Quentin Tarantino — Twisted Sadist or Creative Genius?

As I watched Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds for the first time this past Sunday night a paradox of emotions flooded my artistic sensibilities. It was a struggle to pinpoint my feelings. Was it delicious agony? Was it a happy sadness? Was it similar to watching a house burn down—possibly with people in it?

He made me look in horror…and laugh!

But a moment later, I was embarrassed about the disturbing subject matter at which I was laughing.

And no one else was in the room. Just me. Alone to laugh (or wince) as I wished. No posing. Just the real me. Alone with my conflicted self.

Craving entertainment, whatever the cost.

Am I sick? Depraved? Or am I just your garden variety desensitized American consumer.

Artistic brilliance abounds. No question.

The opening cinematography of the french countryside would give Monet chills. Tarantino’s use of silence and tension is genius.

But life is cheap and gore plentiful in Tarantino movies.

Or is it?

Is he a twisted sadist or creative genius?

I know he doesn’t care what I think.

But I care. I care about the ripple effect.

I’ve been to Africa where life is cheap and meaningless. In Central Asia, I have looked deep in the eyes of flesh and blood Kyrgyz survivors mutilated by sadistic Communist rule, hoping for a single glimpse of life—finding nothing.

Do we forbid a creative genius artistic expression?

When does art and freedom begin to eat itself?

The result a chilling future called tomorrow, where there survives neither artist nor consumer.

I really liked the movie. It made me laugh.

I really didn’t like the movie. It made me cry.


60 Responses to “Quentin Tarantino — Twisted Sadist or Creative Genius?”

  1. When I watch a movie from Tarantino, I feel inspired to do something as creative and powerful. I think the man’s a creative genius.

  2. this is such a conflicting post for me. I agree. such a great movie and funny. classy in it imagery and pauses.. but bloody bloody. there is a cheapness to life but i wonder if he just likes his content to go there? what a crazy fantasy for what it could look like if the Jews ended the life of Hitler.

  3. Just last night I was thinking and praying about the effect of what I watch in media.
    I was reading a commentary of Genesis (I’m in seminary… it wasn’t “oh that sounds fun” kinda reading!). :O)
    In that commentary it spoke to basically this exact thing.
    I’ve determined for my own heart that some things need to change.
    I know in a lot of ways I have become desensitized to what is on the big and small screens.
    I watch a lot of things that have warped sensibilities (ironically I was looking at watching the movie you referenced) or gratuitous language, etc. You helped make up my mind on that one so thanks.
    My two cents!

  4. I’m a big fan of his work, mainly because of his creative voice. He’s a natural born filmmaker, no question about it. Watching a Tarantino film is sort of like film school for dummies. Honestly, I’ve never thought much about the violence in his films, not after Reservoir Dogs anyway. After the bloodbath of that film, you pretty much know what you’re in for when you watch a QT movie. But I believe he uses violence for stylistic effect. And to anyone who’s not a Tarantino fan, I urge you to watch the first scene in Basterds and see if it changes your mind.

    • @Ryan Smith, I would love to hear more of what you mean by violence as stylistic effect. That is very intriguing to me.

      Yes, the first scene Basterds is a masterpiece of film making.

      Thanks, Ryan for joining the conversation.

  5. This kind of reminds me of how I felt watching The Book of Eli. Without the laughing. Great movie with a very important and good plot and ending. LOTS of blood and language and other such things.

    I used to watch and enjoy a lot of other movies and TV shows with little thought nor care regarding their effect. These days they sit differently with me. Even with the creative genius and worthy storylines, I am not comfortable with the things I am allowing to take up space in my mind and take time in my day/night. Much can be said for the negative effect of desensitization.

    I guess when it comes down to it, knowing the mission I have to overflow the light of Jesus to others in my life, I think of these things as I find myself watching such “creative genius”:

    “I will set before my eyes
    no vile thing.
    The deeds of faithless men I hate;
    they will not cling to me.
    Men of perverse heart shall be far from me;
    I will have nothing to do with evil…
    My eyes will be on the faithful in the land,
    that they may dwell with me;
    he whose walk is blameless
    will minister to me.” (Psalm 101:3, 4, 6)

    “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

  6. I don’t think I can add any value to this post only that I’ve heard and read that this movie was awesome. I wondered what they would think of this movie here because this country was attacked by the Germans and Rotterdam was bombarded. As far as I know they liked it. I mean they think it’s a piece of art. Some were even left breathless at the beginning.

    Me, I didn’t see it and don’t want to. When there is blood and fighting in it it’s not for me. I’m a chicken. Can’t watch that.

    But I don’t think he is a sadist. I think he’s being creative in filmmaking.

  7. I honestly can’t bring myself to watch one of his films. I feel as if I would lose a part of my innocence. I just don’t want to give that part of me up.

  8. I don’t consider myself artistic… at all. So offering my opinion about art & creativity seems petty to me. I could not begin to answer your question, Mr. Elrod, about how to strike the balance between art and destructionism; “where does art and freedome begin to eat itself?” I will say this though– content and messages, no matter how comical, being hailed as brilliant and being awarded as “triumphant” for their provocative nature, pushing the limits of toleration (which is like an Olympic sport in this country), only accomplish one thing in my opinion: a country wide identity crisis. As soon as we begin to question what is right, wrong, acceptable, normal, natural, etc. it will not be long before we begin to wonder about ourselves and the faith we claim on the whole. Romans 8:6 says “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit (which is truth) is life and peace.”

    • @Meredith Dunn, Hmmm. Thanks, Meredith. So, no gray area for you in this matter?

      • @Randy Elrod, Yes and no. How’s that for an answer? HA! This is so difficult for me because on the one hand, you have films like Gladiator or Braveheart that from beginning to end, the script, cinematography, and characters completely engulf you into a truly captivating story. Those films are absolutely and fantastically artistic. Having not seen Quentin Tarantino’s film, I can’t reasonably speak to or argue my previous point.

        Point- Randy.
        Score- Randy-1, Meredith-0

  9. gotta be honest… i’ve never watched a tarantino film. there’s just never been one that’s intrigued me enough to watch in spite of the seeming gruesomeness.

    • @alece, Thanks, Alece. You can watch the first 19 minutes of inglorious Basterds and you will see his creative genius. The first scene is extraordinary. The violence begins at 19:30.

  10. I haven’t seen it yet (on the netflix list), but in general I’m not a big QT fan mostly because the disturbing parts are over the line for me.

  11. Trey Chandler August 11, 2010 at 13:18

    I love QT’s movies. As an artist, he take the work of those who have gone before and expands on it, pays homage to them at times, and in the end makes it his own. Are we only speaking of language and stylized violence? Was Titian’s work considered “too much” at the time?

  12. I’ve tried to watch a few of his movies and couldn’t get through them. I didn’t like the way he portrayed violence—almost in a comedic sort of way. It made me very uncomfortable.

    Thanks for asking the questions. I think so many people today judge everything on the basis of its ability to amuse rather than the long-term impact on our worldview.

    • @Michael Hyatt, Yes, Michael, amuse is a very good word here versus the emotional and psychological impact.

      Thanks for weighing in.

      This impact of this movie is hard to ignore due to 8 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture.

  13. I have to say that Inglorious Basterds was one of the “easier” of QT’s movies for me to watch – less sex than most of them.

    I too felt conflicted by the movie though. On the one hand, I was glad to see the nazi leadership have someone take a stand back at them. I found myself cheering her on…

    But then I realized that I was cheering for more senseless death, and I found myself grieving.

    Yes, I think he is an artistic genius, and I feel that he is exposing a side of humanity to light – a side that we generally prefer to keep under wraps.

    That being said, I tend to think long and hard before popping in a movie with his name on it. I know that my mind will be assaulted nonstop for the duration of the movie, and I have to decide if I think it will really be worth inputting those images into my mind. Some of them never quite go away.

    • @Jennifer, Well said….”I tend to think long and hard before popping in a movie with his name on it. I know that my mind will be assaulted nonstop for the duration of the movie, and I have to decide if I think it will really be worth inputting those images into my mind. Some of them never quite go away.”

      Thanks, Jennifer for joining the conversation.

  14. My sporadic thoughts…

    I liked the movie, not because of the violence, but because of the story.

    I can respect those who don’t like the violence. It doesn’t bother me.

    Growing up outside of ‘christiandom’ with an alcoholic father, violence in movies does very little to me.

    On another note, not even being Jewish, the story made me feel ‘satisfied’ if you will.

    As for QT? I’m not a fan of any one director or producer, or whatever QT is, I watch movies I think I’ll like or are recommended to me, and then decide if I like it or not, based on the story of the movie not who made it.

    (Since someone already mentioned it – The Book of Eli is a great movie about faith and perseverance.)

    p.s. If you don’t like violence, you shouldn’t read the Bible, I’ve come across a couple stories in there that can make Basterds look like Mary Poppins.

    (p.s.s. Your link in the blog to the movie site doesn’t work.)

    • @Rocco, And well said, Rocco…”If you don’t like violence, you shouldn’t read the Bible, I’ve come across a couple stories in there that can make Basterds look like Mary Poppins.”

      Thanks for the info about the link. Duly repaired.

  15. The conversations we have with ourselves as we watch films like this one are massively important; our thought processes reveal who we are almost as important as the things we decide, I think.

    Many times, I have traded a bit of naivete for a bit of art or music. Some times I’ve regretted it, and some I haven’t … but I am unwilling to navigate the ocean of art and music and film without ever plunging into the sea.

    I like Tarantino. I’m afraid of him, but I like him. I don’t like everything he does… (the Kill Bill adventures, for example) but I’m okay with that. Personally I think his take on the horror of Holocaust only made me more disturbed at the sad reality of that historical event. However, I must confess that when I watched Inglorious Basterds I fell asleep in the middle because I was on a tour bus and had just taken Dramamine :) so I haven’t actually finished it. But it produced good fruit in me…I learned to hate genocide even more than I already did.

    • @Audrey, Thanks, Audrey. “The conversations we have with ourselves as we watch films like this one are massively important; our thought processes reveal who we are almost as important as the things we decide, I think.”

      Yes. Very important. Your comment is thoughtful and important in this (and my) thought process.

  16. Also–I think it’s healthy once in a while to take a good look at evil and shudder; and even, as Tarantino seems to do, laugh at it.

  17. In film, amazing artistry takes place when a director is able to make the characters jump off the screen. We feel what they feel. We think as they think. We understand and even relate to the villain while also doing the same with the hero.

    Tarantino is brilliant! Regardless of whether we agree or disagree with his style or content, we have to acknowledge that Tarantino’s films cause us to react. It cause us to feel stress and humor. Fear and joy. His films prey on our emotions.

    Does this cheapen life? Does Tarantino seek to cheapen life? I actually believe he brings everything to life. He takes the dark and destructive and makes us sit in it and respond to it. Just the fact that we question whether he values life or not, proves to me he does. In his attempt to draw us in to the good, the bad and the ugly, he forces us to face life head on. And to respond to it.

    This is why i love a Tarantino film. He brings people to life. Because they now are people I know. When I leave a Tarantino film, I know every character. Nothing is left unsaid. No rock unturned. So, we get the bad with the good.

    Im ok with that.

    • @brent(inWorship), Wow! Brent. A powerful, powerful point in this conversation!

      “Does this cheapen life? Does Tarantino seek to cheapen life? I actually believe he brings everything to life. He takes the dark and destructive and makes us sit in it and respond to it. Just the fact that we question whether he values life or not, proves to me he does. In his attempt to draw us in to the good, the bad and the ugly, he forces us to face life head on. And to respond to it.”

      Thanks for joining the conversation. We are better for it.

    • @brent(inWorship), that’s a fantastic response, Brent. I can’t agree with you more.

  18. I meant to say “our thought processes reveal who we are almost as *much* as the things we decide,” not “as *important” as the things we decide.” :) but you get it!

    Thanks for writing a blog about how you love/hate the movie. :) I had a similar reaction.

  19. I would love to see him make a movie on the life of David from the Bible. How graphic is violence in the OT scriptures?

  20. We rented that movie on pay per view a while back and I must say I agree with your thoughts. As the only female in a house full of men who want, love, and seem to need action movies on some level where the good guys win — I was conflicted in allowing my 19 yr old and then 16 yr old to watch.As a woman it totally violated my sensibilities and even my boys and husband were appauled by what we laughed at. As a mother, I wondered what message I was sending them. As a woman, I found the ending bitter sweet as the gal from the beginning got her final vengance. My oldest finds Tarantino to be somewhere in the middle – not quite a sadist, but not a creative genious either. His thoughts are more along the lines of “he’s a man, trying to make sense of senslessness. Rewriting history to satisfiy the need of the good guy winning, no matter how awkwardly, is a coping mechanism.”

    Hmm.. I love my kids, you know that?

  21. I have respect for Tarantino because he makes what he believes in, which seems to be the brain-blast of entertainment possible in film, and the thought-provoking display of the depths people will go when forced to or lost in depravity. He seems to stick close to his core in terms of what art he chooses to make, and again I respect him for that. He seems to hold himself to a high quality and creativity standard. I don’t always agree with what he communicates in his movies, and I don’t recommend them to anyone too young to understand the subtext (or anyone squeamish in the slightest.) I want to be the kind of Christian who can respect another persons right to carry their own beliefs, no matter if they are in opposition to my own.

  22. I was struck by the parallel (intended or otherwise) between the German audience watching the fake film and myself (and the rest of the audience with me) watching QT’s fake film. It almost felt like Tarantino was saying we are the same. We are the people we are cheering at as they are destroyed.

    That being said i liked it a lot.

  23. I think he is a creative genius who lives in a fallen world so he serves up beauty and brutality

  24. I’ve never seen a QT movie, but this topic arises around my favorite author, Ted Dekker. He’s a Christian but writes incredibly graphic novels with some truly evil, twisted villains. I think they’re awesome, but he gets badmouthed in Christian circles because his evil is “too evil.”

    Satan is evil. The Bible is bloody. Samson spilled more blood than Tarantino could ever consider. Satan has destroyed more lives than any of Dekker’s villains could ever dream of. But we weren’t around to see Samson’s destruction and most of Satan’s work is hidden from us in the spiritual realm. I think it’s vital that artists like these men show us just a glimpse of what evil can be so that we don’t forget that there really is an enemy at work.

  25. Well, I’m a big Tarantino fan so I guess I might be a bit biased. ‘Pulp Fiction’ is one of my favorite films.

    One thing I remember in an interview with Tarantino is he said he was just doing “make believe” but on a bigger scale. Thing about it. Before paint ball and air-soft guns, kids played war, cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, etc. We pretended our way to these long drawn out deaths and had a blast doing it.

    Tarantino is the guy who continued that kind of fun but put it into scripts and in front of a camera.

    What set Tarantino apart from other writers and directors (and this goes back to ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction.’) was that he portrayed the bad guys as just regular guys who happen do bad things for a living. So rather than the mustache twirling cackling bad guy or the one that has nothing to do other than be bad, he made them human. They discussed Madonna songs, television shows, foot massages and what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in France. The next thing you know however, these same mild-mannered guys can flip a switch and turn into violent thugs – which is what they are.

    And THAT is what shocks people.

    And THAT is what makes Tarantino so brilliant.

    Audiences don’t cringe at the violence shown in films where it’s what we expect (everything from ‘Goodfellas’ to ‘Saw’) from the bad guys.

    Tarantino merely shows in his films what lies deep within the recesses of just about anybody in this world: That there is a fine line between being the every day people we are, and guys like ‘Mr Pink’ and ‘Vincent Vega’ who calmly discuss tipping waitresses and whether or not we should eat pork before violently car-jacking women, shooting cops and taking out punks in a hotel room.

    People are happy to watch the banter about the supposed hidden meaning of ‘Like A Virgin’ but recoil in horror when these same guys who are sitting joking and laughing are the same ones who wouldn’t think twice about putting a bullet into you if you’re in their way.

  26. BTW, I loved ‘IB.’

  27. Thought this was an insightful interview with him: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/7165045/Quentin-Tarantino-interview-All-my-movies-are-achingly-personal.html
    I’m still trying to evaluate what I thought about the movie and myself. May have to watch it again with another lense.
    From the interview:
    ‘All my movies are achingly personal,” he insists. “People who really know me can see that in my work. In a film, I may be talking about a bomb in a theatre, but that’s not what I’m really talking about.” As he says this he laughs an evasive, slightly goading laugh. So, what is he really talking about? “Well, it’s not my job to tell you,” he says. “My job is to hide it.”

    Made me think of the parables.
    Anyways I’m depraved.
    Thanks for the post.

  28. Randy wondering your thoughts on:
    How much do I need to know about the artist to appreciate/understand their art? Does it matter if I know them at all, is art supposed to be left up to my own interpretation or should I know their intent, history, interpretation…?
    I’ve really been studying, thinking and teaching that to understand, appreciate, etc. creation I need to know the Creator. How a misperception/misunderstanding of God gives me a misperception/misunderstanding of the world, people, the church and myself.
    So concerning QT and his body of work how much, if at all, does it matter that I know something about him? Thus the above quote.

    • @Ron Swanson, I believe it does. It helps me to read “Agony & The Ecstasy” & “Depths of Glory” to understand Michelangelo & Pissaro respectively. Knowing the artist makes a huge difference for the viewer. I really appreciate the interview with QT. It helps me a great deal.

      Thanks, Ron

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