We all know Quentin Tarantino’s a creep. Aside from his blatant fetishism and penchant for slurs, he nearly killed Uma Thurman by pressuring her to do her own driving for “Kill Bill” and insisted on choking Diane Kruger himself during that chilling scene in “Inglourious Basterds.” His films are rife with misogyny, racism and violence.
And yet I return to a scene over and over. The same five-minute clip running on a loop in my mind—Sgt. Donny Donowitz, resplendent in an undershirt and suspenders, medals hanging around his neck, a Louisville slugger held in both fists. Brad Pitt drawls the terrifying nickname the German army has given him. “The Bear Jew” stands over a kneeling Nazi captain, tall and glorious, as his friends laugh. A long, distant shot of incredible violence, then Donowitz’s voice: “Teddy fucking Williams knocks it out of the park! Fenway Park’s on its feet for Teddy!”
I first watched this scene at 19, in the basement of two beloved friends, and have probably watched it hundreds of times since. I can recite it from memory. It’s like a meditation tape, only instead of a soothing voice counting breaths, it’s Eli Roth beating a Nazi to death with a baseball bat.
The destruction of the Nazis is not new in film. In “The Blues Brothers,” Elwood and Jake drive straight through a Nazi rally and force the marchers to dive into the river. In “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” their faces melt in excruciating detail. In “Green Room,” a touring punk band outsmarts an entire bar of neo-Nazis and tops it off with a rendition of Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks F*ck Off.” But what makes that scene from “Inglourious Basterds” special is that Donny Donowitz is Jewish. In fact, all of the Basterds are Jewish, save for Brad Pitt (the racist implication of his character is a whole other can of worms). They are capable, intelligent and ruthless to the end, a far cry from the helpless people herded onto trains in a thousand Holocaust movies.
Seeing Nazis, even fictional ones, defeated is cathartic. It’s necessary, a little flood of dopamine in the torrent of terror that is our current news cycle. But many people find that kind of violence distasteful or gratuitous. I’ve been met with shock when I laud the image of Shosanna Dreyfus’s laughing face as a theater full of Nazis burns. There seems to be a perception that, no matter how horrific the crimes of their oppressors, Jewish people should tilt their heads back and take it on the chin.
Fiction isn’t reality, but the two are very good friends. In reality, neo-Nazis march in the streets of my hometown and spew hatred all over the internet. In reality, anti-Semitism runs rampant, but in fiction, Donny Donowitz pumps Hitler full of shrapnel. In fiction, Nazis are defanged, demoralized and humiliated. Even Quentin Tarantino can take some time from filming lingering shots of feet to laugh at them. But when the video of Richard Spencer getting decked began circulating, a dozen think pieces cropped up like dandelions. Does punching a Nazi make you as bad as one? Shouldn’t we take the high road and debate them on Twitter instead of resorting to violence? Don’t Nazis deserve rights?
As I watched Donny Donowitz trace his baseball bat lovingly over the Nazi’s face, the difference between fantasy and reality was clear. I felt vindicated, like this tiny moment siphoned off some of my endless rage. Even if I couldn’t race into the woods with Brad Pitt right behind me, at least I could watch someone else do it instead.