January 29, 2016 Film ReviewsUpdates

'The Hateful Eight' (2015)

In turbulent, uncertain times, the adventures of our lives can intersect and overlap, entangling one’s fate with the destinies of others.

What do a pair of bounty hunters, a female prisoner, an unseemly posse of outlaws and gunslingers, and a former war general have in common? In writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s latest outing, they are forced to seek sanctuary in the confines of a rustic Haberdashery during the course of a raging, punishing blizzard. What unfolds is a bloody, stomach-turning smorgasbord (part western, part political satire, part detective mystery) that is as much about the traumatic aftermath of the American Civil War as it is about the sadistic exacting of vengeance, the thirst-quenching pursuit of capital punishment, and shameless displays of machismo-drenched misogyny.

In this pressurised and claustrophobic setting, historical hangovers, racial tensions, and masculine anxieties collide, spark and explode in a grisly, messy standoff. Heads are blown off. Limbs are severed. Bodies convulse and violently vomit blood. One character even has his manhood subdued by the pulverising blast of a bullet.

Recalling his directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs (1992), The Hateful Eight throws together individuals with chequered pasts, clandestine agendas and paranoid temperaments. Confronted by circumstances not of their choosing and beyond their control, they form uneasy alliances where personalities scrape, friction mounts, and any opportunity to forge binding connections is severely truncated. It is only a matter of time before the body count rises and corpses pile up.

Even attempts to build bridges and address the reprehensible legacy of the past, evoked by the unlikely rapport between the erstwhile Union officer Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and his Confederate counterpart Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), comes at the expense of an entrenched cinematic commonplace: the brutal execution of a shrewd, defiant, and gleefully unrepentant female antagonist (Jennifer Jason Leigh in a show-stealing turn as the delightfully named fugitive Daisy Domergue).

‘I never expect to win anything at any festival I’ve gone to where a jury has to decide’, Tarantino proclaimed when he won the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm, the highest accolade at the Cannes film festival) for Pulp Fiction in 1994, ‘because I don’t make the kind of movies that bring people together — and you’ve got to find the one movie that brought them together — I make movies that split people apart’.

The Hateful Eight seemingly confirms Tarantino’s assertion: the shameful history of slavery in the United States, its lingering and turbulent effects on race relations, and the depiction of violence against women are all incendiary and fiercely debated topics.

‘I want to do movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies’, Tarantino declared in 2010. ‘I want to do them like they’re genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it’s ashamed of it, and other countries don’t really deal with because they don’t feel they have the right to.’

Treating ‘serious’ and historically sensitive material through composite, layered genres and the gleeful play of carnage and comedy, machismo and meditations on mortality, is always a risky and controversial undertaking. But if cinema can engender a rethinking about the past filtered through the crossing of boundaries, then The Hateful Eight is arguably one of Tarantino’s most politically resonant and critically divisive films to date.

With its novelistic structure, inter-temporal narrative and stunning, excessive aesthetic (explosive, stylised violence interwoven with wintry Wyoming splendour), The Hateful Eight revisits and ridicules the grandiose, sentimental but irresistibly captivating historical fictions that desperate, disdainful men concoct, exchange, live by, and ultimately die for.

Like the faux correspondence from Abraham Lincoln that Major Marquis Warren carries close to his heart and strategically shares with others — eliciting both reverence and ridicule, depending on the reader in question — a motion picture is an open text that simultaneously unites and divides audiences.

— Dr. Varga Hosseini