The Hateful Eight
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks, Zoë Bell, Channing Tatum
Seen on: 2.2.2016
[I saw the roadshow version.]
Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) finds himself with a dead horse, a few frozen corpses he means to deliver to collect the bounty and in the cold in the middle of nowhere. It’s just his luck that John Ruth (Kurt Russell) comes along with his carriage, also transporting a body for the bounty, but a live one – Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Warren manages to hitch a ride with them to the next inn, Minnie’s Haberdashery where they are promptly snowed in. Trapped with a group of strangers in a snow storm, tensions start to rise.
The Hateful Eight was one of Tarantino’s weaker films. Definitely his weakest in a while. But a weak Tarantino is still a strong, well-made film. But it didn’t make me enthusiastic and I did have my issues with it.
I don’t usually have a problem with watching violent movies (though my stomach grows weaker and weaker when it comes to sexualized violence) and Hateful Eight being a Tarantino film, it didn’t come as a surprise to me that this movie is bloody as fuck. But the film just struck a couple of wrong notes with its violence. There’s the drawn-out scene where Warren (the closest thing to an audience surrogate in the film) details his (maybe fictional) sexual abuse of a guy who tried to go after him. It is possible that this scene does include a shred of compassion for Warren’s victim or at least an acknowledgment of the gravity of the situatioen, but I was unable to see it over my profound irritation at the laughter that went through the audience. Maybe I was just incredibly unlucky with my co-watchers, but it definitely made the scene extremely hard to take.
Fortunately, though, this was just one scene. And even if it felt longer than necessary, it was pretty contained. Much more grievous and much less contained was the incessant violence inflicted on Daisy Domergue. She is not only the only woman in the main cast of the film, she’s the only prisoner, too, and the only one who repeatedly gets hit in the face with an unrelenting, almost sensuous intimacy. And while all of the men are killed with a rather practical “I can’t suffer you to live” approach, Daisy’s death is a matter of justice, of doing right. As she is strung up, the movie proposes a moral victory that comes from the fact that she is hung. Her death becomes a moral thing, where the death of every man in the film was a pragmatic thing. And it all amounts to incredible misogyny. At least it isn’t sexualized violence.
Tarantino’s history with female characters is mixed, I’d say. But the amount of bile levelled against Daisy is unprecedented and overshadowed the entire film for me. And that even though there was much I would have otherwise really enjoyed: the cast is strong altogether with particular standouts being Demián Bichir’s menacing presence, Tim Roth hamming it up and Channing Tatum’s comedic timing (which I’m starting to appreciate more and more). I loved the claustrophobic setting (so much so that I was irritated by the flashback into sunshine). The film looks and sounds great.
The thing is, Tarantino knows how to make a film and while his films aren’t content-heavy, they usually know what they’re about. The only thing I can find The Hateful Eight being about is some kind of patriarchal, old-honorbound definition of making things right with a dash or race relations. Or as Zach Budgor put it:
A beautiful thing happens when both Union and Confederate, black and white, put aside their differences: they can come together just long enough to hang a woman.
And not even the dialogues, usually one of Tarantino’s strongest suits, don’t fly like they usually do.
It’s still a film that is better than a lot of films that make it to the cinema, but for a Tarantino film, it’s disappointing.