Wow was that an unpleasant viewing experience. There was not a thing that was redeeming or entertaining about this movie. I know there are people out there saying that it’s a critique of racism and sexism, but I got a white director taking pleasure in having his actors say the n-word as many times as possible, and using a woman as (pretty much literally) a punching bag. I have no problem with morally ambiguous or questionable characters, and I like when you can have sympathy for characters who aren’t good people, but there was not a single person in this film I gave a damn about at all, and felt nothing about a single one of their deaths.* Which is maybe the point, but if you’re asking people to invest in 3 hours of your film and none of the characters has a redeeming quality, it’s a real slog.
Violence in movies doesn’t upset me, but the violence here felt so pointless. Not like it was highlighting the pointlessness of violence, but just Tarantino’s gleeful joy in gore (which is a staple of his films yes, but even in his films that I don’t like, I always felt that they earned their violent moments).
None of the potentially interesting threads went anywhere. The moment when Tim Roth is explaining to Jennifer Jason Leigh what makes something justice vs. frontier justice, seemed clearly like it was supposed to be the ethos of the film, but I didn’t think that played out in the end. You could maybe argue that his point is that justice needs to be carried out dispassionately, and of course by the end of the film there can’t be any justice because they all hate each other so much, and that could be a commentary on the sins of slavery and racism and misogyny, and the impossibility of justice in a world built on those sins. But again, Tarantino takes such obvious pleasure in depicting those sins, it’s hard for me to get on board with the idea that he’s showing them in order to condemn them (Samuel L. Jackson’s story about raping the man who came to kill him is a good example. That story is clearly supposed to amuse the audience.) There’s also the eventual “alliance” between Sam Jackson and Walton Goggins at the end. Walton Goggins’ character is an established racist asshat, who sides with Jackson against Jennifer Jason Leigh for reasons that basically boil down to “bitches lie.” 3 hours and Tarantino couldn’t lay some groundwork that gives those two characters a better reason for the understanding they eventually come to?
This movie revels in the worst of humanity and worst of American history, and IMO doesn’t examine it, or ask us to question the enjoyment we (supposedly) get from watching it.
*There could have been something to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s death. It was the one moment of violence against her that wasn’t played for laughs. Her hanging is disturbing, but otherwise not affecting because she’s such a nothing character. We don’t even learn anything about the murder she’s sentenced for. She’s just there to be racist and get punched by Kurt Russell.