The Hateful Eight: A Study of History & Hate

by: Josh Sczykutowicz

A guest contributor weighs in on the importance of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film….


“I think me dealing with race in America is one of the things I have to offer to cinema. That is one part of my interest in American society, and so the fact that it bleeds into my work makes perfect sense. In particular, it’s what I have to offer the Western genre, because it’s really not been dealt with [there] in any meaningful way.” – Quentin Tarantino

The Hateful Eight is a film unlike anything Quentin Tarantino has birthed before it. It’s moody. It’s atmospheric. It’s full of slow, tense, and patient character building. It touts a narrative that doesn’t quite become apparent until maybe an hour or more in. And, most importantly, it delves deeply into a topic that Hollywood’s never dared to touch: the racism and (barely) suppressed hatred that existed in post-Civil War America.

The Hateful Eight is a challenging, beautiful yet aggressive film. One that trades the typical Tarantino shoot-outs and stylized, retro, and neon-light color pallets for deeply revealing character analyses and stark representations of some of American history’s most shameful and widely-held viewpoints. In the 1870s, the mere presence of a black man was considered offensive to a large portion of people in America, and even the most progressive of white people were still simply a little less racist. Not shying from this fact, The Hateful Eight exists as an ugly, vicious, and biting commentary on the time, and with the current flurry of news focused on racial conflict in America, doubles as a compelling critique on how all too many people in this nation haven’t come so far from this cold, uninviting era that Quentin has painted a detailed and unflinching portrait of. While Quentin Tarantino may still be incapable of (or simply purely disinterested in) penning a screenplay that isn’t filled with violent flourishes, The Hateful Eight displays his capacity for constructing profound content around those often operatic sprays of blood.

I would shy away from calling The Hateful Eight a perfect film. It operates at a pace that’s tough to swallow at times and asks for a lot of confidence from the audience, assuming we all know the visual style that Tarantino has made his own (while still challenging those of us familiar with it). But The Hateful Eight exceeds when it forces us to confront deeply disturbing and tragically real viewpoints and behavior with far more nuance than any scene in Django Unchained, a film that saw its value diminished socially by its need to maintain a sense of playfulness. The Hateful Eight is heavy in that for the first time in a Tarantino film, each and every death gets treated as its own small tragedy. Trantino’s love for revenge/power fantasies is no secret, but for the first time that fantasy gets shown for what it is when it becomes a reality: something virulent, something cruel, something that breaks people apart and hollows them out. There is no “hero” in this film, and the most idealistic character isn’t long for the world as this version of America is unforgiving and immoral, much like the America today, as Quentin might argue.

Quentin’s previous two historical fiction films were optimistic spins on authentic occurrences in the past. Adolf Hitler is lambasted with bullets in Inglourious Basterds and Django prevails as the Candie Land plantation is blown to pieces in Django Unchained. And while some critics have viewed those films and their glorification of violence harshly, stating that the Basterds were just as inhuman as the Germans, or that Django potentially trivialized the brutality of that day and age, The Hateful Eight proves once and for all that Quentin knows that. Quentin is a brilliant and informed artist. One whose films are rife with homages and references to classic Hollywood and foreign obscura, verifying his respect for the artform and the serious topics he so boldly addresses.

It’s been a few days now since I saw The Hateful Eight, and I still can’t get it out of my mind. I’ve been left with more to chew on in this eighth film by Quentin Tarantino (as the title card so lovingly informs us) than in almost any of the past seven. At the end of Django Unchained, Samuel Jackson’s character defiantly screams that “there will always be a Candie Land.” The Hateful Eight shows us that maybe he wasn’t so wrong after all, with all the horror that may imply. There can be a Candie Land in just one room, as long as the right racial makeup and prejudice are present. And how far is that from modern day? With the socially active stances Tarantino has taken recently, and the flack he’s received from police unions for simply saying brutality and racial violence exist, it is obvious that Tarantino is tying his 19th century Western to modern times, drawing parallels from his latest film to America’s deep-seated racial inequalities that still exist today, and – not surprisingly – it works.

The Hateful Eight confirms that Tarantino still has a whole lot more to say, and if we’re lucky, and if he doesn’t retire soon (as he has so often spoken of doing), we may get to see whatever else he can bring to the blood-spattered table. Like almost all his affairs, The Hateful Eight is a bold-font treat for cinema fans, a love letter to a Cinematic form and a film that takes sharp stabs at America’s most inherent hypocrisies. No one else could make this movie and get away with it, let alone pull it off quite like this.

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