By Michael Parnell
I step onto some shaky ground here, but I will admit it: I love Quentin Tarantino. Yes, I know his movies are filled with violence and terrible language. But there are few directors working today that fill the screen with such images that make us think so theologically.
Let me give you an example. In Pulp Fiction, Bruce Willis’ character, Butch, is delivered by Grace. If you have not seen it, go and check it out.
I have a theory that Tarantino is trying to say something about the nature of God and humanity in many of his movies. The Hateful Eight, his current movie, is no exception.
In the opening scene of the movie, there is a long close up on a statue of Jesus Christ, dying on the cross. This is done in the midst of a horrific snow storm, but it is here that the movie begins.
When I see something like this, I begin to pay close attention to what is going on.
The movie moves forward as a stage coach is racing in the midst of the snow. It is stopped by a lone man who is standing on the snowy road. Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) hails the stage like a person would a cab.
On board is “The Hangman,” John Ruth (Kurt Russell). Ruth is a bounty hunter. In his custody is Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). We never learn what she has done, but we know she is not a good person and is on her way to hang in Red Rock.
Ruth does not want to let Warren aboard, but because he knows Warren and Warren is a fellow bounty hunter, he gives in. It is made clear by Ruth that he is taking Domergue to hang and to collect the $10,000 bounty on her head, and he would not think twice of killing anyone attempting to take Daisy.
As the movie and the stage moves forward, another person is found on the road. This is Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). He was once part of a Confederate renegade unit that made it his job to kill slaves during and after the war. Mannix claims he is to be the new sheriff of Red Rock and if Ruth is to be paid, it would be him that would do it. This makes Ruth give in and give Mannix a ride.
The stage coach travels on, and makes a stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery. The storm is getting too great and those with the driver (James Parks) have to stop and wait it out.
Within they find Owaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) who says he is to be the new hangman in Red Rock. There is Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a cowboy on his way home to see his mother. Also there is Gen. Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), an ex-Confederate on his way to claim his son’s body. And Bob (Demain Bichir), who is the hired hand for Minnie.
What follows is something that Tarantino does better than any other director — dialogue with the characters and the unfolding of how their stories intersect with each other in many ways. Also there is violence. Bloody, grisly violence.
There have been many opinions that this movie plays like Tarantino’s first, Reservoir Dogs. Some have said it plays like an Agatha Christie “who done it.” There are elements to both of these here.
What I see Tarantino doing here is speaking to the myth of the redemptive nature of violence. He is using violence as a means of declaring how silly it is that we give into our desires when it comes to violence.
I do not know if Tarantino read Walter Wink, but I see some of what Wink wrote on the myth of redemptive violence. The use of Christ at the beginning and the almost nihilistic way that the movie plays out speaks to some of the points that Wink makes about how we view violence so causally.
Wink writes this at the end of his essay on the redemptive nature of violence:
Redemptive violence gives way to violence as an end in itself. It is no longer a religion that uses violence in pursuit of order and salvation, but one in which violence has become an aphrodisiac, sheer titillation, and addictive high, a substitute for relationships. Violence is no longer the means to a higher good, namely order; violence becomes the end.
Tarantino takes us on a violent ride to show us how foolish violence is and how, when we succumb to it, we turn into the very things that we hate in order to see our will done. But there is a scene, and I will not spoil it, that makes me think that Tarantino sees redemption as something that comes from God and not from violence.
A final word: this movie is not for the faint of heart. If you cringe at violent images, you need to avoid it completely.
The Hateful Eight
Rated R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
With: Samuel L. Jackson (Major Marquis Warren), Kurt Russell (John Ruth), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Daisy Domergue), Walton Goggins (Chris Mannix), Demain Bichir (Bob), Tim Roth (Owaldo Mobray), Michael Madsen (Joe Gage), Bruce Dern (Gen. Sandy Smithers), James Parks (O. B. Jackson)