Following on from the last reflection, we have two of the most well-known auteurs working in cinema today. Similarly they both have films out at the moment that are using the American Civil War as a backdrop, and using violence as an important fixture in their films. Both however, are saying very different things with it. As talked about in the last reflection, Inarittu’s The Revenant (2015) is going for realism, which can hardly be said of Tarantino. The Hateful Eight (2015), his eighth film, doesn’t relent on the violence front, although we do have to wait a while for blood to spill. But when it does, blood spatters walls and floors, somebody’s face gets shot off, and brains are blown out. It’s cartoonish, but it still has the capacity to shock and guffaw.
Shock though, only lasts so long, until we get used to it, and then it moves into banality. What made me flinch the most was the violence inflicted upon Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the bounty of the play. She is on the receiving end of elbows, punches and slaps and enters the film with a black eye to imply she’s already received more blows. Get Domergue however and you get the money, but she is as good dead as she is alive so why does John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth want to see her hanged? John ‘ The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) wants to live up to his name. Tarantino is constantly asking in The Hateful Eight what does something mean here in this constructed, fiction, when all its reference points are empty or fiction? We’ve never witnessed John Ruth get somebody to a hanging, and we never do, so does his name mean anything? Michael Madsen’s character is apparently the new sheriff of the town our characters are trying to get too – Red Rock (somewhat of a macguffin): yet none of the characters believe him and should we when there seems to be nobody else in the world apart from the characters? If all the characters are worth something with bounty’s over their heads, do they have any kind of currency if they don’t? When symbolic value is removed, everything is shown to be what it’s worth – nothing. If you take the socially constructed element of money away, what do you have apart from a few round discs with the Queen’s head on them?
It’s full of these empty kind of comparisons. “All the world’s a stage…” says Jacques in As You Like It, but in this case all the stage is a world, everything before and after it doesn’t matter. Despite some wonderful natural shots, enhanced by 70mm, accompanied by Morricone’s menacing foreboding score, the film only takes place in two places – the stage coach and the haberdashery. At one point Oswaldo Mowbray (Tim Roth) seems to literally takes Jacques’ famous line and puts it into literal effect, dividing the Haberdashery into different regions. There is also the crucial, later help of the trap door, so perhaps Taratino would have been better titling his sections as ‘Acts’ rather than ‘Chapters’.
From those sweeping panoramas then we get another paradox – it is the inside and the stage that really matters. It’s a whodunnit, a cluedo-like game that takes a long time to turn out. Other reviews have said that it is that long to ratchet up the tension, but there is half an hour in there that is genuinely boring. It is purposefully boring though, and Tarantino is doing the same with his language as he is with violence. Tarantino’s dialogue is often praised for its naturalism, but like a lot the conversations we have, in our real day-to-day lives, they’re banal and meaningless and there just to fill the empty, silent space. It’s not for authenticity (as others have noted there are certain anachronisms that slip in) like some suggest this is why he constantly uses the n-word, it is the complete opposite; he overuses it to the point of meaninglessness and banality. Language, although spoken, does not always carry meaning and currency.
While people may think that Tarantino is trying to depict a history of America, if anything, it is a history of America through film – a history of cinema. This is where The Hateful Eight seems lacking then from the rest of his films, he seems to have resorted to a pastiche of himself. All the reference points, the whole history of the Hateful Eight, are only other Tarantino films. Rather than knowing nods to other films, we see more knowing nods to his own films. Directors routinely re-use actors, and Tarantino has his familiar ensemble, but the effectively re-uses the same characters. As Variety has noted, Samuel L. Jackson could have been bible -toting Jules Winnfeld proclaiming Ezekiel 25:17 before he shooting his victims.
You might not expect any less from the great auteur and great anorak, but you might expect more. Tension builds in the dark, cramped room, and encompassed by the 70mm, you’re watching a dark, cramped room, from a dark, cramped room. Tarantino is not striving anything remotely real to compare with the the non-film world, he’s well aware that the film is as real as it gets.