Inglourious Basterds, Performatism and the Old Testament-Prof. Dr. Raoul Eshelman
Friends, relatives, and correspondents have recently been pointing out to me the performatist qualities of Quentin Tarantino’s newly released Inglourious Basterds, so I decided after some hesitation to watch it myself (I don’t especially like violent movies). Unfortunately I must admit to remaining unconvinced of the movie’s merits. Basterds is entertaining at times, but it’s ultimately just a silly (and excessively violent) movie that doesn’t go any farther than Tarantino’s truly original and innovative Pulp Fiction.
Let me explain. In Pulp Fiction (1994), elements of postmodernist and performatist aesthetics mix in a congenial way. On the one hand, the movie is self-consciously unreal and constructed. It’s a postmodern pastiche of quotes and allusions that have no real depth and create no lasting identifications (the main case in point being the engaging John Travolta character, who is built up only to be blown away again in mid-film). And it’s fun because Tarantino knows his stuff—the dialogues and characters ring true. On the other hand, though, Pulp Fiction was one of the first movies of the 1990s to do something explicitly performatist—to make the possibility of transcendence the defining moment of its plot. Although we never find out whether Jules Winnfield’s conversion is divinely justified, his transformation from a postmodern killer citing Scripture to a performatist vagrant believing in it is what makes the difference: his newly found faith forces us to identify with him whether we ourselves are religious or not. And that’s something that isn’t possible in the virtual, superficial world of postmodernism. Jules’ conversion also suggests that there is a way out of the contractual violence defining the rest of the film, and his choice to live as a penitent drifter suggests that a now no-longer postmodern subject may find a space to recover and heal spiritually.