I went and saw “The Hateful Eight” in 7o millimeter. I don’t really like Quentin Tarantino, but when I was a kid a movie in 70mm was an event, and I suppose that’s why he made it in this format. In the old days it was the cool thing, even though there is no pressing reason to have filmed it this way. There are a few snowy vistas, but mostly like other QT movies it’s people talking and shooting each other at close range.
Spoiler warning- I will tell you all the surprises. Should you wait and see this movie? Probably not, it’s not really good, just interesting. If you plan to see it, stop here.
The setup is a bounty hunter bringing a fugitive in to be hanged. A snow storm forces them and some others to stop at a way station until it subsides. He fears someone may interfere with his mission, and paranoia abounds. Eventually numerous people die in a gory fashion.
But you knew that already, because that’s QT. Now the spoilers- the bounty hunter was paranoid, but not paranoid enough. The fugitive is the sister of a gang leader, and his gang are out to rescue her. The people at the way station are all members of the gang, except for one hostage. Eventually they make their move, and we see in a flashback how it all happened.
Most of the characters are strongly symbolic, so rather than running through all that happens it is easier to explain by detailing each one, in the order they appear.
We first meet Major Marquis Warren, a former black Union cavalry officer played by Samuel L. Jackson. He is a bounty hunter who stops the stage on the road to ask for a ride.
Warren represents black power. He is not a civil rights advocate, he kills white people as he needs to achieve his ends. We learn he is responsible for the deaths of many Union and Confederate soldiers when he started a fire to escape from a Confederate prison. He has killed many white men who attempted to kill him to collect a bounty placed on his head by the Confederacy.
More importantly, though, is that he lies and manipulates. Few people seem to understand the BS quotient of black behavior, not even me until I saw this. Warren carries a letter with him that is supposed to be from Lincoln to him, but he later admits is fake, and he only uses it to impress white people.
Later, he tells a long story about torturing and humiliating a man who came to kill him, to provoke the man’s father into drawing so he can kill him. Is this story true? You are led to believe it is, but a similar story is told in “Reservoir Dogs” and is not true. In much the same way, Mr. Pink relates the story of almost getting caught with a package of marijuana by a cop with a drug dog. But the story is fake, made up so he can infiltrate the robbery gang. For this reason I believe Warren’s story is fake.
Tarantino’s insight is that a great deal of what blacks say is lies intended to manipulate white people in one way or another. He can say this of course because he approves of it. Nonetheless, it has been said.
Warren dominates the story, but when the gang makes its move he has his testicles shot off. QT seems to show dominant black men being humiliated- like the sodomy in “Pulp Fiction”- as a way of sugar-coating the situation.
We next meet John Ruth, a bounty hunter played by Kurt Russell called the Hangman, because as Warren explains he never kills the fugitive, but always brings him into the authorities alive. Ruth seems to be a dominant figure, but is shown to be a fool. Ruth represents white liberals and neoconservatives. Ruth is taken in by Warren’s fake Lincoln letter. Ruth fails to realize the danger his prisoner represents. His belief in formal justice is echoed by one of the gang members at the way station who is posing as a hangman, and exposed to be doubly foolish.
Ruth represents all-American values, and is played by an all-American actor. But Ruth is a square, he’s not hip, he doesn’t really know what’s up.
Ruth’s prisoner is a woman wanted for murder, Daisy Domergue, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Daisy takes a tremendous amount of physical and verbal abuse from Ruth and Warren, partly because she is a prisoner and partly because she uses the “n” word. She takes all this with surprising good humor, apparently because she is portrayed as basically sub-human. We later learn that her gang is coming to rescue her, and they kill Ruth and possibly Warren, so probably her anticipation of revenge makes it easier to endure. (Warren is seriously and possibly mortally wounded, but he doesn’t die before the end and it’s not clear he will die.)
Daisy represents white trash, or poor white people, or white people either below the level of political concern or regarded as actively hostile to the system. Tarantino has a little different view of these people. Daisy is represented as almost retarded, but at the way station she picks up a guitar and plays and sings a folk song about transportation to Australia. She adds a verse about escaping to Mexico, but Ruth doesn’t pick up on that. Later she is revealed to be a member of a fearsome gang led by her brother, and when he is killed, she takes over as leader.
The typical view of lower-class whites is that they are bad, and annoying, but too stupid and docile to be a threat. Ruth, the white liberal, takes this view and pays for it with his life. Tarantino seems to regard lower-class whites as potentially very dangerous- like the gun nuts with the Confederate flag in “Pulp Fiction” who butt rape the black guy.
The stagecoach continues on its way, and comes across another traveler stranded in the snow, who identifies himself as Chris Mannix, played by Walton Goggins, traveling to the town to become the new sheriff. Mannix was part of a southern renegade group after the war and killed many blacks. Warren and Mannix are very hostile to each other, but after some trash talk and threats from Warren, Mannix makes some face-saving statements and announces he will sleep the rest of the trip.
These are all the really important characters, although you don’t see how it works out until later. The stagecoach arrives at the way station just as the storm hits. They are greeted not by the proprietor, Minnie, but by a Mexican, Bob, who tells them he is taking care of the place while Minnie and her husband, Sweet Dave, visit her mother. Wesson is very suspicious and questions Bob closely, but doesn’t press the issue. Later we learn that Minnie hates Mexicans and would never have one in her place. Bob turns out to be one of the gang, who killed Minnie and everyone at the way station but one to set up their ruse to rescue Daisy.
Bob isn’t an important character other than that he is Mexican, and one of the white trash gang. Liberals don’t like or trust Hispanics. An example is “Family Guy” where the Hispanic cleaning lady is a recurring character shown in a negative way. Hispanics are a big part of what goes on racially in the US, but Tarantino pays them little mind other than to put them in the “dumb, potentially dangerous” category.
Already at the way station are a cowboy- one of the gang, an English hangman- one of the gang, and a former Confederate general, Smithers, played by Bruce Dern, who was left alive and kept as a hostage to support the ruse. Smithers faces off angrily against Warren, having killed black Union prisoners at a battle Warren was in. Smithers though only serves as a foil for Warren, who eventually provokes him with a story of torturing, humiliating and killing his son into picking up a gun so he can kill him.
The hipster audience cheered. What were they cheering? The killing of an old racist white man? The gruesome killing of his son? The triumph of black power? I didn’t see one black person there. Probably all of the above.The film stops here for the intermission, and when it resumes things get really crazy.
The second part starts with a Tarantino voice over. Things get complicated, and I guess he feels the need to explain. We see Daisy watching someone poison the coffee, but we don’t see who it is and she doesn’t say anything.
Here we see the one big character reveal in the movie. Isn’t that part of drama? The protagonist experiences some challenge and changes? In “The Hateful Eight” everybody behaves as you would expect from beginning to end, they are not exactly cardboard cutouts, and they are not exactly stock characters, but they always to what you think they would do, with the exception of Daisy.
When Daisy plays the guitar, sings, and even adds a verse to the song, it is shown that there is more there maybe than meets the eye, but it doesn’t register any more on the audience than it does on Ruth.
Ruth and the stagecoach driver get some coffee. After a minute Mannix decides he would like some coffee, but just before he drinks it Ruth and the driver become violently ill. As Ruth vomits blood, Daisy says to him, with a sadistic leer- “John- when you get to hell- tell ’em Daisy sent you.” Daisy thus morphs from a virtually retarded punching bag into a cruel, sinister killer.
But who’s the sadist here? Who is the killer? Ruth has heaped violence on her- quite unrealistically portrayed, because her nose should be broken and her face destroyed from so many strikes with fists and rifle butts- and Warren too, all of course in the name of justice.
Such violence against anyone else would be shocking and outrageous, but here it’s practically comic relief. Daisy uses the “n” word early on, so she is marked as someone not deserving of any protection.
Ruth is dead; Warren now knows someone is trying to help Daisy escape, but he doesn’t know if it’s Bob the Mexican, the hangman, or the cowboy. Of course it’s all three, and more. A standoff begins, and as shots start to fire we see there is someone in the basement, below Warren, who shoots him from below with a shotgun. This turns out to be the gang leader, Daisy’s brother, played by Channing Tatum, who doesn’t look like he belongs in a western.
But Warren is not dead, and another standoff ensues. Some of the other gang members are dead, some a seriously wounded. Warren has a gun on Daisy, so her brother tries to come out with his hands up to make a deal. Of course Warren shoots him. Tarantino repeatedly shows that any concept of honesty, fairness, empathy, morality, justice, or any other related idea is subordinate to black supremacy.
Daisy claims leadership of the gang, and the others quickly assent. The only undecided character left is Mannix. Daisy repeatedly implores him to “kill the nagger” and he can claim the bounties on the dead gang members while the rest escape.
This is the pivot point of the whole story. What is the middle-class or lower middle-class white going to side with? Black supremacy, or his own race?
Mannix reflects that he almost drank the coffee, and doesn’t believe Daisy’s threats of more gang members coming to the rescue. So he sides with Warren and they kill Daisy and the surviving gang members. In memory of Ruth, they hang her.
In simple terms Tarantino is a wigger, a white person who idolizes black culture and adopts black behavior and preferences. But Tarantino is also a member of the elite, which makes him quite unusual.
Mannix represents a class of whites- not part of the elite, but on its payroll- who are generally assumed to be obedient to the dictates of the system, especially enforcing sanctions against dissident whites. They include policemen, soldiers, low-level managers of all kinds, and teachers.
Tarantino’s racial ideology is different from the official racial ideology in three key aspects. First, it puts above all black power or black supremacy. Second, it regards lower-class whites as much more dangerous. Three, it regards the loyalty of lower middle-class to middle class whites as much more weak.
The system does not recognize black power. It condones it, pays lip service to it even, but does not recognize it. The racial ideology of the system is civil rights and diversity, in which blacks help support the system but do not act on their own.
Tarantino comes from a lower class background than most elites, so he has seen things from the perspective of lower-class blacks, who embrace black power, and lower-class whites, who hate black power and the system and would overthrow it if they could. Tarantino isn’t wrong about this, but his questioning of the loyalty of middle-class whites is off the mark. America is deeply influenced by the English class system, in which loyalty to class far exceeds any other loyalty. Other white countries don’t have this, at least not to the same extent, so white Americans of other than English descent may be inclined to racial loyalty, but English culture so thoroughly dominates the US that this is unlikely.
Tarantino’s world is a pretty ridiculous one. In the flashback we see a racially harmonious world at Minnie’s where blacks are friendly small business owners and skinny white women are stagecoach drivers. Black women have layabout men, but they are white. To protect this world from white trash, of course any kind of violence at all is justified.
It’s a ridiculous world, but a world a lot of whites think is real. A lot of whites accept black power, and a lot of whites will do anything at all to other whites to protect the system, and protect their own position and status.
It isn’t a nice world, though, this liberal or progressive place. It’s dominated by greedy, cruel, violent scum like Warren and Ruth who kill and imprison people for money and are loyal to no one but themselves. Aiding them are opportunistic scum like Mannix. The only people who have any loyalty or connection to others are the gang.
Ruth dies puking his guts out. Warren dies, probably, with his nuts shot off. At least the movie shows, however accidentally, the results these kinds of values lead to. All the gang members die too, but they die for loyalty and not for money or sadism.
Loyalty may cost you everything but it’s the only thing that’s worth anything. Be loyal.