Beneath Tarantino’s much criticized depictions of violence, which are mostly a consequence of a lack of understanding, lies a deeper motivation, a recurring theme and personal signature that sheds light into the work of one of the most celebrated filmmakers of our time.
Violence, death and suffering are unavoidable occurrences throughout people’s lives, entire societies and social groups, so it is only natural that some might say we have enough chaos in real life as is, there’s no need to taint entertainment with it, risk glorifying it and, who knows, even incentivizing it. Although an understandable view, it can be as dangerous as violence itself for a number of reasons, political correctness the most evident. Facing trauma is a fundamental part of overcoming it, be it a personal tragedy or a racially-motivated genocide. Also, understanding why such large-scale crimes take place makes imperative understanding the causes, the ideologies and the breadth of pain they inflicted. To forget such details is to forget the thing entirely and risking it happening again.
Quentin Tarantino not only comprehends this, but actively and consciously fights against it, showcasing some of the most violent scenes in modern cinema, which only garners more attention and criticism. If only the naysayers were to further analyse the reasons behind the violence they could finally enjoy something for a change and, perhaps, overcome some issues of their own.
Catharsis is what Tarantino aims for, a sensation of compensation for travesties committed. Faced with the impossibility of changing the past, of erasing the evils done, the director chose instead to seek revenge in the only way he knew how and perhaps the only way possible: through fiction. Of his filmography, three films standout in this regard, through which we can better understand the intent behind the madness. In Django Unchained, Tarantino seeks the retribution of black individuals for what was done to them because of slavery and racism. In Inglorious Basters, Nazism and antisemitism are to be punished and ridiculed for the death they brought unto the world. Finally, in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the director exacts revenge on the murderers and individuals that, in his eyes, forced the end of a beautiful era for Hollywood and damaged an industry and people dear to him.
By creating a world of alternate history, we are allowed to witness and feel what the victims sadly never could, to be filled with a sense of overwhelming justice and vindication, even if it isn’t real. A Jew exacting her revenge on the leaders of Nazi Germany, a slave eliminating the “owners” of his wife and perpetrators of slavery and two actors bringing an unceremonious and bloody ending to the murderers of a pregnant woman and killers of a golden era. Through conscious, calculated and motivated writing, the portrayal of violence can become a powerful tool against those who would use it to inflict real harm and did in facto do so.
Revenge films have always been relatively straightforward and focused on a character’s personal fight against those who wronged them, but now with Tarantino’s touch they’ve become portraits of deeper struggles, vehicles for people’s discontentment and tribunals for history’s greatest tragedies. Tarantino’s technique can be an influence for those who search for inspiration and purpose in their writing, be it for film or literature. As he built a novel strain of revenge cinema, others can expand on it through other means to finally bring to justice individuals, events and issues that seem to remain unfinished to this day. Art can function as therapy, for those who experience it and for those who create it.