I understand that, to the people involved in the tragic events that unfolded in Dallas the night of July 7, 2016, a discussion of movies will seem irrelevant at least and offensive at most. That being said, all I know is movies, and it’s human nature to use what you know, especially something as culturally ingrained as cinema, to contextualize tragic events. I also know that it would be far more offensive to go on writing toplists as though this never happened.
Which, by the way, is what I wanted to be doing. And then five officers were killed as part of a targeted attack. Many people will spawn think pieces about the nature and motivations of the attacker, but that to me is irrelevant. That this happened is bad enough. After the immediate grief and despair subsided, a privilege I have, not being involved, my first thought when considering this event in a greater context was that Quentin Tarantino was right about all of us, and we’re living in a world equivalent to The Hateful Eight.
For the record, I take no pleasure in analyzing how a film that paints humanity as destined to fail, doomed by our own senseless toxicity into no other meaningful fate beyond killing each other, is quickly turning into a prophecy. This isn’t a QT fanboy letting the world know how he told you so. Whether you loved or loathed The Hateful Eight, it’s hard to argue at this point that its nihilism wasn’t warranted, or that it’s a thin contrivance or an excuse to treat humans like bags of blood, all of which were accusations thrown at Tarantino’s latest Spaghetti Western upon its release.
The idea that people are too controlled by their hatred of one another to possibly consider nonviolent courses of action is seeming more and more like a sad reality, and the films to which I usually cling that pitch a positive message about nonviolence are seeming more and more like naïve fantasies. Our society is at crossroads. To contextualize this in terms of movies, we have to decide if we’re no better than QT believes us to be in The Hateful Eight, or if we can achieve something more in line with a film like The Iron Giant.
Brad Bird’s directorial debut featured a giant robot with great destructive power. Yes, he only used that power when he was attacked, but Hogarth Hughes explained to him that he doesn’t have to react this way, saying “you are who you choose to be.” The truth is that anyone has this destructive power. Anyone can feel wronged and a turn a gun on those we identify as the perpetrators of that wrong. Where The Iron Giant is more optimistic is in its assertion that we can reject violence all together, rather than using it as a response to violence.
And if I can amend the second most tear-jerking line from Brad Bird’s best film (yeah, I said it), we are who we choose to be. This decision can’t be made by one person, least of all an unpaid film blogger thousands of miles away from the tragedy in Dallas. You never really get the sense when watching The Hateful Eight that the characters involved are anywhere they don’t want to be. They hate one another, but they revel in the opportunity their situation presents. That may have been the most off-putting aspect of the film, that there were no heroes and no real victims. Even the most heroic characters are ones who orally rape a man before killing him and another who spends his entire time physically abusing a female prisoner, but even that female prisoner is a racist murderer who spends her entire time spouting slurs and plotting to kill everyone who dares bring her to justice for her violent crimes.
When The Hateful Eight released, I had the sense that Tarantino had finally produced his first real contribution to cinema, beyond simple historical revisionism. I want to avoid turning this into a purely cynical article, just as nihilistic as the bleakest Tarantino film ever made, but it seems as though The Hateful Eight is the most relevant film to come out of 2015. But I’m still, naively and optimistically, holding out hope that we can reject violence and prove there’s still room in our theatres for films like The Iron Giant.