Richard Bernstein: Sadism Gets a Pass at the Movies (a review of Inglorious Basterds)

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NEW YORK — Am I being overly fastidious, or does Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, “Inglourious Basterds,” which earned $38 million in its first weekend in the United States — more than double the nearest competitor — provide a more unapologetic justification for torture than Dick Cheney has been articulating lately?

The Basterds of the mysteriously misspelled title, eight Jewish soldiers plus Brad Pitt parachuted into Nazi-occupied France to terrorize the Wehrmacht, carve swastikas on the foreheads of their victims and beat them to death with baseball bats.

They also take scalps, Apache fashion, even as they laugh at the sufferings of their enemies. Moreover, unlike Mr. Cheney, who claims that “enhanced interrogation” produced invaluable information in the war on terror, the Basterds do their deeds simply to make the Germans afraid of them, and it seems that gross violations of the Geneva Conventions are the best way to do this.

Or, as Mr. Pitt’s character, Aldo the Apache, who leads the American Jews into battle, puts it near the beginning of the film, “We will be cruel to the Germans, and through our cruelty they will know who we are.”

Well, “Inglourious Basterds” is only a movie, and the fact that the Basterds are mostly Jews avenging themselves against Nazis (actually, their victims are mostly just German soldiers, which was not always exactly the same thing) no doubt gives them a certain license, at least in the minds of the audience.

Still, it does seem a bit strange that “Inglourious Basterds,” which has been treated in the press as the cinematic event of the season, hasn’t drawn a bit more quizzical commentary, perhaps even complaints from Jewish and other groups, for depicting a moral equivalence between the Jews themselves and their victims...

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