Humans, Not Heroes

By Erin Bassler

Bundle up and keep your pistol close, because in Quentin Tarantino’s latest production The Hateful Eight, everybody’s got a score to settle. This epic-length, Western mystery released to the public on December 30, 2015, takes place not long after the events of the Civil War, with tensions still high and vendettas yet to be filled. Once again, Tarantino has set out to prove that in the face of history, nobody walks away clean.

In the midst of a great blizzard, bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) hitches a ride with fellow hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) who is transporting wanted fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) into the town of Red Rock to be executed. Along the way, their stagecoach picks up another passenger, the soon-to-be mayor of Red Rock and gung-ho Confederate minuteman, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins).

When the travelers make the fateful decision to take shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery until the blizzard blows over, we are introduced to four more rugged individuals: Bob (Demián Bichir), a Mexican temporarily in charge of the lodge in Minnie’s absence, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the cheerful hangman of Red Rock, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a cowboy of few words, and Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), an elderly Confederate general looking for his son.

With so many contrasting personalities in one place, it’s only a matter of time before conflict arises, but hidden beneath the surface lies much more than simple animosity. As hidden agendas are revealed, trust – if there was ever any to begin with – is snuffed out as soon as the first shot is fired.

Tarantino, with the assistance of cinematographer Robert Richardson, has once again conducted himself in a manner most befitting a storyteller. This is a twisted who-done-it meets western quick-draw, splattered with blood and the darker side of the human ego. In a dramatic twist, we are provided with characters that don’t earn our sympathy as an audience, but rather our interest. There is no great moment of redemption, no act of heroic sacrifice. There are bad people staying at Minnie’s Haberdashery, and it all comes down to which are the worst of the bunch.

Tarantino set out to portray humans, not heroes. Each member of the “hateful eight” has a story to tell, and not necessarily a nice one. John Ruth carries an almost reasonable, albeit irritating, level of paranoia, considering the bounty on his captive, while Marquis Warren’s survival instinct has pushed him to murder and lie in extreme measures. Sanford Smithers generates some sympathy from his desire to learn the fate of his son, but, like Chris Mannix, squanders it with his racism and pride. Our lone lady, Daisy Domergue, may come across as a victim, but she too is constantly at odds with her role thanks to her own brand of aggression.

A film is successful when it has you gripping your seat, shedding a tear, laughing out loud, or breaking your date’s hand by gripping too tight. If you find yourself cheering at a death scene or sympathizing with a villain, then the makers did their job right. Tarantino was successful in transporting his audience, both mentally and emotionally, to a time when the definition of justice was still up for debate.

The eight residents portray the ugliness of human nature, but also exemplify its honesty as well. Not one of them, not Warren, Domergue, Mannix or any other person in that lodge, made any apologies for how they lived their lives or what they believed in. They judged and hold grudges and are hypocritical, but they stand by their own codes of conduct. Dreadful though they might be, they have all gone through a portion of the same historic events that have branded them as the creatures that exist at the time of the film. Right and wrong vanish in the face of survival of the fittest.

The Hateful Eight is a refreshing twist on tradition. Tarantino is able to combine his own brand of humor with a mystery straight out of an Agatha Christie novel, along with some of the Quentin gore we’ve all grown so fond of. Human dysfunction, what lies in history’s wake, and a merry band of misfit murderers all clash in one icy cabin in the mountains. Tarantino has somehow brought theatre to the theater and pulled us all in for another riveting tale in his over-the-top reality.

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