[With his permission, I am posting Bruce Rosenstock’s comment on Inglourious Basterds as a fresh post, in the hopes of giving it the attention it deserves.]
It seems to me that when talking about the representation of violence one needs to ask: with what subject position is the viewer being asked to identify with? In Inglorious Bastards, the viewers are being asked to place themselves in the position of the Jewish/Apache squad and they are being asked to cheer (even while being made queesy) the scalpings, the beating, and the machine-gunnings. There is no pity whatever for most of the victims (maybe one exception: the new father). Is there a moral problem with this? Tarantino shows us a Nazi film that shows a sniper, and in the film the audience takes the subject position of the shooter and cheers at the deaths of his victims. Is Tarantino saying his film and the Nazi film are one and the same in their intentions? I think it is significant that Tarantino uses a sniper as the hero of the Nazi film. The sniper is someone who inflicts violence from a distance and precisely does not confront his enemy. Nazi violence is portrayed as hiding its face as it coldly snuffs out victims from afar (in the first instance of it, the victims are not even visible to the perpetrators.) The Jewish/Apache violence is face-to-face and hot. Is this a better way to commit violence? If such face-to-face, hot violence is somehow only possible against an enemy who shoots from a distance and commits cold-blooded murder, if it is revenge against this kind of cold violence, then perhaps it is better. One can argue that Shylock’s violence is of this sort, a protest against the hypocritical violence of the Christians that hides its face behind the mask of justice. When hot violence takes vengeance against cold violence, it arouses our sympathy. But any representation of this vengeance becomes questionable when there is collateral damage, when it becomes blind to whether it is attacking a perpetrator or just someone who looks like a perpetrator. Hot, face-to-face violence must never be blind; it must have the courage to look its enemy in the eye. I think Tarantino is very careful in IB to show us this kind of courageous hot, face-to-face, violence for us to cheer. Are we better off for seeing this movie? I for one think so, precisely because we come to feel what kind of violence is evil and what kind of violence resists evil.