Tarantino and His Love Affair with the N Word and “Bitch” in The Hateful Eight

8 Dec
Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Bruce Dern in The Hateful Eight

Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Bruce Dern in The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is now playing in theaters, and the film raises numerous questions about the director’s goals and messages intended in this work.  The film is being shown in 70 mm film, in line with Tarantino’s love of the medium, and it also stars several of Tarantino’s favorite recurring actors, including Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Samuel L. Jackson.  What I took away from this film is that Tarantino essentially wants his audience to be disgusted by the things they are amused by.  This includes the use of racially-tinged language, violence against women, and rape.  Tarantino wants us to look at ourselves in a way that he first hinted at in Inglourious Basterds.  Unlike the revenge films of Tarantino’s earlier canon, The Hateful Eight is modeled more on a mystery whodunit.

Many people are already saying that this film is racist and misogynist.  However, Tarantino’s message is exactly that our society is racist and misogynist.  The action of the film follows John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter who captures Daisy Damergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), for murder.  Ruth’s intention is to take Daisy to Red Rock to be hanged for her crime, but a blizzard impedes their travels, causing the two to have to seek shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery.  We never really learn any of the details of who Daisy killed, which is key to the understanding of how Daisy is supposed to function.  Leigh plays Daisy as a disgusting, foul-mouthed wretch, and within the first few minutes of the film, Ruth elbows her in the nose, calling her a “bitch” who needs to “shut up”.  This moment should frighten the audience.  Our hero character, Ruth, may not be trustworthy in this moment, and the remainder of the film is a slow-burning mystery that is not revealed completely until the last scenes.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this film is that the audience is made to feel uncomfortable in various ways.  The most obvious way is Tarantino’s use of the word “nigger,” which appears around seventy times in this film.  It’s not simply the use of the word that is bothersome, it is the comical and drawn-out manner in which the word is uttered by several of the actors that makes it unpalatable.  Several actors pronounce the word more like “niggaaaaahhh” to place strong emphasis on what they are saying.  This choice may appear to be insensitive, but I found it very purposeful and indicative of the way that Tarantino wants his filmgoers to question the use of language.

The treatment of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character is also highly effective in drawing out Tarantino’s intended messages on misogyny.  We never learn the nature of the murder that Daisy commits, nor do we really know anything about who she is, except for small hints of a colorful personality.  John Ruth intends to take her to Red Rock to be hanged, but in the interim, Ruth has no problem with striking Daisy with brute force, calling her a “bitch” each time.  The first time Ruth hits Daisy, a game is established.  The other characters use Ruth as a punching bag.

Tarantino certainly does not hate women. He is not a misogynist by any means, as we can see that from the numerous examples of strong women in his previous films – Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction, The Bride and O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill, and Shoshanna Dreyfus in Inglorious Basterds all come to mind.  Tarantino worships these women, and his characters are strong and multi-faceted.  Daisy is no different, who is strong in her own way.

Near the end of the film, the crux of  the action is revealed by a character.  Oswaldo Mulberry (Tim Roth) delivers some very critical lines about justice versus frontier justice.  When speaking to Daisy, he explains that when there is a murder and a trial takes place, followed by a hanging, that is true justice.  However, if no trial takes place and the people take control of the matter, simply hanging the accused in the town square, that is “frontier justice”.  This film is thusly more about the application of “justice” and how we apply it to the violence of today.  Is it right to simply go ahead and hang someone without knowing their intentions or the validity of their guilt?  Or is it more wise to hold a trial and act fairly?  This is the question that the audience is left to ponder, and Tarantino is making a very valid point.  Should we flay the filmmaker for his use of jarring images and offensive words?  Or is he trying to deliver a deeper message?

This is a very difficult film made by a director and writer who does not shy away from difficult subject matter.  For hardcore Tarantino fans, this film will be appreciated as a part of his canon for years to come.

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