Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Hateful Eight - A Tarantino Western


Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell
Release: 30 December 2015
IMDB User Rating: 8/10
Rotten Tomatoes User Rating: 78%

Okay, before I continue it would be best that I mention that I am working on the assumption that you have seen this film, which means that there will be spoilers. Anyway I generally don't write these posts as reviews, namely because I generally do that on IMDB (though I haven't touched Rotten Tomatoes, and am unlikely to do so since I really don't have the time to post all of my reviews up there as well, but who knows, I might do so in the future). Anyway, if you are interested in reading reviews of this film then I suggest that you go and check out those sites (and if you are interested in my review, then you can find it here). Also, I wish to point out that the ratings I have used above are current at the time of this posting, though I suspect that they generally don't change a huge amount after the initial few weeks of the film's release.

Anyway, this is Tarantino's Eight film, and his use of Eight in the title is a nod to the Fellini film 8 1/2. However it can be a little confusing when you look at Tarantino's filmography on Wikipedia (though if you go to the main article you will find the eight films listed there). Okay, they actually list nine, except that Kill Bill is actually supposed to be a single movie - it is just that it ended up being so long that they decided to divide it into two parts. Okay, Tarantino didn't actually direct True Romance, though it has been included among his eight films (probably because he had a lot more control over it than some of the other films he had written - such as Natural Born Killers).


So, the question is what will one expect from the film? Well, I can say that it is what you would generally expect from a Tarantino film - gratuitous and rather shocking violence, some rather interesting twists, and numerous rather ordinary conversations which have become a hallmark of Tarantino films. Okay, you don't get a scene like the one in Inglorious Basterds where they play celebrity heads with a Nazi officer, however in a lot of cases these rather ordinary, and quite boring, scenes work well to build up the tension. You can also expect the film to be divided into chapters - another hallmark of Tarantino's films. Pretty much all of Hollywood has films as being one continuous story, whereas Tarantino will divide his films into chapters, a useful technique since he does have a habit of jumping back in time to explain something that he doesn't want us to know at the beginning.

Anyway, as I am apt to do, here is the trailer:


The Story

Okay, I may have said that this isn't a review, but I guess I always feel the need to outline the plot before I get into some of the more juicy discussions. Anyway, the film is set after the American Civil War during the period known as the wild west. The film is set in the Wyoming wilderness during a blizzard, and a bounty hunter, John Ruth (known as The Hangman because he always takes his bounties back to town so that they may be hung) is escorting a prisoner, Daisy Domogue, to the nearest town (Red Rock) so as to collect the bounty. On the way he meets up with another Bounty Hunter, Major Warren, and the local Sheriff Chris Mannix (who is actually on his way to take up the position in the same town that Ruth is heading towards).

On the way a blizzard whips up preventing further travel so they shelter down at a wayside inn knowns as Minnie's Haberdashery. Staying at the inn are another five characters: a Confederate General, a Mexican, an undertaker, and another more mysterious man who sits in the corner writing his in diary. As the blizzard gets progressively worse the eight (or should I say nine because we also have Ruth's stagecoach driver) bunker down for a long couple of days. The catch is that Ruth is pretty much suspicious of everybody as he knows that somewhere along the track somebody is going to attempt to either take his bounty, or free her.


The Idea of the Western

I have to admit that I've never been a big fan of westerns, probably because many of them were released before I was born. In fact there was a time when westerns were big. In fact there was a whole sub-genre known as the Spaghetti Western (probably because they were filmed in Italy of all places). These days westerns aren't all much that in vogue, in fact you see very few of them hitting the cinemas. Maybe it is because society has moved on from the western as a genre, replacing it with the cop movie, or maybe it is because the John Waynes and Gary Coopers are no longer around (though Clint Eastwood is still making movies).

A lot of the westerns (though I am no expert on the subject) seem to revolve around the idea of the mysterious stranger coming into a town ruled by thugs and then cleaning the place up, before riding off into the sunset. This basic plot seems to have been repeated ad-infinitum, and if it wasn't bandits it was Indians. In a way the stories of the wild west seem to be one of those eras that defined the character of the United States. Mind you it wasn't as if these lands were unpopulated, or not ruled by any of the European powers (much of the great plains were controlled by France, while California fell under the dominion of the Spanish). What did characterise the region west of the Mississippi was that the civilisation of the East coast had yet to make its way out there.


The main idea is that the west was little more than a barbarous wilderness that was sparsely populated and as such criminals could flee out there to be beyond the reach of the law. The military or the police force did not have a huge presence out there, so these criminals could literally do what they like without fear of retribution. Mind you, this was not always the case as the image of this period is one that was ruled by the gun, and justice was determined by the mob. Even if a town had a sheriff, there was not necessarily any formal judicial system where criminals could be tried. Thus what we have with the classic western is this idea of order being brought to a realm of chaos, and the civilising influence slowly spreading over the west, whether it be going after outlaws, for fighting against Native American insurgencies.
This isn't the case with the Hateful Eight though - it is not a story of the civilised East coming to tame the Wild West. Sure, we have John Ruth, and Chris Mannix, who represent the law, but we also have others who have come out here to be free from many of the problems that have arisen in the East. This is the case with Major Warren, who has become a bounty hunter in Wyoming due to the fact that his skin colour made it very difficult for him to be anything back East, despite the abolition of slavery.
What we have in the Hateful Eight is not so much a civilising influence coming to the west, but rather pockets of civilisation fighting against the overwhelming power of chaos that is represented by none other than the blizzard.

Blizzard in the Wilderness

The only form of civilisation that we see in this film is Minnie's Haberdashery, however as we find out halfway through the film this is quickly taken over by the Domague gang, without too much trouble at all. The world of the Hateful Eight is a barbaric wilderness in which civilised people are fighting a losing battle against the forces of chaos. Minnie established this wayside stop to provide shelter for travellers, yet in a moment's notice the forces of barbarity storm the building and kill everybody inside. As such Minnie's Haberdashery is no longer a safe haven, but simply another aspect of the wilderness.
We are constantly reminded throughout the film that we are surrounded by nothing but wilderness, but this inhospitable world is further compounded by not only it being the middle of winter, but also the descent of the blizzard. At first the world we see is a world dominated by grey and white, with only the occasional colour piercing it (in the form of Ruth's stagecoach). As they ride through the land the wilderness seems empty and endless, with only the occasional encounter along the way, and even then Ruth is immediately suspicious of all he comes across.
Then the blizzard falls, cutting them off further from the rest of civilisation, and blanketting the scarce colours in more white. In fact once the blizzard is in full swing all we see outside the walls of the building is black and white - a powerful storm rushing about tormenting all who dare attempt to enter it. In fact it gets to a point that nobody can even leave the building for to do so would be certain death. As such, we are trapped in a building where chaos reigns outside, and it is soon revealed that even being inside these four walls is not necessarily safe.
Even before the twist is revealed, it comes to the fore that Warren and the General really don't like each other, to the point where they almost come to blows. As such the small hut must be divided even further, to create the North and the South, with neutral territory in the middle. Mind you, we do get this sense of sanctuary at first, with the image of the wooden crucifix out the front, however as it becomes apparent the crucifix is covered in snow, suggesting that the wilderness is taking over once again.

Mysterious Strangers

One of the staples of the Western is the idea of the mysterious stranger, the one who rides in out of the wilderness to set everything right. However this idea is once again turned on its head with the idea that the nature of the stranger is that we really don't know anything about them, and even if we believe we do it suddenly becomes apparent that we may not know this person in the way that we initially thought we knew the person. Initially the idea was that the stranger was good, however it comes apparent in the film that a stranger is what a stranger is supposed to be - an unknown.

The thing is that in the Hateful Eight we really know very little about who these characters are. In fact the only characters we actually know for certain is John Ruth and Daisy Domague. We know that Ruth is a bounty hunter and that Daisy is a criminal that is being brought to Red Rock to face justice. Sure, we think we know about Major Warren, but that is only because Ruth indicates at the beginning of the film that they are old acquaintances.


Warren also adds credence to this belief with the existence of the Lincoln Letter. This is a letter that was purportedly written by Abraham Lincoln to Major Warren, and was a part of a chain of correspondence between the two. However it's existence only serves to add authenticity to his story, and respectability to his character. This changes when we meet Chris Mannix, who is also quite familiar with Warren, and slowly we begin to see him dismantling his story to a point where he points out that the Lincoln Letter is nothing more than a forgery. All of the sudden this respectable character becomes nothing more than a stranger.

However we are also left in the dark with Chris Mannix. We know of his background due to the story of his father, however we are never quite sure whether he is really a sheriff or not. He has accepted the role, but he doesn't have any proof. In fact we sort of wonder why it is that he is found out in the middle of the wilderness with no horse and begging for a lift. Nobody has been to Red Rock, and nobody can confirm his story, yet we must accept it.

The same is the case with Warren. We are told a story of how he confronted the General's Son, and then brutally tortured him by making him walk naked through the snow until he could simply walk no more. Yet we are left to wonder whether this story is true or not, namely because we are told that the Lincoln Letter is a lie and as such his testimony becomes suspect. However Tarantino is tricky in this part through the use of a cut scene. We actually see the story being played out before our eyes, and are almost forced to believe that Warren is telling the truth, even though there is serious doubt as to its authenticity. The question then arises: does the general react because of the story, or simply because he finally took Warren's bait.



In fact everybody in the film has a story, and we are almost inclined to take these stories at face value. The short man claims to be an executioner, and is instantly believed. The Mexican we accept as one of Minnie's servants, which leaves us with the mysterious letter writer, who we all end up suspecting. However it is only when Warren begins to deconstruct the Mexican's story that we are then made privy to the truth behind what is actually going on. However, as with a lot of Tarantino's films, there are still further twists to unravel, and further lies to be exposed.

A Bloody End

I was going to finish off talking about the tension that arises in the film, particularly when you have eight people all trapped in a building who either don't like, or don't trust, each other, however instead I will simply wrap it up by considering the final act. Basically everybody dies, or at least it seems that all die. Sure, the film closes with Mannix reading the Lincoln letter out loud after being handed it by Warren, but both of them are bloody, beaten, and unless they get some medical attention they are unlikely to survive the night. Well, guess what, they are miles from nowhere stuck in a hut full of dead people in the middle of a blizzard - I suspect the writing is pretty much on the wall with this one.

Once again, we see Tarantino turn the concept of the western on its head, in a similar way that he has done with many of his other films. They are not typical Hollywood films - they are Tarantino films. Sure, not every one of his films has an ending where everybody dies - in fact a lot of the films the heroes win, as was the case here, but what we have here is generally what one refers to as a pyrrhic victory - sure, they got the bad guys but as what cost?

So, where we have the idea of the Western as being the strangers bringing civilisation, law, and order to an untamed land, we have Tarantino twisting this idea around to demonstrate that while the bad guys are killed, and the good guys victorious, in the end neither side has won and the land remains as wild and as untamed as it ever was.


Creative Commons License

The Hateful Eight - A Tarantino Western by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you use wish to use the creative commons part for commercial purposes, please contact me directly. All images on this post are © and/or ™ their relevant owners. If you are the owner of any of the images used on this website and wish them to be removed then please contact me.

No comments:

Post a Comment