This isn’t a review of The Hateful Eight. I’ll sum up my opinion of it in one sentence: It’s not his worst movie or his best movie, and I only recommend it to people who are determined to see every Tarantino film.
This is a review of the crowd at The Hateful Eight 70 mm Roadshow. It’s specifically about the crowd at the 11 am screening of The Hateful Eight on 70 mm in Edina, Minnesota on the Sunday after Christmas. Generally, this is a review of the kind of people who see Tarantino films during their opening weekends.
I’ve had bad experiences seeing the following movies in theaters:
- Kill Bill, Volume One
- Kill Bill, Volume Two
- Inglorious Basters
- Django Unchained
- The Hateful Eight
I did not see anything before Kill Bill in theaters, so I cannot speak for that. I also didn’t bother with Grindhouse, although I can imagine that what I’m going to describe would have applied, had I seen that.
What kind of bad experiences? It all boils down to one thing: people laughing at things that I do not find funny. And I’m not talking about a small number of people laughing at something I don’t find funny. I’m talking about seemingly the entire theater laughing, often raucously, at the shocking and gruesome and gratuitous and disturbing violence that consumes a Tarantino film.
Here are some examples of disturbing things that elicited laughter from audience-goers at Tarantino films:
- Limbs getting hacked off and squirting blood
- An eyeball being plucked out of a head
- A head exploding
- A man being beaten to death with a baseball bat.
- More heads exploding.
- An alleged criminal getting hanged, i.e. a lynching.
- People vomiting blood from their mouths until they die.
Am I being too sensitive? Maybe. In the eyes of the people who think the above things are funny, almost definitely.
But what bothers me is how different my interpretation of these films is from the people around me. These scenes are not only not funny, in my opinion, but they aren’t meant to be funny.
I’ve thought for some time that Tarantino’s films are meant to be ironic, self-parodying. The Nazis cheering during the screening of Nation’s Pride during the final act of Inglorious Basterds are a reflection of Tarantino’s own audiences… or so that’s what I’ve chosen to believe. When his audience laughs at an unarmed war prisoner being beaten to death with a baseball bat, whether that man is a Nazi or not, the audience is sinking lower, losing its compassion and humanity.
But is that the reality of Tarantino’s message? It’s a debate, summed up well by Ben Walters in Film Quarterly: “The sadistic bloodlust of his Jewish avengers is as unsettling as his revisionist chutzpah is disarming.” Are the Basterds heroes or are they war criminals or are they both? Are they not suicide bombers and torturers? Is Django not a killer of fellow slaves? Are the characters in The Hateful Eight not lynchers? Are these characters not all the worst kinds of people?
If I’m going to watch Tarantino’s films, and enjoy them, and attempt to appreciate and understand them, then I can’t watch them in an environment that elicits stress and irritation and disgust with my fellow movie-watchers. I want to be able to watch it for what it is, not for what I wish it was and how I don’t think it’s what the people sitting behind me think it is.
Unless: if I choose not to see his films in theaters anymore, am I removing myself from the conversation and experience that Tarantino is pushing? Am I turning away from the ugly reality that his films are meant to reveal?
Or am I projecting an entirely different reading on these films than is intended? If Tarantino were sitting in the audience when I saw Inglorious Basterds or Django Unchained, would he have been laughing too?
I’m done seeing Tarantino films in theaters, because I hated, absolutely hated seeing The Hateful Eight during its 70 mm Roadshow. And the reason I hated it was because of the audience, cheering and jeering, applauding and laughing every time a head exploded.
Of course, I’m sure this is all just talk. He will have another film in the theaters in two or three years, and I’ll see it, and then I’ll write this same blog post but with more items for my bullet points above.