Here’s the conundrum that will prove the make-it-or-break-it for many film goers: This movie is so far over the fncking top in terms of violence / gore / rape / language / race that many in the audience will throw up their deflector shields and refuse / be unable to see what Quentin Tarantino is doing with the material.

‘Cuz boy howdy, has he got one really major significant-to-our times theme here, and his refusal to pull any punches is 100% germane to getting his point across.

You may not like what you see but dadgumbit, you gotta see this!!!

Our boy Quentin is tackling the issue of race in America in The Hateful Eight, and he’s doing it in a classic context: The American Western.

Or more specifically: The Episodic American TV Western Bottle Show.[1]

If I wanted to be clever, I could work out an elaborate allegory in which So-and-so represents such-and-such element of modern American society but Tarantino is too good a writer / director / film maker for any simplistic analysis that.

There are no good guy heroes in this movie.

The closest to virtuous characters are a handful of extraneous supporting players who simply aren’t onscreen long enough to show if they have any negative qualities.[2]

Everybody else has character flaws that would fuel a dozen Shakespearean pastiches.[3]

It’s some time after the Civil War.[4] Ex-Union calvary officer Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) strikes an uneasy alliance with rival bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) to deliver outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the ex-Confederate sheriff of Red Rock (Walton Goggins) for hanging, only they’re snowed in at a way station with Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir), English hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and ex-Confederate General Sandy Smithers.

Murder / mayhem / horrendous violence ensues.[5]

And while the above mentioned cast constitutes our Hateful Eight, there are also nine more characters (plus three corpses) who round out the story.[6]

Even the best characters have woeful flaws, and even the worse have some redeeming feature.

And as was true re McClintock!, The Hateful Eight is a contemporary story set in the Old West, and as such it offers a contemporary view on contemporary society filtered through the lens of the past.[7]

Tarantino the writer drops more N-bombs in this movie than any other he’s made, but in the context of the story and characters (at least two ex-Confederates and several overt white racists) they do not seem to be gratuitous.[8]

And, man, does he ever tackle the issue of race head on. Bounty hunter Warren is at best tolerated by Ruth, Mobray, and stagecoach driver O.B. (James Parks), Sherriff Mannix despises him but will obey the law, Gage pretty much ignores him, but Domergue and Smithers shower him with almost non-stop abuse.

Which is fine, because Warren certainly holds them in equal contempt.

But Warren is no turn-the-other-cheek type; as the story unfolds he’s depicted unflinchingly as a non-heroic (as opposed to being an anti-hero) thug different from Domergue and others only because he is clever enough to stay just inside the boundaries of the law.

Mannix comes across as an idiot and a bigot, and while his racial bias never entirely vanishes, he does manage to (painfully; very painfully) acquire some belated smarts by the end of the movie and an appreciation for what others may have gone through.

Ruth is the closest thing to a hero among the Eight, but he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

And he is brutal -- gawd, is he brutal! -- to Daisy Domergue.

I honestly don’t know how to react to her treatment in the film.

On the one hand, the physical abuse ladled on her would be appalling even if applied to a man; on the other, if any character is so irredeemably evil as to deserve such abuse, she’s the one.

Tarantino avoids plot asides that a lesser writer would waste spend time on; instead of teasing out several small plot reveals, he just drops them full out in plain view.[9]

I keep coming back to the race theme, because that’s pretty much what this movie is about. Even the semi-Pollyanna-ish flashback of a seemingly racially enlightened group is marred by the later revealed fact that one of them, despite their jolly good nature, is just as terrible a bigot in their own way as Mannix, Smithers, and Domergue.

And that, in an oddly perverse way, is the common unifying humanizing feature of all the characters, even -- or rather, especially! -- the very worse.[10]

These are not hagiographic heroes ala Roy Rogers and Gene Autry or even John Wayne or Clint Eastwood.

Hell, Eli Wallach as Tuco would be a step above them in terms of basic human decency / compassion / virtue!

But that is Tarantino’s point: Who are we to judge?

Even the best can be pretty despicable, but even at their most detestable worst we can say, “I can understand why you’d think / say / do that” without actually agreeing to their POV.

And the worst of the lot can be seen as genuine psychopaths, greedily sucking up all life around them, spitting (literally!) on everything others hold near and dear.[11]

As Ruth says roughly midway through the movie: “You only need to hang the mean bastards, but the mean bastards need to be hanged.”

In the end, the film’s point is that for all the friction generated between / amongst the protagonists, they are ultimately on the same side, fighting for the same cause, and being oh so subtly manipulated by antagonists who hate for no other reason than it feels so damn good.

Highly recommended, but when you go see it, go prepared. The last part is Quentin Tarantino’s most gruesome grand guignol finale ever.

Oh, and by the way, it's a Christmas movie.

© Buzz Dixon

[1] Tarantino explains the origins of The Hateful Eight was his fascination in old TV Westerns in which an outlaw would take the cast hostage in one of the established interior locations, and the next 30-60 minutes would be spent engaged in psychodrama until the heroes finally turn the table on the baddie/s. Shows like that are referred to as “bottle shows” in TV parlance because they use mostly series regulars and existing sets instead of spending money on anything new. Producers frequently turn to bottle shows when schedules and budgets grow tight.

[2] And at least one of their number is an out & out bigot.

[3] And forgive me if this veers into spoiler territory, but the only major Hollywood production with a more nihilistic ending involved an army of apes invading a city of mutants in a futile attempt to stop Charlton Heston from blowing up the whole fncking planet.

[4] And the film occupies that weird alternate history/reality of all of Tarantino’s other movies, including Inglorious Basterds. Lincoln may not have been assassinated, John Wilkes Booth may have been chased down by bounty hunters, the South may have unconditionally surrendered yet not gone through Reconstruction, but the Red Apple tobacco brand is available for public consumption.

[5] I’m going to strive to be as spoiler free as possible, so that means pretty much all of act two (i.e., after the intermission in the road show presentation) is off limits. Lemme just say (a) holy crud, nobody dies easy and (b) at least three chimpanzees survived for Escape From The Planet Of The Apes.

[6] And Tarantino hizzownsef as the uncredited narrator of part two.

[7] Does that mean The Hateful Eight may not age gracefully? It’s possible, though I hope that’s not the case and as with McClintock! it will be viewed as both a product and a commentary of its times.

[8] Though if that’s the sort of thing that can annoy you, it will annoy the livin’ fnck out of you during the course of the picture.

[9] Which paradoxically turns out to be the freshest thing he could do with them. We expect a character to hide the fact they’ve been lying about an important letter; we do not expect him to confess to it almost immediately upon being questioned, or for another character to read the letter as true even when they know it to be a fake!

[10] And if you think Daisy Domergue is the worse, you’ve got another think coming.

[11] Even, ironically, when those near and dear things are proven to be false.

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