The Hateful Eight, Tarantino's eight movie, is a fine film. While it is too long and it's last 60 minutes are significantly better than the first 100, it's still a fine film. It will keep you entertained, it has moments of sheer brilliance (Daisy playing on the guitar comes to mind) and good performances by talented actors, with Leigh stealing the show and Channing Tatum yet again delivering very strong work in spite of short screentime. In spite of a very long running time - nearly 3 hours - the film is never boring. In fact parts of it are really masterful.
Here's the thing, though - for me Tarantino peaked with Jackie Brown. Pulp Fiction may be my favorite of his, but Jackie Brown is by far the most mature movie and script. After Jackie Brown Tarantino descended into a pit of making a movies he would probably love to watch himself, movies filled with him fanboying over lots of stuff and paying homages as often as he can. So we got two parts of Kill Bill, Death Proof, Tarantino rewriting history in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. All, except for Death Proof, good and fun movies. But neither of them on the level of Jackie Brown or what came before it.
Tarantino's films post-Jackie feel different. They don't even feel like movies but a spectacle of Tarantino having fun for 2-3 hours. They are filled with caricatures, gimmicks and lack emotional impact Tarantino's previous films had. They feel less real, the characters being larger than life and the stories resembling something you can find in comic books. I'm not saying these films aren't awesome - I adore Inglourious Basterds and Kill Bill films and at the very least Django brought with it terrific work from Waltz. But I miss 90's Tarantino.
There is a terrific little movie from 2015 which I praised extensively everywhere that I could - Bone Tomahawk -Tarantino also praised the film, including him on his top 10 of 2015 list. When I was watching this movie the first 3/4 of it reminded me so much of what Tarantino's lines used to be - they were always clever and funny but there was also something human about the way his characters talked. His characters felt real. In the last few years his characters feel like simply characters in movies., not people who could actually exist.
The Hateful Eight is another step farther from 90's Tarantino - this time Tarantino fancied to tell a little bit of Agatha Christie meets western story and so he did. The mystery is here, the tension is here, witty lines are also here. But it's yet again Tarantino staging a movie out of homages and larger than life situations and characters.
There is something, however, that distinguishes The Hateful Eight from Tarantino's other seven films: for me, this time, he went too far.
Here is my main problem with The Hateful Eight - the level of violence and humiliation directed at Jennifer Jason Leigh's character is ridiculous. It is also played for laughs. I get that Tarantino paints all those characters as pretty much equally vile people. I get that Daisy is supposed to be a murderer and she took people's lives. One of the many mistakes Tarantino does here, though, is not telling us exactly what Daisy did. Not painting her as a vile creature he just assumes we see when we look at her instead of having us learn all the gruesome details is a mistake.
Who is the primary audience for Tarantino's movies? Males. Especially young males. Now I highly doubt that adolescent boys who love Tarantino for all the swear words and violence will ponder about the fact that Tarantino is making Daisy equal to the males so the violence in the director's mind is justified. They are gonna see petite Leigh getting repeatedly hit in the face and think to themselves that this is "fucking awesome" and that "the bitch got what she deserved".
Tarantino is one of the most well known, influential directors on the planet. I cannot remember the last time a director of such influence had scenes of a woman being mercilessly beaten up for a comic relief. And the men are painted to be hero protagonists! Or at least better than Daisy, the bitch who is supposed to hang. We are told that there is a plan to help her escape so she is made out to be the main villain in the movie. But who can blame a woman for trying to escape her captor? Yet again, Tarantino not showing us or at least telling us what Daisy did while he goes into such detail when it comes to deeds committed by the men in the movie was such a failure on his part.
People say about this movie that there was really no issue with gender because the characters are equal. But they aren't equal. And you cannot just erase gender. Especially when all the other female characters are also brutally treated. This isn't Kill Bill where we had at least one good female character kicking ass or Death Proof with all those fighting ladies. This is the movie where all of the female characters die by the hand of a male. Normally this would not be an issue in itself. But add to that the brutalization of a female character happening for comic relief? Oh, it's a big issue then.
That Tarantino's agenda was not misogynistic doesn't prevent the movie from having an effect on misogynistic society. In fact it has nothing to do with director's intent- the film's images of extreme violence directed at female character speak louder than whatever agenda or vision Tarantino had. I'm sure Tarantino and Leigh thought that in that final scene a cackling witch is being hanged. But if Tarantino thought that the script he wrote, the lines we hear and the events we see were enough to justify beating up a woman and showing her brutal hanging and for us to cheer about the triumph of the last two males standing, he has miscalculated greatly.
I do think that blaming Tarantino for gun violence in real world, which happens pretty much every single time a young person shoots people, is a stretch. But he is acting irresponsibly to have scenes of such violence directed at a woman in a movie that is gonna get released in this misogynistic world. Leigh gets repeatedly physically abused, she gets blood spat on her, brains of her brother splattered on her face and in the end she is hang as males, one of them more likely than not, a rapist, laugh and come off as heroes of this story. I truly feel that this time Quentin Tarantino crossed the line. By a very significant margin.
In no way am I calling Tarantino misogynistic. Neither does Sasha Stone, exactly, who wrote a brilliant piece on this issue. Jennifer Jason Leigh herself said that he isn't and in her mind her character is tough - this is not something I am denying either. I am however calling Tarantino extremely irresponsible. As a woman who gets frightened every single time she passes a large group of males on the street after dark, the issue of Tarantino unleashing scenes of a chained woman beaten up by male protagonists painted out to be heroes is, for me, far more pressing and important than his insistence of using the N word so prominently in this day and age.This isn't Irreversible where even Gaspar Noe showed the rapist to be despicable or any other movie where a woman is abused because there, in those other films, the abusers aren't shown to be heroes. Which brings me to another point -
My other issue is the story Samuel L. Jackson's character is telling at one point of the movie. It's the most disgusting thing in Tarantino's movie yet. I had no issue with rape in Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill because the people who committed it were villains and got punished. But I take issue with it here - because clearly Jackson's character is supposed to be one of the heroes of the story. Yes, you will tell me that 'come on no one is supposed to be a hero'. But Jackson's character is shown to be smart, cunning, resourceful, someone who honors the wishes of the dead man who saved his life. If Tarantino is taking sides, it's clear he is on his.
It's possible the character was lying, since he lied about the letter, but this is never clarified for the audience. When you have a character that is supposed to be a hero talk about raping someone and then you don't clarify that he lied, you risk alienating the audience. And Tarantino certainly alienated me. If Tarantino
has a character talk of a crime this vile he should have clarify it afterwards - either it was truth or it was a lie. Since he didn't, I found the character revolting, which
in effect turned the ending into something revolting - a rapist, whose crime we saw, is laughing as a female, whose crime we didn't see, is hang. There is just something so wrong about that ending.
I see that majority of people assumed the character was lying but here's the thing - he later gets shot in the groin. And given Tarantino's fondness for irony I figured that actually makes his story more real - the rapist got shot in the balls as punishment for his crime. At the very least that script needed more work. I feel it is ambiguous in the parts it shouldn't be ambiguous in at all. While there is a lot of good in the script - the flashback chapter is a little masterpiece that took me right to 90's Tarantino and Channing Tatum's work there was exceptional - he sabotages his own work by not being literal where a shade of doubt is enough to cloud the entire film.
I should have had reasons to hate Daisy. I should have been told if Samuel L. Jackson's character is a rapist or not. Why not swap the roles here - have a flashback of Daisy doing something revolting, not someone who is supposed to be a person the audience roots for. Clear both of those issues and it's a fantastic script. There is a difference between ambiguity that adds to the character and ambiguity that makes it impossible to feel for a character in a way the filmmaker intended or at least the way that makes the movie work. Did Tarantino really think witty lines said by sassy character are gonna be enough to make rape funny? Did he really think eliciting an inappropriate laughter from audience is more important than making things clear? Was that story really worth risking to derail the entire film? Was he even aware that this could happen or was he chuckling manically and patting himself on the back for coming up with it? With both of those issues it ruins the entire film while making Tarantino look incompetent and his script appear very, very flawed.
I feel Tarantino lost touch with the real world. Both when it comes to how fake his films from the last 15 years feel and both for what effect his movies may have on the impressionable young audience. As an artist he should have freedom. But as an influential filmmaker he also has responsibility. When I saw the movie I didn't feel outraged or horrified because of what I was seeing on the screen. But I felt outraged and horrified at the glee with which Tarantino was showing every single punch Daisy takes, the close ups of her bloodied face and broken teeth. If you choose to show something like that, you cannot do that without a message. You cannot do that if you don't condemn it. And Tarantino was too busy having his silly, cinematic fun to notice that.
Now don't get me wrong. While watching the movie I enjoyed most of it. But for
the first time in 2015 I was absolutely puzzled with what the hell was
the director trying to achieve here. And the more I think about it the more
I think he didn't actually want to achieve anything. He just wanted to have a character tell a 'funny' story and just wanted a female-villain character hang in the end with two men left waiting to die in some sort of a homage to The Thing. That's it. But when you are a filmmaker, when you show people a bloodied woman getting brutalized, you better have more reason to do so than just because you want to.