Death of the Critic

Anatomy of a Film - Inglourious Basterds

Written by: Tom Blaich


Chapter One

Once upon a time…
In Nazi occupied France

Colonel Hans Landa cuts quite the figure. Decked out in the all black SS uniform, bright, white smile plastered across his face, from the very moment that he steps on screen, he makes you uncomfortable. Not only is the seemingly cheerful man a Nazi; an officer in the
Schutzstaffel, but there is just something bout his mannerisms that seem off, manufactured in a German lab as a facsimile of a friend, designed to put you ill at ease in whatever situation you find him. He takes pride in his gruesome, genocidal work, treats it like his own little game, an  intriguing puzzle for him to solve. As he tinkers with his victims, the only prize that awaits them is death, to be meted out at his absolute discretion.

To him, this day on the farm where the film opens is just another in a long line of brain benders, but to the family that he is interrogating, it is the worst day of their lives. Perrier La Padite is a simple, hard working man. He has a beautiful family, an idyllic dairy farm situated in the rolling hills of France. It is almost picturesque, greenery stretching through the background as the jolly Landa strolls up, a wide grin tearing across his face, with the quiet mask of Perrier across from him. We can see the joy that he takes in his work, and the horror that everyone else sees it as.

Even though the man is polite and genial, we can feel the threat behind his words. He asks to be invited inside, with no way that Perrier can refuse. Landa is going in no matter what, and all of this song and dance about permission is there to throw the family off, to add to the theater of the game for Landa.

Inside we see the rest of the La Padite family, a mother and two girls who almost huddle in the shadows of the corner. The grinning nazi greets the women, grasping at one of the daughter’s hands and kissing it, his eyes probing their figures. He comments on their beauty and our stomachs turn at the implication behind his words. They offer him wine, but he denies, grasping the arm of the mother and instead asking for milk, the product of the farm that they sit on at the moment.

When he is not talking, Landa stares at the girls. Under his veneer of friendliness, something isn’t right, like a doll with an asymmetrical face. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it makes you uncomfortable. Here we see a Nazi, but one playing nice with a family, even as a group of submachine gun toting soldiers stand outside in the background, mentally preparing us for violence.

The flamboyant act continues as he drains an entire glass of milk in one gulp before asking Perrier to join him. In hushed tones, he asks for the women to go outside where he left the soldiers. Where the soldiers can keep an eye on them, these “beautiful” women. So far, Landa has given La Padite the illusion of control: asking permission, complimenting him, being unbearably polite, but at the same time, we know who holds all of the power.

“Are you aware of my existence?”


This is good. Are you aware of the job I’ve been ordered to carry out in France


Please tell me what you’ve heard.

I’ve heard that the Fuhrer has put you in charge of rounding up the jews left in France. Who are in hiding and passing for gentile.

The Fuhrer couldn’t have said it better himself.

As Landa deliberately sets up his workspace, we can examine his words. He has been “ordered” to do this job. He didn’t choose it. He tries to convey a reluctance, but his pride prevents that from coming through. Instead, the game he is playing is slowly bared to us more and more. He places an inkwell and a fountain pen on a piece of parchment before he goes through the practiced steps of filling the pen. He tries to say that he’s not here by choice, but by bureaucracy, tying up a few loose ends and filling out paperwork before leaving, and the chilling idea that genocide is simply a matter of bureaucracy to him brings into sharp focus who exactly we are dealing with. He gives hope that the nightmare can be over, and we see it in La Padite’s eyes.

Landa is here to ask about one specific Jewish family, the Dreyfus’s. As he flips through the pages of his macabre ledger, La Padite asks his permission to smoke his pipe. We can see how the request amuses him, and he readily reassures the man that as this is his own home, he should feel free to make himself comfortable. Landa is in complete control of the situation and everyone here knows it, but it isn’t time yet to break that feeble illusion.

You get the feeling that from the first moment Landa entered the scene, he has known much more than he is letting on. He makes La Padite go through the process of giving the names and ages of each member of the family, while Landa’s pen gently scratches in the ledger. It gives the Jewish family a real sense of humanity that we would otherwise would have lost. It is not the Dreyfus’s that he is looking for, a simple check mark missing in his ledger. It is two parents and their children, young and innocent, squirreled away somewhere hiding from the Germans> The camera pans around the two men slowly as they talk, a nervous observer pacing unseen. Sometimes we will get a close shot of an object, the flare of a match, the nib of a pen; details captured in our mind’s eye and stored forever. In this moment, we see the world like Landa sees it, picking it apart for more information. We peer into the ledger, name after name carefully printed, telling us all that we need to know about the macabre work that he’s been doing.

As they gesture back and forth, the camera begins to pan down slowly. The reveal is agonizing, under the floorboards, a family hides. We can only assume that this is the Dreyfus’s, and the already palpable tension thickens in an instant.

Until now, we had no real indication that the family were here besides the nervousness of the family, which could be understandable even if they had nothing to hide when they had a cold-blooded Nazi in their kitchen. Wide, bright eyes peer shakily between the slats of the floor, hands clamped over mouths, a deafening silence waiting to crack. This is what is so great about this almost 20 minute long scene. The way that the foundation is built, and how the layers are piled on. How we are brought to the edge, teetering on climax for minutes before the slow reveal.

Eyes search the two men, looking for information, but none can be found. In the room above, Landa asks for a glass of milk, the behavior almost childlike as Pierre retrieves it for him.

Monsieur La Padite, are you aware of the nickname the people of France have given me?

I have not interest in such a thing

But you are aware of what they call me

I’m aware

What are you aware of?

That they call you
The Jew Hunter


The already dangerous edge to the dialogue sharpens even further. It is almost a repeat of their earlier conversation, but this time, the amount of knowledge that we have is so much greater. He’s not just hunting down Jews. He’s hunting down the Jewish family that lie just inches below his feet. He “loves his title, precisely because he earned it” and each line he utters builds a sense of disgust and danger, almost in contrast to the image of the reluctant pencil pusher he portrayed earlier. The monologuing indicates a dangerous confidence in his ability, and it makes us uncomfortable, in a very primal way. Few scenes build worry like this, and that is to their detriment. Quiet and as scary as any horror movie, we have a man talking to a monster in his kitchen.

“If one were to determine what attribute the Jews share with the beast, it would be that of the rat.”

He acknowledges the comparison and the faint tinkling of birds in the background serve as an interesting way to undercut the twisted messages he gently hissing. Breaking down the hate we have for rats, dehumanizing the people who stand under the floorboards, and explaining the way in which he hates.

“If a rat were to walk in here right now, as I’m talking, would you greet it with a saucer of your delicious milk?”

It’s a question so loaded with meaning for La Padite. Why did he welcome this dangerous man into his home, provide him with milk, playing the courteous host, and waiting on his needs? Rats are one thing, but Nazis are another.

“You don’t like them. You don’t know why you don’t like them, all you know is that you find them repulsive.” One of the major themes of this movie is how propaganda is used by both sides of the war, with even the film itself existing as a kind of propaganda, a celebration of righteous violence against a morally reprehensible target. We hate Nazis because they are fucking Nazis (not that this is in any way wrong to do) but the movie’s continuously provides comparison between the barbarity of the Basterds and that of the Nazis, like the brutal killing of the German soldiers in the woods shortly after this scene ends. We are supposed to question the methods that the “good guys” use, because right now, we just accept propaganda. Torture is morally wrong, no matter who the performer and who the target is. Wholesale slaughter is a bad thing. Genocide isn’t good.

Landa teases La Padite about the location of the hidden family, dancing around the knowledge that we are becoming more and more aware that he has. He pulls out a comically large pipe and smokes it gently while he lays down the situation in front of La Padite. Either he tells him what he wants to know, or his men will search the house.

“I might add also that any information that makes the performance of my duty easier will not be met with punishment. Actually, quite the contrary, it will be met with reward, and that reward will be your family will cease to be harassed in any way by the German military during the rest of our occupation of your country.”

It is a quiet line, one filled with force and violence and directed straight at the camera, straight at you. There is a reward here, but also a hidden threat, of harassment, or regular searches, of the soldiers in black boots with submachine guns standing outside with his wife and daughter. Sure he can choose, but the real choice was taken from him the moment Landa set his sights on the farm.

Fifteen long, torturous seconds pass. Fifteen seconds where we watch a man break. Landa already knows the answer to all of the questions that he is asking, but the point of the game is to break the man, to win the mental battle and dominate other people, to force them to give up their friends and neighbors and turn them into accomplices. It fits with his persona of The Jew Hunter and his actions later in the movie.

Landa’s face hardens out of his mask of geniality into a more serious facade.

You are sheltering enemies of the state, are you not?


You are sheltering them underneath your floorboards, aren’t you?


Tears well in his eyes as he admits, as he breaks under the intense stare of Landa, and it feels like a ten ton weight is slowly lowering onto our chests. It is stifling. He not only made him break, but he made him sign the death warrants of this family that he’s known for god knows how long. “Point out to note the area they are hiding.” The slow camera zoom makes you want to obey the man, fearing the force behind him, what he stands for, what he represents. How our morals can crumble under threat.

Fat teardrops streak down his face as the camera finally cuts out to show both men at the table, La Padite pointing towards the hiding family, and with that, the spell is broken. Strings well in the background. The family doesn’t speak English. They don’t understand what is coming. But we do. A deadly bit of theater plays out in front of us as Landa switches back to French and thanks Pierre, and we see how much of his facade from before was an act. He falls back into the role so naturally that it is hard to believe how intense he was. But the music more than makes up for it, building in intensity towards a climax that we know is coming. He makes La Padite sit a the table as he waves in his soldier.

“I bid farewell to you and say adieu”

La Padite is almost quivering as the music roars and the guns belch fire into the floor from the ring of black clad men, kicking up a rain of splinters and tearing a jagged hole through the boards sheltering the family. It is so loud, so sudden, violence of noise and action and motion all ripping into us, just as the bullets are ripping into the innocent bodies below.

Landa, however is sharp, noticing movement where there should be only death, a joyous look in his eyes as he points out a figure scurrying away. We cut to the outside of the house as a wooden vent is wrenched off, and a blood-soaked young woman sprints into the serene and grassy fields. Her gore covered back is framed by the door of the home as she runs away.

Landa steps into frame, imposing in his black coat as he gingerly sets down his bag, the camera shifting to his face, almost smiling, accented by a long black pistol. You can see his mouth curl into a grin as he takes aim, the small back getting further and further away.

He takes joy in this, great joy, and that is why he is evil. We see that monster in action before we see the pain to end his life. And it is no coincidence that in the very next scene, wearing re introduced to the Basterds, led by Aldo “The Apache” Rains, a man who takes great joy in killing and torturing Nazis. He too is an evil man, even if his cause is good. We are the audience caught between, asked to resist the influence of the tempting call to evil, as we fight against the monsters that exist in our world. We must resist them, but we cannot let ourselves fall to their levels in doing so.

Landa doesn’t shoot. Lowering the pistol with a click and a smile, the music cutting out so all we here is her ragged breath as she runs.

“Au revoir Shoshanna!”



Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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Images courtesy of The Weinstein Company

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