer of the victorious army, but the bagel gives the audience insight into the character of Lt. Aldo Raine. Chances are, watching a man get his brains bashed in by a baseball bat would make a viewer sick to their stomach. Not Lt. Aldo “the Apache” Raine; he watches with delight as his victim suffers a terrible death. His conviction in violence is so resolute, he’s able to keep his appetite as the violence ensues. Through this small detail, we can understand and qualify the kind of violence Lt. Aldo Raine is capable of. 

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Later, a Jewish escapee finds herself back under the gun when she is forced to attend a meeting with Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth), his interpreter/fetish object (Julie Dreyfus) and a German war-hero turned movie actor for a German pro-war film (Daniel Brühl). Shosana Dreyfus, (Mélanie Laurent) operating a cinema in occupied Paris under the name Emmanuelle Mimieux is forced to hold the screening in her theatre due to the war-hero’s infatuation with her. The real tension does not yet take place; the last person to the party has not arrived yet. But the assertion of power and dominance is prevalent throughout. Mimieux is offered champagne from an expensive bottle; poured into a gold-rimmed champagne glass, all indications of the bountiful wealth around her—of the power she could attain by simply abandoning her faith and her dead family, and courting the war-hero as her own.

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Following the explanation of the plan, Colonel Hans Landa arrives and it is revealed Landa would supply the security for the event. Having “informally met” in the opening act, the scene between Landa and Mimieux makes for a tremendous, powerful piece of cinema: compromising Mimieux’s cover that would perhaps be blown. While Goebbels and the war-hero get up to leave, Mimieux is politely held down by Landa: she is now trapped at the dinner table and an assertion of power, reveal of character and an exchange due to circumstance is about to commence.

As Landa asks Mimieux his first question as the detective, the waiter interrupts. Landa orders for the both of them: not just a sign of the times but also serves as a clear disposition and acknowledgement of who’s really at the wheel here. And not just the ordering for her, but Landa administers his first test: a glass of milk. He will see if she observes the Jewish law to not consume dairy after meat. Mimieux answers his questions with a frog in her throat, very clearly anxious. A crisp strudel is served, and Landa forces Mimieux to wait for the cream on top before digging in. Another right hook in Landa’s subtle fistfight for asserting dominance in the scene. He pours sugar into his espresso, taking his time just as he did in chugging the milk in the first act. More sound design from Tarantino as the tiny speckles of sweet sugar hit the cup of espresso—as Tarantino’s heightened reality comes to a boil. And as each of Landa’s important questions are let out, the waiter always interrupts: to take the order, deliver the food and administer a spoonful of cream on top of the strudels. The sequencing of these events is far from coincidental. With a deep breath, Mimieux cuts into her strudel and goes in for her first bite. As she eats her eyes widen from the flavor, and perhaps from getting over the shock that she’s consuming dairy. The tension created by such a simple, luxurious treat is so palpable on screen. While Landa consumes gorgeous mouthfuls of strudel, Mimieux cannot bring herself to have a second bite. During the shooting of the scene, Tarantino directed Christoph Waltz to understand one thing about the scene. “I want you to devour the strudel… I don’t want the audience to know ‘do you know? Do you not know?’ It can all be conjecture… I want you to do one thing, and one thing only. Concentrate on eating the strudel.” (Quentin Tarantino Talks About Food and Their Power in Movies) 

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In the same way Landa speaks between smoking his pipe in the first act, he speaks in between mouthfuls of strudel. Afterwards, he baits Mimieux into his second and final test, “I did have something else I wanted to ask you.” Landa observes Mimieux’s look of grave concern carefully as she reacts as naturally as she can to his remark. The suspicion of her heritage is confirmed for Landa in this very lethal moment. Having received everything he needs, Landa continues, “But right now, for the life of me, I can’t remember what it is. Oh well, must not have been important.” (01:00:38) Landa puts his cigarette out in Mimieux’s unfinished strudel and leaves her, as she weeps as soon as he is out of sight.

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In one of cinema’s subtlest mini-cameos, Mike Myers dressed as a British intelligence officer not named Austin Powers but named General Ed Fenech has a drink with Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) before the briefing of Operation Kino; an operation to assassinate Hitler. “What shall we drink to, sir?” Asks Hicox. “Well, umm, down with Hitler.” Replies General Fenech. They toast each other and take a swig. No power asserted amongst each other, but a hopeful dominance that Britain will one day win the war by bringing Adolf down. “All the way down, sir.” Hicox adds.

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Operation Kino is underway. Lt. Hicox rendezvouses with Lt. Aldo Raine and his crew of Basterds to meet a German actress/British spy under the name Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger). As the crew clinks their tankards and gets progressively more drunk, a high-ranking officer of the SS (August Diehl) interrupts their festivities, pointing out Lt. Hicox’s peculiar accent. After slightly defusing the situation, the high-ranking SS officer joins them at the table, paying close attention still. When Hicox orders three whiskeys with the American way to signal three with your fingers, the high-ranking officer catches on and Hicox’s cover is blown. In the process of ordering a thirty-three year old bottle of Scottish whiskey, Hicox had unintentionally given away his last hope to remain incognito as a German officer, and without even consuming the drink yet, all power was transferred to the high-ranking officer —the only true German at the table. Another use of silence as the German officer eyes all of them, before he raises his Walther P38 under the table to call the Brit’s bluff. Stuck in a Mexican standoff, Hicox switches to his native tongue English. “There’s a special room in hell reserved for people who waste good scotch. Seeing as I may be wrapping in the dull momentarily…” he drinks, “I must say, damn good stuff, sir.” (01:32:23)—the conceit an acknowledgement of the power transference from him to his authentic German counterpart. A large gunfight ensues and everyone, besides Hammersmark, loses their life.

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Before screening the German propaganda war film for a room full of high ranking Nazi officials as well as Hitler (Martin Wuttke), Mimieux and her projectionist Marcel (Jacky Ido) shoot a roll of film with the intention to splice their addition into the movie at the moment they intend on burning down their own cinema with Nazis trapped inside. Knowing they are embarking on a far-fetched quest to destroy a basket full of Nazi eggs, Marcel and Mimieux converse on how they plan to do it—over lunch. “But how do we get it developed?” Marcel asks. “Only a suicidal idiot like us would develop that footage.” (01:47:29) Mimieux chews her food as she ponders his question. “We find somebody who can develop and process a 35mm print with a soundtrack. And we make them do it… or we kill them.” Her ruthlessness and disgust for Nazis clearly conveyed, we get true sense of Shosana Drefus’s opinion on the Nazis—a reveal of character. Although, it’s safe to assume she’s hated Nazis from the start. Her revenge—coming soon. 

The Nazis gather in the lobby of Mimieux’s cinema to celebrate the film on the night of the screening. Colonel Hans Landa is on the scene to meet Hammersmark, who is in a fresh leg cast. Landa’s suspicion is already raised, as he found a woman’s shoe and Hammersmark’s own autograph in the basement where the Operation Kino rendezvous had failed. Hammersmark introduces Landa to her “three friends from Italy” who are really three of the Basterds: Lt. Aldo Raine, the Bear Jew, and another Basterd (Omar Doom). Landa asks about Hammersmark’s fresh leg cast, and detects her lying by asking where in Paris had she been climbing mountains. The conversation is already off on the wrong foot, as it were. 

None of the Basterds really speak Italian, and Landa corners them all when he begins to speak in their “native” language. Landa exerts his power in the vocabularies he is exercising from a whimsical, romantic tongue as the Basterds stupidly stare at him with disgust. From Lt. Raine’s first “Hello,” any audience member can detect they are not who they say they are. The Basterds hold their screening pamphlets and cards, Hammersmark holds her hands in anxious contempt, and Landa a glass of exquisite champagne. It is obvious he holds all the power and status in this conversation. (01:53:50) Another test from Landa forces the Basterds to say their names multiple times adds insult to injury. “One more time, but let me really hear the music in it!” After much gusto and forced over-pronunciation, Landa finally accepts who they are, (knowing they really aren’t) and asks for their tickets to see where exactly they are sitting. He has exercised his power over them, and now knows exactly where they’ll be in order to secure them before the real action begins.

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Operation Melt the Nazi Basket at the Cinema otherwise known as Operation Kino is compromised. Lt. Aldo Raine and one of his co-horts The Little Man (B.J. Novak) are captured by Landa, and they sit tied to a chair next to Landa at a table with a telephone, fine wine, and three glasses. After their captivity masks are removed, Landa asks them, “Tell me Aldo, if I were sitting where you’re sitting, would you show me mercy?” Detective Landa at work once again. Due to the circumstance he has all power in this situation, yet is possibly alluding to a brighter, more favorable outcome. “But if I don’t pick up this phone right here, you may very well get all four. And if you get all four, you end the war—tonight.” (02:07:33) All four meaning if Landa doesn’t call the cinema and alert his security of the operation, the operation would succeed, and Aldo’s remaining forces untouched by Landa’s security still at the cinema would be able to carry out their plan to kill Hitler, Goebbels, Goering, Bohmann, all in attendance. As well as a bunch of Nazis. “So gentlemen, let’s discuss the prospect of ending the war, tonight.” (02:07:45) Landa removes the cork from the wine bottle with grandiose style, administering his captives a bougie drink, and treats them as his equals. Through the offering of this celebratory wine, he intends to transfer some of his power back to the Basterds, provided that he receive a generous severance package from the Allies and that his loose ends are squared away by the victorious forces to be. Skeptical, Lt. Aldo Raine doesn’t buy it. Landa drops a remark far too hubristic for our civilization to comprehend. “In the pages of history, every once in a while fate reaches out and extends its hand. What shall the history books read?” (02:10:29)

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Tarantino rewrites history with Inglourious Basterds; a truth I did not appreciate upon first watching. But it was a realization that brings me to why I watch and rewatch Quentin’s films time and time again. The realization being that as artists, we are capable of changing history and influencing power in ways unimaginable and unattainable by any other means. Tarantino’s unique knack for utilizing the very sustenance that gives us life and energy is the way he allows us to transfer and communicate our power; a characteristic I have rarely seen executed so powerfully in all of cinema. Just ask Jules in Pulp Fiction when he snatches a Big Kahuna Burger from his enemy, or the rotten-toothed Calvin C. Candie who lives and runs a slave plantation known as Candieland as he sips Polynesian Pearl Drivers with rum in Django Unchained. For those who wish to become legend and follow in Tarantino’s footsteps, one must critically analyze these uses and transform them for the generations to come. 

Bibliography

Stern, Howard. “Quentin Tarantino Talks About Food And Their Power In Movies.” www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8jUYv_S9RE. Accessed 21 Apr. 2019.

Tarantino, Quentin, and Lawrence Bender. Inglourious Basterds. The Weinstein Company, 2009.