First Impressions of Quentin Tarantino’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Heidi and I met up with some friends to see Quentin Tarantino‘s THE HATEFUL EIGHT during its limited roadshow screening in 70mm. Aside from the obvious glory of watching a movie projected in such a wide format and the fact that it’s actually on film, I wanted to remark on some initial thoughts and reactions I had to the movie.

This isn’t a review per se or a particularly well-constructed analysis, but I merely want to ruminate on some elements of the film that I found intriguing. I’m reluctant to delve too deeply given I only had a single look at the film, but there were a lot of things that I’ve found myself pondering afterwards. I have NOT read any reviews or critiques of the film (with the exception of a short piece in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY) so hopefully I’m adding to or possibly starting new conversations.

Spoilers abound so consider yourself warned if you read further. Sorry about the lack of available images to better illustrate my points.

I’m not sure I can recall another Tarantino film that blatantly uses religious imagery. The opening shot lingers on a crucifix that John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his driver O.B. (James Parks) ride past as the credits appear. We see this image repeated shortly afterwards when Ruth encounters Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). The crucifix appears again later in the film during a flashback to earlier in the day when the Domergue gang first rides past it. It is not only a narrative and physical marker, but its repetition seems to be of deeper thematic significance. Religious iconography appears again at the conclusion of the film with an angel forged by Daisy Domergue’s hanging body and snowshoes mounted on the wall. Aside from these images, there is the plot which involves Ruth stopping at Minnie’s haberdashery for a warm place to stay. I might be reaching though in suggesting any kind of manger or nativity story is present, but my mind wandered there because of the many religious figures present. You could even argue the parable of the Good Samaritan is alluded to by Ruth’s actions in giving rides to Warren and Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins). The story of a man stripped of clothing, beaten, and left for dead also comes up later in relation to Warren at another point in the film, though certainly not in a faithful retelling.

Major Marquis Warren

Warren in a crucifixion pose.

I also found myself thinking of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST in the relentless violence against Daisy we witness throughout the film. While we don’t exactly see or hear anything pleasant from Daisy, we have to take Ruth at his word regarding her serious offenses and the bounty on her head as proof of her crimes. Even so, Ruth goes at lengths to beat her when it is quite apparent her reward is the same dead or alive.

On the one hand, the movie seems extremely misogynistic in the perpetual punishing of Daisy throughout. The audience at the film took it as comic relief and given the timing it seemed intended as such to an extent, but this quickly becomes more and more uncomfortable as the film goes on. Heidi and I agreed that one of the more mild instances of abuse, a bowl of soup being thrown in her face, seemed to hint at domestic violence. The assaults are aimed squarely at her face through most of the film, starting with a black eye, progressing to a bloody nose, and leading to the extremes of missing teeth and finally brain matter. Given the religious elements in the film though, I have to wonder about Tarantino’s intentions in portraying Daisy’s character as the victim of such brutality within a religious framework that shares stories of intense violence. Granted, most Tarantino films are graphic and it is one of his defining qualities as a filmmaker, for better or for worse.

Aside from Tarantino introducing religion into his film, it also seemed to represent another first for him: politics. There are many divisions carved into the movie between characters, particularly based on North vs. South in the American Civil War. Former Union and Confederate soldiers carry their feelings forward that affect actions they decide upon and alliances they chose to form. Though this may not seem overtly political and one could argue it’s used to only historically ground the film, I think it alludes to the sharp divides we have in our current political climate in attaching and entrenching ourselves in a particular camp (i.e. Republican or Democrat) and consistently carrying out actions and thoughts based on these allegiances rather than considering the situation at hand.

The “survivors” of the film, at least insofar as we don’t witness their final moments, are Warren and Mannix. They both have plenty to hate one another over and have reasons to be suspicious of the other. They served on opposite sides in the war, Warren is criminal who escaped a prison killing many men and Mannix is riding to Red Rock to become sheriff and represent the law, and one is black and the other is white; there is quite a bit of racism and racial tension throughout the film. However, these two, despite their animosity and distrust, end up eliminating the threatening characters and serving justice as was intended in the hanging of Daisy. Though we can question the manner in which this unfolds, these characters triumph when they let go of their old squabbles and work together to address an immediate and horrible threat. Tarantino seems to be saying something about race and politics here, albeit in a violent and terrifying way.

The Lincoln letter is a fascinating prop and element throughout the film as well, used by Warren’s character to gain not only respect amongst his white peers, but to give him a strong voice in matters by way of the projected connection to the presidency. I loved Mannix’s crumpling of the letter at the conclusion of the film, implying that Warren no longer needs it, as his life is ending, but also he has earned Mannix’s respect and will forever treat him as an equal. I found this to be one of the more touching Tarantino moments and Mannix was a character that experienced the most growth and change throughout the story.

I enjoyed the use of space in the film balanced on a dichotomy of open, snow-filled lands of Wyoming or the interior space of Minnie’s haberdashery.

Tarantino employed his familiar cinematic arsenal of gratuitious violence and well-written dialogue. Given the political and religious nature of the film, it was hard to tell if Tarantino might be encroaching on cinematic grounds typically carved out by Martin Scorsese.

Ennio Morricone’s score is gorgeous and haunting (also enjoyed counting to 8 along to it — makes musical and cinematic sense). You might hear what I mean.

Tarantino also returns in a distracting role (can anyone forget his regrettable turn in DJANGO UNCHAINED?) as a narrator. The storytelling of Tarantino is always a bit questionable for me in terms of when he chooses to use flashback, voiceover, and non-linear devices, but it seemed to work well for the film.

Hope everyone gets a chance to see it and certainly if you can, invest in the experience of the 70mm print if for no better reason then to enjoy film as it used to be.

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