I don't find the sickening violence in Tarantino films morally justifiable.


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, August 21, 2009. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

I Won't See Glourious Basterds

I Won't See Inglourious Basterds, in which Quentin Tarantino glorifies appallingly violent vengeance.

I have mixed feelings about Tarantino. He is obviously a talented director. Moreover, he loves the cinema and making films. His own movies pay homage to films, directors and actors he has enjoyed and is indebted to. And his films are filled with remarkable scenes, fantastic - often intricate - dialogue, and intriguing characters.

They are also filled with graphic, gratuitous violence. It took me a while to get around to seeing Pulp Fiction. It was undeniable fun. But what should be our attitude towards John Travolta accidentally blowing a young guy away in the back seat of his car, then laughing about the mess?

Of course, Samuel Jackson repents in the last scene of the movie. And Travolta himself is blown away by a sympathetic character played by Bruce Willis. But does "seeing the light" (like the Jackson character does) justify enjoying all the carnage that precedes it?

Tarantino has ceased using such conversion experiences to excuse the violence he depicts, and instead relies on vengeance as the primary psychological justification for his gore. That is, villains receive their just desserts, which allows us first to witness their butchery, then to feel cleansed when they in turn are eradicated.

Kill Bill I and II, of course, are films based on vengeance in which Uma Thurman pursues David Carradine, who has done her wrong every which way. Eventually, Thurman finds and kills Carradine in the house where he is raising their daughter. So it's okay to kill the only parent her little girl has ever known, right?

My distaste for vengeance is not due to any religious beliefs I have. I simply don't find it a healthy and a useful emotion. Moreover, it often leads to miscarriages of justice (think of lynchings). It's hard for us to get our heads around, but the people who blew up the World Trade Center and the Lockerbie flight felt that THEY were justified in their actions by past wrongs perpetrated on their people.

And so, Tarantino's new film is a colossal vengeance fantasy that a group of hard-boiled Jewish avengers led by a charismatic Southerner played by Brad Pitt slaughter Nazis around Europe in the most brutal fashion possible. (It's something like Steven Spielberg's Munich, only it's not true, and it's not morally complex.) Why not - they're Nazis, for God's sake. And, adding to the irony here - the most enticing character in the film is a Nazi who hunts Jews like rats!

Speaking of Nazis, I guess you've noticed that right wingers are accusing Barack Obama of pursuing Nazi policies of genocide in his health care reforms. Meanwhile, left wingers accuse town hall protestors of Nazi tactics, often while these protestors are shouting that their Congressperson is a Nazi or Nazi-like.

You see if we vilify and dehumanize our opponents, then we can do whatever we want with them. Go on, bash their brains all over the ground - they're not real human beings! If our economy gets much worse and our society much more polarized, perhaps we'll return to public executions - hangings, decapitations, firing squads. Remember how Scotsman William Wallace was disemboweled and quartered in public (there's another director who enjoys gut-wrenching violence).

And I don't see how this will help us, or how courting such emotions in film can be very edifying.