Lost in the Storm with The Hateful Eight

They say you get the filmmakers you deserve, and it must be true for the internet trolls, as we have received — and deified — Quentin Tarantino. This loudmouth, self-absorbed naked emperor of the digital age has released his latest, “The Eighth Film by Quentin Tarantino,” as The Hateful Eight.

Despite what Supreme Being says, the most notable thing about this film is a) the method of its release and b) its grandiose lack of substance.

hateful-eight-poster-kurt-russell-jennifer-jason-leighIt is, nominally, a Western in which a group of colorful individuals hole up in a blizzard-wracked establishment in order to shoot the shit and each other in that order. As you would expect with a Tarantino film, the conversation is engaging and the characters are multi-layered cyphers of deceit. Equally as expected, nothing quite comes together in any satisfying way.

Which is to say: yes. It was the best film he’s made in quite some time until he ruined it with his big goddamned mouth.

It’s like this:

Imagine you came home late from a night of drinking, flopped onto the tattered sofa, and fumbled the television on. In the widescreen of your mind appears Kurt Russell in a ridiculous moustache, Sam L. Jackson reaching fever pitch with an extended anecdote about cocksuckers, Jennifer Jason Leigh spitting venom from her rotten-toothed mouth, and a whole slew of others — notably Tim Roth doing a lovely Christoph Waltz, Michael Madsen wearing a dead ferret on his head, and Walton Goggins finally making you realize why you should remember the name Walton Goggins.

Three hours later, you might think, as did Supreme Being, that you’d watched

a chamber piece western, a straight-up movie about ugly people in a bad situation, a story of the endless cycle of horror wrought by revenge.

You might describe the film as “aggressive nihilism” and not be incorrect. Since, as we’re imagining, you’d stumbled across it on cable instead of fighting your way into the first 70mm screening presented in ‘roadshow’ format since Khartoum in the 60s.

If you did make it to the roadshow presentation — which added 6 minutes of screen time to the already long feature, plus an orchestral overture and intermission with special program booklet and free popcorn — you might be forgiven for expecting something slightly more than aggressive nihilism.

These might be the hateful eight.

These might be the hateful eight.

Certainly that’s how the audience I saw it with felt, at a sold out show at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater, for which I had to stand out front with my finger in the air, asking everyone who passed if they had an extra ticket to sell, since it was sold out and the line was wrapped around the block with Tarantino fans and fanatics.

These same people, when the curtain finally closed, turned to each other and shrugged. ‘What was that,’ they quietly asked each other. Or, in response to raised eyebrows, they offered ‘I thought that was okay.’

Because context is content. And what might be an excellent find late one soused Saturday on the teevee plays less robustly when you’ve waited in line and witnessed the most lavishly presented production since Khartoum and Lawrence of Arabia.

Now, I hear you. I am, you say firmly, reviewing the situation and not the film. To which I respond with a withering stare. For in this case the presentation is not only the best part of this picture — 70mm! Actual film! Roadshow loveliness! — but the director set his creation — ‘The Eighth Film by Quentin Tarantino’ — forward as a bold stroke, once again setting right the Western film’s vile failure to address the abomination of slavery.

He did this because — and this is a proven fact — Quentin Tarantino can’t shut up to save his fucking life, unless he’s in an interview where his holy self-conception is in any way challenged. In which case he runs away.

The Hateful Eight is a perfectly fine, generally rambunctious and bloody wallow in mire. While there are black characters and some discussion of the Union vis-a-vis the Confederates and slavery, it is not in any substantive fashion about the evils of slavery or even, as Supreme Being suggests, the endless cycle of horror wrought by revenge. In order for that to be the case — and it would be a good case — Daisy Domergue would have to emerge as a character imbued with irony, or agency, or even just a little meaning.

But she doesn’t, because it’s not about the evils of slavery or cycles of evil.

The Hateful Eight might be about justice, much in the same way Jaws might be about sustainable seafood. Or it might be about watching people blast away skulls, and vomit gore, and tighten the screws of tension — all things I enjoy and appreciate. But slavery, or the wrongness of racism, or the justice due racists? Nope.

I can so fit this in my mouth.

I can so fit this in my mouth.

And why would you think it would be about those things, except that’s what QT claims.

As opposed to just saying, “Hey. I made a cool Western. You tell me what you think it’s about.” Like he did with Reservoir Dogs, a film so aggressively nihilistic that its own title makes zero sense (and which is far and away his best work).

The Hateful Eight is many things, but one thing it is not is important — unless you count the method of its release or its contribution to the survival of 70mm film. It is a movie that doesn’t deserve its pedestal and which isn’t served well by it. It may look good in 70mm, but it’s not the right film to restore that medium’s place in our hearts. It would lose very little, and may even gain some by being seen in less ostentatious format and with a significant chunk of its length trimmed away.

It isn’t a three-hour epic, grand in scale and majestic of thought. It’s a shoot-’em-up in a one-room set. Only Quentin Tarantino would think this was his moment to go big. Literally any of his previous films would have been better served by this presentation.

While I’m on a tear, I’d also like to mention the following (SPOILERS):

  • There are clearly more than eight characters, no matter how you slice the film. Only a few seem to be actually hateful.
  • For a film in which one key antagonist is a blizzard, and one which is shot in 70mm, there is a lamentable surfeit of scenes in which the blizzard plays any part at all. No lost in the snow. No snow piling up against the windows. No reason to know or believe that the storm outside would be severe or would last for days. Except dramatic convenience. It is a trap set and never actually sprung.
  • Oswaldo tells us — in a key scene — that justice must be served without emotion in order to be justice. I ask you, is justice what Daisy Domergue receives in the film’s finale? I also ask you, what is Daisy Domergue but a McGuffin — a meaningless device that serves to drive the plot? Who is she that we should care at all if she lives or dies? If she receives or escapes justice? She’s nobody at all.
  • The crucifix, upon which the film starts, feels like one of the most forced lunges for greater meaning since Avatar.

Hateful Eight crucifix

  • I am troubled by the long, likely untrue, tale Warren tells to end the first half, in which he in great detail describes how he murdered General Smithers’ son with the freezing cold and with his cock. On the one hand, this execution-in-story and the execution-in-present which follows are both examples of injustice, as they are clearly administered with emotion. As such, they serve as strong counter-examples to what might be the film’s theme if the film weren’t so vapid. On the other hand, we have to listen to a graphic story of rape, and one in which the race of the rapist is used as a weapon. If this were a film about racial injustice, it might play, but it isn’t. It’s a film about nothing, in which racial injustice is one of the misapplied seasonings. That being the case, Warren’s story feels like Quentin Tarantino using racial injustice for his own misguided ends. It felt like him saying #BlackLivesMatter and I should know, because I wrote this enfant terrible speech about sucking Sam L. Jackson’s cock.
  • The conceit of the Lincoln letter is one of The Hateful Eight‘s best. It is a complex symbol that transitions through multiple meanings throughout the course of the story. At the end, however, when Mannix asks to see it, only to crumple it in his blood-soaked hand, Tarantino is either attempting to say something or completely unaware of how cinema works. It started as a testament to Marquis Warren’s reputability. It became an expose of both Warren’s deceit and of the necessity of such deceit. It, at no point, meaningfully interrelated with the main plot of who Daisy Domergue is or why she needed hanging or saving. But here, at the film’s end, when Domergue swings with Ruth’s arm still chained to hers, Quentin Tarantino suggests associatively that justice has been served and that the words of Lincoln — real or fabricated — have no meaning or worth.

I’ll admit, I don’t know what to make of that. I was so flummoxed, I turned to the couple beside me, with whom I’d been a bit chatty during intermission, and asked them what they thought.

“Is he saying” I hazarded, “that the idea of Lincoln, or that the myths of Lincoln’s achievements are garbage?”

They didn’t know either. And so I walked out, listening to the fans and the fanatics around me as they verbally shrugged their shoulders and cleared their throats and tried to think of something enthusiastic to say. I heard none of them find it.

One might suggest that in The Hateful Eight‘s final scene, Tarantino suggests that Mannix and Warren have overcome their racial differences in the face of a common enemy. If so, strange that that enemy is Daisy Domergue. Strange that that enemy is so devoid of meaning.

I think you should watch it on TV, late one drunken Saturday, and tell me what you think.

21 responses on “Lost in the Storm with The Hateful Eight

  1. Well, far be it from me to go around defending Tarantino. So I won’t. I have no idea what he thinks his movie is saying about slavery. But I did enjoy the movie a lot more than you.

    So, the Lincoln letter. I think it’s crumpled at the end because, for one thing, it’s a fake. For another, what Lincoln represents, and what we see as what he wanted for the country, did not come to pass. Certainly not in THIS story, and one might well argue into the current day. Daisy’s fate is certainly not justice, and I don’t think the movie is making any attempt to say otherwise. It seems pretty clear that there is NO justice in this movie, not for anyone. Isn’t this perhaps the one obvious point being made? Tim Roth’s line is important because it’s true–yet there’s not a single example of actual justice to be had, and anyway Roth is as much a lying killer as everyone else in the movie.

    The reading of the fake letter at the end offers a kind of idealized dreamy version of comforting words, yet it’s being read by two dying murderers after hanging their common enemy, a woman. Black and white unite in the movie only to commit murder.

    As for Daisy, the movie isn’t asking you to care about her. It’s not asking you to care about anyone. It’s asking you to be interested in these people, and in the end, it’s showing you that they’re all equally loathesome. This may not work for you, it may be a terrible idea, but it’s not the case that you’re being tricked. Daisy is not a macguffin.

    But like I said in my piece, nothing in the movie exactly comes together. It’s as thrown together as everything Tarantino makes. It’s just that in this case, I enjoyed it for what it is: a long, talky, violent, nihilistic western.

    • I guess then I wasn’t interested. I wanted Daisy to be something — anything — other than just someone’s sister. Someone who had something to do with any of the discussions or actions or wants of the other characters. Something to justify 3 hours of talking in circles. She might as well have been a polecat for all her character mattered. She was fun to watch, but she remained outside of the story, for me at least.

      No justice. Yes. But what I didn’t mention is that the couple next to me was black and that brought into focus how off-key Tarantino’s dismissal of Lincoln and what he represents felt when it came. And perhaps that’s at the root of my discontent with this film, and with most of his others. I object to being lectured to by a boor who wants to mansplain the world to me. If Lincoln failed, then who is QT to call him on it? The gall of it is, well, galling.

      But yeah. It wasn’t that bad. I just object to Tarantino’s existence in general and his insistence that we take him seriously.

      • I don’t think Lincoln is being dismissed here. The movie isn’t saying Lincoln failed us. It’s saying we failed Lincoln. We turned him into a fake letter containing nothing but homilies and instead of striving for racial equality have done our best to destroy one another, all the while telling each other what a great guy he was.

        It’s about as nihilistic a movie as can be. There’s no hope, no plea to make things better, no ideas for how we can overcome. It’s all rage and hopelessness. No wonder people are shellshocked when it’s over.

        • I like that read of it and I think you may be right as to QTs intentions. If so, he did a lousy job of constructing his story. Or I did a lousy job of watching his movie.

          But I have a hard time hearing QT clearly when he’s so deliberately vulgar. He wants to shock us into understanding but that’s rarely how it works.

          • And if that’s his message, does that make Lincoln his stand-in for Christ? He died for our sins…? God. That’s just so tenuous and vague. He wants to make a nihilistic film with subtextual meaning? My original title for this post was ‘The Hateful Eight and Meaningless Meaning’ and perhaps I should have stuck to that.

    • Uh. If you say so. I always found it a fair example of an Elmore Leonard adaptation, for which I’ll always turn to Out of Sight as the non plus ultra. And I’ll pick Reservoir Dogs tho I need to see it again.

  2. Ugh, why was this movie in 70mm? I think I really would have liked it better, or liked it at all, if it was just in 35mm. It would have looked just fine for this story. I realize it shouldn’t really matter, but yes, context. It’s not that there wasn’t enough pretty scenery, there was plenty–all completely as window dressing, just pretty pictures now and again between scenes. My problem is that the story was in no way told visually. All 70mm movies I can think of are stories told primarily visually, which as we know–always better to show than to tell. Of course Tarantino can’t get away from his constant dialogue, so why would that ever happen here? It just kept bugging me. This guy decides to do a genre, and then never tries to learn from the genre in any way. He just pisses his stink all over it. Could he not have come up with one sequence that was told visually, just as an exercise? No, this is just a play, and not a great one. Yes, the interior looked great on film, but so unnecessary to use 70mm. It really kept bugging me. Don’t get my hopes up like that.

    I also had the experience of a full theater being very quiet when the lights came up. No one was particularly impressed. Usually with Tarantino movies, even though I ultimately dislike or have major problems with the film, at least there’s been a ton of snappy dialogue. Even the dialogue here seemed pretty flat. It did not delight. It sounded like a student trying to write a play in a Tarantino style. It sounded like a rough draft.

    And it’s weird, because it does sound like a great setup. Eight awful people gradually killing each other. But so many of the deaths just kind of happened. Who were half of these people? Bob the Mexican, the Englishman, what were their true backstories? And especially the quiet cowboy, Michael Madsen, terrible as usual, that was sure set up to be a good reveal. Who is he really? Nope, he’s a bad guy, worth $10,000, same as the other guy. Shoot him, he’s dead. Really? We can’t take a minute out of three hours to come up with something for these guys? I guess Tarantino needed that time to give Sam Jackson three more badass motherfucker speeches. Jesus! Is that supposed to never get old? Another speech about Sam Jackson’s big black cock. So amateur.

    And don’t get me started on the fucking voiceover, which happened twice, btw, both times completely unnecessarily.

    The music was great. That’s about it.
    When QT accepted the Golden Globe for Ennio Morricone, his first award of any kind for his scores, QT said “I, me, or my” 10 times and mentioned Ennio twice. I counted.

    • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Quentin Tarantino isn’t as cool as male strippers. He is, I now say for the first time, this generations George Lucas. And my favorite film of his is the one he didn’t direct: True Romance, a script Tony Scott turned into a piece of perfect popcorn entertainment.

    • I just feel sad about you using your creative brain to take this movie apart. It’s like you wanted it to be some other movie and now you’re mad that it isn’t the one YOU wrote. You’ve got all of these rules for what a movie is supposed to be, and since this one didn’t conform, you’ve decided you’re not allowed to like it.

      Aha! The hand is on the other foot now!

      But seriously. I have no defense of this movie. Somehow this one just seemed to work for me much better than his usual garbage. Maybe he’s set the bar so low his barely creeping over it amused me. Go figure.

      • I will be curious to hear what you think if you watch it again, SB. Frequently I find my experience of unsteady films to be significantly situational. For me, and Tano it seems, the grandeur of the situation here only made the film itself seem more threadbare while it seems you had the opposite experience. Without the Roadshow, will you still enjoy it?

        • I too am curious what I’d think on a second viewing. But not so curious I’ll make it to a theater to find out. Perhaps one day on video I’ll take another look.

      • Oh, so clever. Yes, I wanted to see that different, better movie because Tarantino promised it implicitly with his choice of 70mm and with the way he has hyped it. But all that aside, on its own merits, I found the film boring, mostly. I was fine up until everyone was in the cabin, and then all the speechifying kept taking me out of what was a decent dramatic setup.
        It all left me with a sort of “who gives a shit” kind of feeling.
        And I was mildly intrigued by the several mysterious characters, which led to zero payoff.
        Oh, and the flashback. Tell me anything at all that we learned from that that couldn’t have been accomplished by a quick flash of those people being killed. Or better yet, leave it out entirely and leave us with the ambiguity. We got nothing at all out of that, and it felt forced, like, “Look at these super nice people, isn’t it a shame what’s about to happen to them?” No tension, just icky dread.

  3. I thought this was just okay, it’s not bad but it just overstays it’s welcome in parts, the film itself doesn’t feel long but some scenes do. I didn’t see the point of the extended flashback either, it didn’t need to be a whole chapter.

    Someone on a podcast I listened to said something along the lines of it’s ‘too entertaining to be a morality play’. I sort of agreed but the more I think about I don’t think I do. It’s that whole snooty thing about serious films are the best films. I don’t mind that it’s entertaining and lurid in parts, though I did find the excessive spewing scene a bit long in the tooth and that was my general feeling overall. It’s a very indulgent film that needed to be taken down a notch here n there. ALmost like a writer needs a good editor.

    The thing I really didn’t like about this was that Tarantino is so clearly in love with his characters. The first half hour just seems to be characters telling us how awesome other characters are, it got a bit tedious in the end.

    The overall message I got was Bad people deserve justice too, but if the country is built by bad people from the start then how can true justice ever be born of that? Or something like that.

    I kind of got what he was trying to do but it didn’t quite work for me.

    • Worth pointing out that I saw the non-70mm version. there’s been a bit of a hoopla in the UK over that.

      The Odeon Leicester Square in London got the 70mm Roadshow exclusively so you couldn’t see it anywhere else. Then because of that, some cinema chains have refused to show the film at all,

      I don’t live in London any more so that limited my options. I ended up watching it at the Everyman Cinema near me, a newish chaing of luxury cinemas. Quickly becoming my favourte. Mainly because they bring food to your seat before the film starts.

      • The 70mm presentation was nice but I think your loss is survivable. More of a nice treat than an essential experience.

  4. Good to see that someone is not overawed by QT’s reputation

    what I found troublesome and unconvincing is the lack of any effective backstory for Daisy to demonstrate why she is so evil and why that macabre and sadistic execution is seen as an admirable resolution of the plot.

    Either there is the high-falutin’ excuse that Daisy represents the Confederacy, slavery and racism which QT has claimed in interviews should be erased from public memory and public culture in the United States

    or else there is the sceptics’ and realists’ conclusion that Daisy’s execution is something that gives QT a boner and he has pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes by enlisting not only Jennifer Jason Leigh but the whole of the paying audience to be accessories to the fact of him getting paid exorbitant sums to unfurl his personal fantasies

    the same could be said of the fellatio narrative in which QT publicly indulges again in hypersexual fantasies and same sex disavowed voyeurism in the name of progressive racial politics

    the two dimensional writing of the “evil” characters also serves the political end – as they are intended to be self evidently evil

    except that the politics are vapid and unconvincing

    perhaps what QT has revealed is in the final instance is how strange is the current nature of interracial politics in the US actually is – when people could actually regard the propositions set out in Hateful Eight as insightful or relevant

    • Indeed. There are many broken paths in H8, but one that seems among the oddest is how Daisy can be so foul and rotten while her brother is so, well, Channing Tatum-y. And if it is a film about something, I think it’s a shame no one can really tell what that is.

      QT is vastly, vastly, vastly over-rated. He understands the language of cinema but does not have anything to say that isn’t, deep down, pretty vile and lame.

  5. but I actually think that the chasm between the siblings is actually not so great. Is Daisy actually so foul and rotten in reality, when you remove the heavy handed negative framing of her by Tarantino from the verbal insults to the defiling of her face – none of which he actually provides any clear justification for – other than he immaturely favours other characters such as Warren and Ruth to the inverse proportion that he discriminates against Daisy …

    this is poor scriptwriting

    what magic hold does QT have over the public and his armies of fan boys so that he says jump and everyone says “how nigh Uncle Quentin?”

    Some people have wondered online whether QT had a relationship break down and he put it all into the poor treatment of Daisy

    • well…. yes and no. daisy is provocative in action, and that gets her face messed up. you could surmise that she is provocative so as to keep russell’s character off guard, but still: she’s a nasty piece of work.

      it’s more that daisy isn’t ever a real character. she is an excuse to get other characters together. she is ‘the hated other’ that unites the races at the end, but only in mutual loathing.

      i think this could have been an effective and powerful bit of writing/directing, but QT is so in love with his own voice that he long ago stopped caring whether anyone else can understand what he’s saying — and no one can. not even those critics who love him; those extol his cinematic references and artistry, but not his clarity of purpose or his ability to do anything beside raise the specter of an issue, before leaving it to stink untended on the carpet, like a dog turd.

      Django Unchained is about racism… but is it? what is it saying? H8 is about… nothing? something? president lincoln and jim crow and modern america? i’m pretty sure it’s just a mess that QT wrote and is trying to elevate in retrospect.

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.