Tarantino: Quent-essential Film Making
“English, motherf***er! Do you speak it?”
Little needs to be said about these words. Without even mentioning the title of the picture, most can hear Samuel L. Jackson’s iconic line addressed to a stuttering little man sat in a chair at breakfast. Whether you have actually watched Pulp Fiction or not, chances are you can recite most of that scene and enjoy the juicy delivery of every single word of the classic dialogue. Who Marcellus Wallace actually is, in fact, does not matter in the slightest.
Much has been written about Quentin Tarantino’s films. Some focus on his masterful cinematography; some on his expert storytelling. There are even the Quent-spriacy theorists who believe that all nine films take place in the same Marvelesque universe, although I think it is safe to say that we will not have the spinoff origin story of Dr. King Schultz where he inexplicably meets the distant predecessor of Mrs. Mia Wallace. All of these aspects of Tarantino’s films are well worthy of discussion, but I would like to focus on a very specific question: Why is it that all of Tarantino’s films are so incredibly infectious? Why do we worship the sun-glazed shots of Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood and buy into the brutal spaghetti-Western reality of The Hateful Eight?
The answer is simple, but requires unpacking: the reason his films almost always strike home is because of the unique and captivating world that he creates within them. Let me explain.
Tarantino’s worlds are very similar to ours in many ways, but simultaneously become caricatures of the reality we live in. These distortions always take slightly different forms: in Kill Bill, he creates a version of our world through the lens of a martial arts reality where Katana swords and Kung Fu fights are ordinary appearances; in Django Unchained, he explores the horrors of slavery through recognisable Western-style gunslingers and bounty hunters. Sometimes, Tarantino even takes a blunt path of historical revisionism, altering the timeline of our history (spoiler alert) thus prematurely winning the Second World War for the Allies in Inglourious Basterds and avoiding the murder of Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood.
In many ways, these descriptions can put a lot of people off from watching the movies- after all, not all of us are 20th Century cinema nerds like Tarantino himself. Many find classic Westerns insufferable and have had no exposure to the vast range of martial arts movies produced in the 60s. The reason we buy into these worlds is because of how much we enjoy and accept these universes as playful parodies on our own. Often using historical events as backdrop, Tarantino exaggerates the motivations of his characters to create powerful stories- in Kill Bill and Django Unchained it is the desire for revenge; Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood feelings of friendship and comradery; The Hateful Eight the violent reality of hatred, racism and xenophobia. As a result, what we see are captivating magnifications of many aspects of our own reality through various lenses of different cinema that Tarantino himself takes inspiration from and parodies. It is for that reason that people who have never laid eyes on a grindhouse film can enjoy Death Proof and those that have never seen a 60s Western can enjoy Django Unchained or The Hateful Eight.
Make no mistake though, Tarantino’s universes are his own. There is an additional swagger to Tarantino movies that make them so memorable and the characters so iconic. Tarantino puts a lot of himself into his movies. Consequently, all of his characters, whilst starkly different, speak in a similar, Tarantinoesque way. The discussion of the morality of tipping waitresses that opens Reservoir Dogs is stylistically very similar to the comedic conversation about the meaning of foot massages between two gangsters at the beginning of Pulp Fiction. It is this witty, absurd style of dialogue that gives us iconic over-the-top protagonists like Brad Pitt’s badass Lieutenant Aldo Raine in Inglorious Basterds and Jamie Foxx’s Django in Django Unchained, and equally iconic villains like Colonel Landa or Monsieur Candy (in the same movies, respectively), as well as many more.
So why are his movies so immersing after all?
Well, what I attempted to demonstrate above is that, in many ways, there is no cliché ‘deeper meaning’ to Tarantino films or a hidden secret to their success. Of course, there are many ways in which he uses the stories to challenge the viewer and stimulate thought- no good movie is complete without this- but there is no grand epiphany at the end of his movies. The reality is that I doubt Tarantino wants anyone seeing his films as moral lessons or attempting to find their elusive ‘true meaning’, individually or collectively. What is important and so captivating about them is that we as the audience get to be involved in various different universes that engulf our entire existence and that we subsequently do not want to leave, however ridiculous or exaggerated they may be.