Marx and Tarantino

I’m currently reading The Soviet Tragedy by Martin Malia. Today as I was reading, I was struck by a similarity between Marxist communism and… Quentin Tarantino.

Now, hear me out. I enjoy Tarantino movies as much as anyone else. Their aesthetic beauty cannot be denied, and their dialogue is quick and witty. When the screen fades to black, I am left with a sense of enjoyment at what I have just seen. This sense soon fades, however. When the visual and auditory stimulus of the movie has grown pale in my mind and only the plot of the movie remains, I feel, lacking a better word, icky.

I recently watched Inglorious Bastards for the first time. Like I said, the dialogue is clever, the characters are compelling, and the visuals are captivating. What stuck in my mind most, though, was the scene in the theater. You know the one I’m talking about. Nazis are being burned alive while Hitler’s body is being mangled by bullets, all in full view for the delight and gratification of us, the audience.

This, if you can believe it, is not what struck me as most horrific. What did were the words spoken by the young Jewish girl whose family had been shot by Nazis earlier in the movie. Her face is projected on the big screen as she says, “This is the face of Jewish vengeance.” When I recalled this scene after watching it, I cringed. Is that the face of Jewish vengeance?

I come from a family of Jews, Jews who fled persecution, as so many did. When I hear those words, I picture the face of my Jewish great-grandmother, the kindest and warmest woman you’ve ever met. She wore bright pink lipstick, and every time she saw us she’d say, “You girls are getting so beautiful,” then follow it up immediately with, “but what’s most important is that you are kind, and smart, and sweet too.” And so as I sat with Tarantino’s words, I held them up to those of my grandmother. I couldn’t help but feel that that is not the face of Jewish vengeance, and more, that there is no Jewish vengeance worthy of a face. The Jews in my life are not vengeful people. They are my great-grandmother who, whenever praised, always said, “Oh, no. My mother. Now she was the real angel.” Her mother was 16 when she fled persecution in Russia. She suffered the wrath of anti-Semitism, and to my knowledge, did not come out vengeful, but kind – and revered for her kindness. For Tarantino to use the suffering of the Jews as a perverted gratification of one of our most shameful desires, that of vengeance, feels gratuitous.

I believe the same could be said for Django Unchained, another visually stunning movie with a theme of vengeance glorified.

As I was reading The Soviet Tragedy I was reminded of Tarantino. Martin Malia was describing the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” a phrase central to Leninism and equally though less explicitly so to Marxism. This movement towards “dictatorship of [read: by] the proletariat” exploits and glorifies the same part of the human soul that Tarantino does in his films: the desire for vengeance. The communist ideology asks not only for the liberation of the disenfranchised, but that they be glorified and given absolute power. (It is additionally worrisome that those asking for this dictatorship are generally not of the working class but of the intelligentsia; however that seems to be a matter for a different time.) Communism hands the workingman, but more often the educated man, a sword, points to those labeled “bourgeoisie” or “class traitor” and says to him, “Do your worst.” It feels no contradiction in embracing anarchy in opposition, and totalitarianism in power. It feels that God is on its side and that therefore it can do no wrong in pursuing the great Communist ideal. This, of course, is a metaphor. Communism has no room for religious feeling or reverence towards anything but itself.

I have often struggled to put into words what exactly it is about Tarantino’s films that make me feel “icky.” To be reading about Marxism and see a flash of Tarantino in his doctrine makes clear to me what it is about his films I dislike. What bothered me about the scene in the theater in Inglorious Bastards is that Tarantino was acting like Marx. He was providing for his fictional characters, as Marx did for real men, an opportunity to act out their most perverse desires, simply by having as the victim of their actions those who are universally hated, and therefore may be considered inhuman. By doing this, Tarantino is not only allowed, but encouraged to create gruesome and violent characters who are meant to be lauded as heroes. Similarly, Marx, in dehumanizing and despising the “exploiting” class, gives free reign in man’s heart to hate, murder, and kill, no matter what contradiction this might produce. He is allowed to ignore his own evil because he has his own God, Communism, on his side.

And I get it. Inglorious Bastards is just a movie. And I myself enjoyed it. But after seeing this parallel I might find it harder to.

A Reaction to Beauty

Confronted with something beautiful, an ache deep inside springs up and begs me to ask myself: “Have you done your part in making the world more beautiful? Have you repaid the universe for all the beauty and meaning it has offered you? Have you done enough? Can love alone settle your debts?”

The world has given me endless beautiful things. What have I done to deserve it? What can I do now to deserve it? I know logically that perhaps there’s nothing I should, or can, do. But when something causes such a wealth of emotions, it is hard to just sit there.

This can be seen in any emotion. Beg yourself not to cry when you’re truly sad, not to laugh when you’re truly joyous, not to yell when you’re truly angry. It is impossible. I feel the same when I experience true beauty. But there is no obvious way to release the emotion. I cannot laugh, I cannot cry, I cannot yell. I must sit there and experience the entirety of an emotion wholly too big to feel and try to feel it all the same.

Beauty is a problem for me. It is pent up in my chest and has nowhere to go. And it causes me to feel jealousy. And envy. And greed. I want more. I want all of it. I want to possess it. I want it to exist in my body, right inside my chest, close enough to the surface to hear it hum and see its light, but in me, and mine alone. I once was standing outside for almost an hour watching the sky exhibit what seemed to be the grandest expression of natural beauty I have ever witnessed or could ever stand to witness. A fellow student saw me standing out on the lawn and came out of his dorm to see what I was looking at. We had never spoken before, but we stood together for nearly an hour and just marveled at what we saw. And I asked,

“What do I do? What do I do about how beautiful this is?”

And he said, “Don’t you want to be in it? And be it? I want to lie down in it.”

“I want to eat it.”

And that’s what I want to do. I want to eat it. I want it to become me. I want a communion of my self with it. I want to be inseparable from it. You can’t point at man without pointing at a man. I want it to be that you can’t point at that sky without pointing at my soul.

That’s what I feel when I see great art. That’s what I felt when I heard the story of the angeli del fango. It feels almost too beautiful and too precious to exist. It inspires me with overwhelming human pride. It fills me with an envy that I cannot consume it.

I would like to contain or be contained by everything beautiful. And that includes art, and nature. It includes the earth and the sun, my favorite paintings and my favorite poems. It includes the sunset that night, and it includes the spirit of the angeli del fango – the mud angels.