The Hateful Humor Fueled By Violence Towards Women
Even though it takes place in the post-Civil War wintery West, THE HATEFUL EIGHT discusses many issues we as a society are coming to terms with as we step into 2016. Quentin Tarantino’s third foray into revisionist history (following INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and DJANGO UNCHAINED) is his most biting and politically-charged film yet. Mirroring the racial issues that are unfortunately (still) far too common in today’s society feels appropriate and worthy of applause – especially in a major film coming from such a popular director. Samuel L. Jackson’s character Major Marquise Warren brings to light racial tension in an early scene with a former Confederate soldier turned lawman. Feeling squeamish about the direction of the conversation, the hate-fueled soon-to-be sheriff dismisses this talk by saying, “you were the one that started talking politics.” Hearing him describe it as “politics” feels almost too real. Dismissing a human rights issue as a political issue hits extremely close to home, especially as someone who lives about 15 minutes from Ferguson, MO. Not to mention, considering Tarantino has made the news recently for protesting police brutality against black lives. Marquise even states at what point, “a n—– only feels safe when the white man is disarmed.” One doesn’t have to look back at the news’ headlines from this year to understand the significance that that line carries.
But for all the goodwill that THE HATEFUL EIGHT does in addressing the violent hatred a man can have for his fellow man simply because of the color of their skin, Quentin Tarantino seems to forget another major problem that continues to plague our lives. A recurring joke is at the expense of another group that is as equally mistreated and not given the respect they deserve in society: women. And the joke isn’t just a joke about female stereotypes or something as hackneyed like a throwaway punchline that you’d hear on a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond or The King of Queens. In fact, it’s a recurring joke about a very real issue that actually isn’t a joke in the slightest: violence towards women.
Spousal abuse and violence towards women is never appropriate, never the answer, and never funny. And yet, Tarantino uses the act of punching a woman in the face over and over and over again as a literal punchline. Everytime Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character Daisy speaks out of turn, Kurt Russell’s character John Ruth is there to “put her in her place” (for lack of a better phrase) by punching her in the face, slapping her, and other forms of physical abuse. And it doesn’t just happen once or twice; it is repeated several times to the point of excess. At one point John Ruth even throws a piping hot bowl of soup in her face.
Before the film begins, we are left to believe that Daisy is a bad woman. We never see her do anything necessarily wrong, aside from her calling Jackson’s character a “n—–“ during a couple of quick verbal jabs. So seeing her get hit and become bloodier every 15 minutes or so is not entirely justified, but it’s used as a running joke, just the same. As Tarantino repeats the action over and over again, the audience I saw it with laughed harder and harder. This same repetition occurs with another sight gag with the hammering of a broken door. In order to stop it from blowing open, characters yell at others to hammer the door and remind newcomers that “you need two boards!” It’s an overused joke in my opinion but again, the audience laughed louder with each swing of the hammer.
Sadly this also happened with each bloody nose and missing tooth. What adds insult to injury is that she’s the only real female character in the film. Of course, she’s one of the supposed “hateful” from the title, but punching the one woman in the mouth just because she spoke when she shouldn’t have, rubbed me the wrong way instantly. I don’t think I’m reading into this more than I should be, but at the same time, it’s telling that the audience didn’t seem to have the same repulsed reaction that I did.
Tarantino is a self-proclaimed film geek – this is nothing new. What is also nothing new if you have read about Tarantino or listened to interviews with him over the years, is that he’s a huge Brian De Palma fan. Later in the film, Jennifer Jason Leigh gets blood splattered all over her face. And then (of course) it happens again, drenching her face even more. Her blood-dripped face looks surprisingly like another iconic, mistreated woman in film history. Knowing of Tarantino’s love of De Palma, I immediately thought of Sissy Spacek in CARRIE. The character of Carrie White is verbally abused and made fun of throughout the film by her peers, and verbally and physically abused by her mother. It’s a character that you feel terrible for. You witness her struggle and feel her pain. So the fact that Leigh’s character is abused just as much and then made to resemble Carrie seems more than just an empty nod coming from a fan-turned-director, it actually treats Carrie’s abuse as just an exploitative form of entertainment. Treating Daisy’s abuse for laughs and then seemingly making a connection to Carrie’s emotional and physical pain, undermines the power of De Palma’s story while making light of violence inflicted upon women for other’s amusement.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT does a lot right. It brings to light dark issues that America would rather bury beneath the ice and snow than confront face to face. In a recent Entertainment Weekly interview the auteur stated,
“I think me dealing with race in America is one of the things I have to offer to cinema. That is one part of my interest in American society, and so the fact that it bleeds into my work makes perfect sense. In particular, it’s what I have to offer the Western genre, because it’s really not been dealt with [there] in any meaningful way.”
Ignoring the delusions of grandeur associated with that statement, I have to still applaud him for making a movie with a message. He doesn’t edit himself to appeal to the masses. He doesn’t tone down the violence to meet acceptable standards. He doesn’t make a movie without standing 100% behind it. His every action seems so specific and intentional that there is no question to me that Tarantino is aware of what he is presenting. Humor is always subjective. You may laugh at more bawdy humor while your parents might laugh more at irony. However, there are accepted forms of humor and unacceptable forms. With consistent news stories centered around a professional athlete (Dallas Cowboys Greg Hardy), a “feminist” porn actor (James Deen), and a legendary comedian (Bill Cosby) involved in forms of abuse towards women, never has there ever been a more inappropriate time to giggle at a man showcasing a physical dominance over a woman. With all the talk about Tarantino’s use of the “n-word” and the geysers of blood in his newest film, no one seems to be noticing a major issue at the center of the film. And sitting with a full theater comprised of jovial critics and fans alike only highlights the fact that they aren’t just laughing off an issue… they (along with the director) are failing to even see it. My only hope is that enough people take note so that the issue doesn’t get buried beneath the bloody snow and ice.