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I am the real hero of Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” (and So Are You).

January 17, 2016


We don’t often get a babysitter, so when we do, we’re not going to waste our precious opportunities seeing movies that our increasingly mature offspring might actually be able to see with us.  No, when we go see a movie together on our own – our sense of rare freedom encourages us to explore the… exotic.  Thus, Tarantino beckoned.

Have you ever trotted along to a local gigaplex that towers over the neighbourhood and then found yourself directed to a disconcertingly small room?  Yeah – that was us  last night.  Let’s just say that we were in “Row D” – which was near the back.  Our small screening room filled up quite quickly.

It was a small, full house.  And it was cold – a cold January night  – we all kept our coats on.

Those who’ve seen The Hateful Eight will realise how uncomfortably appropriate this was in terms of experiencing the film.  Indeed, when our peripheral vision reminded us of people whose bladder demanded an excursion outside it was hard, on their return, not to shout “Two pieces of wood!  You need two pieces of wood!” at them.

The Hateful Eight is a very beautiful film in many ways.  Both the winter landscape of Wyoming and Minnie’s Haberdashery are lovingly rendered.  And the great Ennie Morricone offers one of his memorable of scores.  Indeed, there is much that Sergio Leone could have signed off on here.  And in the later stages of the film, another great influence on Tarantino – Brian De Palma – is acknowledged as Jennifer Jason Leigh increasingly resembles “Carrie”.   Daisy Domergue is, incidentally, by far the most terrifying character in the film, the creature most remote from any kind of human appeal.

But these influences notwithstanding – you’re never allowed to forget that you’re watching a Quentin Tarantino event.  It is announced, very self-consciously, as his “Eighth” movie (counting two Kill Bills as one), and all good completists are duly lured in.  I for one don’t mind being a Tarantino completist.  I’ve found all eight movies satisfying in different ways and to greater or lesser extents – with the possible exception of Inglorious Basterds.  Don’t like that one.  Might just be the early eighteenth-century Scriblerian in me.  I prefer mock-heroic to burlesque.  I prefer small events inflated to big history deflated.

I think there’s a case for saying that The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s least and most original movie.  It employs familiar tropes, familiar techniques and familiar cast.  It is slow and patient with dialogue and fast and unexpected with violence.  It has Samuel L. Jackson bristling with seductive menace.  In obvious ways it resembles Reservoir Dogs in terms of plotting and atmosphere, although Tim Roth, a jovial parody of fish out of water Britishness, is not the character who takes longest to die in this film.

But this film is harder to watch than Reservoir Dogs.  It is harder to watch than any of Tarantino’s other films – and not just (though partly) because it is longer.  It is because trapped in this cabin with these characters is like having your fondness for Tarantino tested to the limits.  Sitting through this film is like being force fed your favourite food.  To call this film “self indulgent” is to miss the point.  The is a film about be de-sensitised and re-sensitised to hatred and violence.   At one point, Tim Roth notes that everyone in the cabin seems determined to refight the Civil War in a small cabin.   This is true, but they’re also replaying Tarantino movies in a small room.  The motives of the characters become secondary to our own motives for being there.

Oddly enough, seeing a film with an intermission (something I haven’t done since I don’t know when and I’ve seen longer films without one) – makes the claustrophobia more intense rather than alleviating it.  As the lights come on, we find ourselves blinking at one another in the audience, nodding, exchanging glances – and making those nervous social acknowledgements that say “we’re all in this together – aren’t we”. We are strangers forced together by circumstances, like the characters in the film.   I never had Tarantino pegged as a Brechtian, but this intermission has the effect of smashing that fourth wall and increasing the size of Minnie’s Haberdashery until it absorbs the entire theatre.  By giving us the option to get up and stretch our legs – Tarantino makes us feel more trapped than ever.

In this film, Tarantino gives us too much of what we thought we wanted and then asks us to re-assess our own appetites.  It is profoundly self-referential because he knows that we know that he knows that we know what a Tarantino movie is.  This is like every Tarantino movie, but like none of them – because none of the others make the audience feel so complicit.  The final scene is about the inevitability of death and yet the equal inevitability of aestheticising death.  Everybody dies, but the timing and the staging of death is everything.

Come to think of it, the last movie I saw that had an intermission was Sound of Music.  Like The Hateful Eight, that movie was defined by majestic snowy mountainous scenery and the decisive influence of music.

And both movies offer the same message by the time you’ve struggled out.  Go home and hug your children.  Hug them close.



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One Comment
  1. I’m glad you liked it i really thought it was a waste of time

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