The following post concerns the end of the movie ‘The Hateful Eight’. You’ve been warned.
Bullshit is the glue, that binds us as a nation.
Where would we be without our safe, familiar, American bullshit? Land of the free, home of the brave, the American dream, all men are equal, justice is blind, the press is free, your vote counts, business is honest, the good guys win, the police are on your side, God is watching you, your standard of living will never decline… and everything is going to be just fine— The official national bullshit story. I call it the American okie doke.
– George Carlin
I couldn’t help but think of that quote as I watched the end of Quentin Tarantino’s new movie. The new Western features a group of characters that get sequestered in a lodge during a Wyoming winter, in the decade after the Civil War. Like all Tarantino movies, he takes a well known genre and introduces new elements to it, often from other cinematic influences. You could easily watch this movie and just be entertained by it’s combination of dark humor, suspenseful drama, and sensational violence. But like other Tarantino’s movies, especially the last few, there is a more than just sheer entertainment going on. Although Tarantino’s genius has always been attributed to the innovative ways he tells stories through film and his quotable dialog, the style of his films and not their substance, it is wrong to think his films are only style.
The Hateful Eight features historical and cinematic American archetypes. Samuel Jackson’s character, Major Marquis Warren, is a bounty hunter and a former member of the Union Calvary. Bruce Dern plays a former Confederate General. Walter Goggins is a younger Southerner who mentions the Lost Cause of Southern defeat. Those characters and others don’t trust each other. Everyone has a secret, no one trusts that the others are what they say, and a lot of the suspense from the movie comes from the these characters poking and prodding each other to figure out what the real aims are of everyone in the lodge. Whether you like the film or not probably depends on how much you like Tarantino’s style of filmmaking, of which I happen to be a fan of.
But for those that are not fans, you are missing out on one of the best movie endings of the year. The end of the movie features Jackson and Goggins, two characters that are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, teaming up against the gang of which is there to free Jennifer Jason Leigh, playing criminal Daisy Domergue. Like many Tarantino movies, the end of the movie features cinematic violence that leads to all of the characters either being dead or wounded. Jackson and Goggins are the last two alive.
Earlier in the film Jackson’s character produces a letter that he claims is written by Abraham Lincoln. He later admits it is false and claims the lie about the letter is to make white people feel safe around him.
The last shot of the movie, as Jack and Goggin’s characters lay dying, Goggins asks to read the letter, and both men seem to find comfort in it. I couldn’t help but think of this as a metaphor for America, where people with seemingly nothing in common, other than a shared history of violence and bigotry, are bound together by a pretty story that sounds nice, but has very little to do with reality or fact. This is a cynical view, but there is a lot of truth to it. Often the patriotic political stories that we are told as children, and that we still believe far into adulthood, are closer to fairy tales than to reality. One only needs to think of the myth of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree. But even such phrases as “the land of the brave and the home of the free” are nationalistic claptrap that we use like a comfort blanket as we imagine an imaginary past where everything was as it should be.
I can’t really think of a better scene in a movie that demonstrates the point Carlin is trying to make above. “Bullshit is the glue, that binds us as a nation.” David Milch, through his show Deadwood, also uses the quote, “History is a lie agreed upon.” I’m not trying to deny the many great things that America has done. There is a duality running through this country’s history. But nostalgia for an imagined past is something that too often prevents many of our citizens from realizing that there can be better days ahead, if only we don’t repeat our ancestors mistakes.