The Hateful Eight

KurtRussellSamuelLJacksonHatefulEightIf I say it has been a while since I’ve been able to read or write anything of substance, I will be engaging in a wobbly hyperbole which turns on the meaning of the words “a while”. Fortunately, the dramatic insouciance which afflicted me the last time I was unable to do anything creative [because of environmental influence] has not infected me this time around.

I have not deleted my site.

I have realized there will be time for all those questions lifted and dropped on all my plates. I have committed to being an Arbiter of Aesthetics… even if not one universe gets disturbed by all my convolutions. [Have I ever mentioned that my Irish Drama professor accused my syntax of being… tortured. I loved her for putting it that way even though it was not kind.]

It was just as true then as it is now, that my syntax is tortured because my thinking is tortured. In other words, I think the way I write. It is also just as true now as it was then, that my retort [unwritten in those scribbled red margins of my essay on Waiting for Godot but very loudly THOUGHT in those margins] was perfect:

Either my syntax is tortured or yours is complacent.

And as any elementary logic student knows, only one of those predicates needs to be true for the proposition to be true.

My Irish Drama professor [with her complacent syntax] would be scribbling in the margins of this essay:

COMPLACENT SYNTAX

What the Hell does any of this have

To do with Quentin Tarantino’s new

Script The Hateful Eight?

To which my tortured syntax would reply:

TORTURED SYNTAX

I could have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floor of silent seas.

Those who have been with me through both my episodes of self-inflicted insouciance will remember that my essay on Inglorious Basterds began with an Eliot-enriched preamble on the allusiveness [yes I mean “a” not “e”lusiveness] of meaning. In topic sentence form, I simply wondered whether allusions to other great works count as great things in themselves. In more complacent topic sentence form, I wondered whether it “means anything” that I can quote from T.S. Eltiot’s Lovesong to a balding man. Does the fact that I am capable of the allusion signify that I am capable of the SAME talent? Why I wondered all this about Quentin and not Joel… is a subject for an epistemologist [or a “mature poet”] with more axes to grind than me.

Radical doubt never seemed important, to me– the most glorious of rationalists.

So, I begin the way I have begun because, in truth, it makes me happy to torture my syntax as much as possible. We are what our record says we are. If Quentin can be the Bard of Refuse, I can be the Bard of Misbegotten Insouciance.

  1. Is the dialogue (a) free of exposition and (b) rich in subtext? This will include (c) unique voices for each character. (each part worth 10 points)

Part A) Those who have read all four of my reviews of Quentin’s works [three deleted by that Misbegotten Insouciance] know that I have always been reverent of Mr. Tarantino’s dialogue ability. That will not be the case this time.

This script [and admittedly this is the leaked first draft; he may have Tarantinoed it up in the time between its initial appearance and the completion of filming] has very little of his usual flair. I can’t quote the text because of PDF restrictions, but Hateful has all of the exposition found in every other Tarantino Script and none of the distraction techniques he often deploys to make it palatable. The best example of this runs from pages 29-33. It concerns the backstory of Maj. Warren.

In these five pages we learn what Maj. Warren did during the Civil War to earn the enmity of the entire Confederate State. Warren is so hated in SouthLand that there is a multi-thousand dollar prize for the Confederate who can relieve him of his head. We also learn that, while his act was primarily directed at Southern Whites, it did not leave Northern Whites unscathed. We learn that Warren is not quite hero material. He may be justified, but he is not a quote-unquote good guy.

This information is crucial to the story, but it reads as information, and as such, it counts as exposition. In other scripts, Tarantino does his best to make his backstories as enjoyable as his forwardstories by using things like “the cat and mouse technique”. In other words he buries his scene of exposition in a life and death struggle like the opening eight or so pages of Inglourious Basterds. That scene is all exposition too, but it reads like a freight train because we want to find out who lives and who dies.

All too often in The Hateful Eight, the information necessary to understand the motivations of the characters is just deposited in their dialogue. All too often in The Hateful Eight, the exposition in the dialogue is just… poor.

5 out of 10 points.

Part B) Either I made no notes about subtext because I am WAY out of practice after my two month sabbatical in retail, or I made no notes because there were no notes to make. As was true of my syntax disjunction only one of those predicates has to be true for the proposition to be true. I incline toward the B predicate.

I could probably make up some stuff concerning all the racial tension in the script. Quentin may even want me to do this for him. I will not because I do not think the racial tensions in the script merit elevation to the status of serious discussion. If other reviewers believe they are treated with the dignity they warrant, I welcome them to make their arguments.

What is in this script is a disregard for the principle of treating humans as equal in their humanity. If Tarantino is saying anything, he is saying that we humans are abysmal creatures. We torture each other because we ENJOY torturing each other. [Maybe that preamble about my type of syntax was relevant after all.]

Daisy, for instance, gets horribly beaten several times by Maj. Warren and John Ruth. Yet, she can’t conceal her smile when Ruth drinks the poisoned coffee. She ends her life crawling toward a gun so that she may kill more people.

10-hateful-eight-yelling.w529.h352.2xSomeone might say Daisy’s treatment is indicative of a vicious misogyny. I don’t think the hatred of Daisy displayed by the script is any different because she is a woman getting the shit kicked out of her by several men. Tarantino’s characters are all misanthropic. They just use race and gender as an excuse to be vile in a given context. Were race and gender excuses unavailable, they would find others.

5 out of 10 points.

Part C) In my previous reviews, I have found Tarantino to be a master of character individuation. Again, that is not the case in Hateful.

His characters in this script aren’t bad, but they are not Hans Landa either.

Because I can’t cite the text, I will just have to give a score:

7 out of 10 points.

2. Do the first 10 pages make me want to read to Fade Out? (20 points)

The first ten pages are used up with Maj. Warren talking his way onto John Ruth’s stagecoach with Domergue and O.B. The Blizzard threatens and John Ruth threatens, but little else happens. I don’t think this is more than an ordinary effort from a writer who has put together some spectacular openings. If I had read this from an unknown, and had no reason to keep reading other than my own interest in the story, I wouldn’t have.

Additionally, the dialogue feels insincere in the ways cited in the dialogue question. The length of these ten pages is exposition telling us about our characters. It’s not horrible in that half of it fits the context, but the other half grates on the ear.

Lastly, for all the script’s talk about the gloriousness of 70mm film, the description only once rises to the level of the adjective used to describe the quality of the framing device. If you are going to bash against the fourth wall with a front end loader, please back up your insouciance with your talent.

I found myself only mildly interested in whatever mystery the script was taking its sweet time in setting up. I felt, in other words, these first ten were willfully indulgent.

12 out of 20 points.

3. Does the structure of the story have (a) a suitable number of reveals (b) an engine that fits its protagonist (c) a pinch point the engine funnels toward and (d) a thematic underpinning which, by Fade Out, explains why THIS engine and THIS protagonist were the subject of THIS story? (parts a and d worth 10 points, parts b and c worth 5)

Part A) I do not believe there are a suitable number of reveals in this story. There are small setups involving Maj. Warren and his Civil War past. The script did make me want to see these setups revealed in the character interaction between Confederate General Sandy Smithers [a current resident at the Haberdashery which becomes the locus of the story] and Maj. Warren. Of course, the resolution is one part pornography and one part bullet hole.

Unfortunately, nothing new here.

On top of this, the actual mystery in the story [who among the eight trapped in Minnie’s Haberdashery during the blizzard is trying to help Daisy] gets resolved by a 20 page flashback [Chapter Four—The Four Passengers]. Yes, one of those dreaded flashbacks. If it takes a 20 page flashback to resolve your story, then [more likely than not] your story isn’t good.

Finally, there is that ending… We will discuss that more when we get to theme.

5 out of 10 points

Part B) Before we can answer the engine question, we would first have to answer who is the protagonist. Maj. Warren is the cleanest choice, but I will prefer to be messy [although, Maj. Warren is the only viable option if one wants a human for the role].

I never like naming an abstract noun as the subject of a story because it seems like an author/audience conspiracy grounded in pretentiousness. This means that if you were to ask Mr. Tarantino who he intended as the protagonist of his story [depending on his internal level of pretentiousness at the moment the question were asked] he might say Maj. Warren… or he might say, Cruelty. Specifically, Human Cruelty to other Humans.

Although I know the answer of Maj. Warren is correct in the literal sense in which the word protagonist is used in ordinary language, if one were writing a graduate thesis [and one wanted to be pretentious] one might get a good grade by subbing in the abstract noun Cruelty for Maj. Warren.

I believe it is true that this story exists [at least in part] to test the grounds of Human Cruelty to other Humans. It is a litmus of sorts for our imagination. How far can we stretch our idea of our selfishness and still end up within the realm of actions that feel like they apply to our species?

I hate stories like these. They seem [to me] cheap and easy exercises in the worst kind of Idea Pornography. What is imaginable is not equivalent to what is possible. That is a metaphysical leap which only the most naïve of Ethical Philosophers would ever posit. It is taking an idea and processing it until it is perfect. All my life on this planet has taught me that NOTHING PERFECT exists… outside our imagination. Not even perfect Cruelty. The bad guys in these limitless stories are Cartoons of actual people.

Additionally, I worry about the results for our civilization if we continue to exercise our imaginations in this way. Is depravity derived from the imagination? It seems to be missing from all creatures without it, so the depth of depravity seems to depend on the capacity for it to be imagined. Could the old adage that Art imitates Life be backward? Could it be that:

Life imitates Art.

I believe this inversion is the actual Truth. I believe it is an ethical error to think of an Abstract Noun, make it perfect, and then turn it into a Character. In life there are no perfectly evil people to the same degree that there are no perfectly good people. I would raise my aesthetic sword equally as forcefully against a Fictional Galilean as I do against John Ruth and Maj. Warren. Art, Like Science, is a fallibalistic institution. You aim at the truth, but you must be satisfied by hitting experience. Although I am [fundamentally] a rationalist I celebrate the Error in my thinking as The Thing that makes me worthwhile.

I Hope [I am right] therefore I am [human].

Quasi-ethical ramblings aside, this script has a perfect engine. How could it not? It has invented a Noun [capitalized Cruelty] that does not exist. As much follows from the nonexistent properties of a thing as follows from the contradictory properties of a thing.

5 out of 5 points.

Part C) The pinch point of this story comes on page 88 when John Ruth drinks his coffee. I believe this is a middling pinch point because there is rapid acceleration in the story up until page 103 when Joe Gage confesses to that poisoning. After this there is a miraculous halting of the story caused by the 20 pages of flashback. To me, this was bizarrely poor story design by an accomplished author.

2 out of 5 points.

Part D) [If you’ve not seen or read this yet, then skip this part of this question. There will be a fairly significant spoiler.]

So, in this story every single character dies. I admit that I find this result consistent with the idea that the script exists as a test on the bounds of human cruelty. If that possible world were our actual world, EVERYONE WOULD DIE. For this reason, I am forced to give Mr. Tarantino more points than I would like. He has satisfied the aesthetic requirements of theme when it comes to consistency.

I feel that I can lower the score away from perfect based on the fact that there is an aesthetic type of “imperative” error underlying the story. Not only is this NOT our world, [Eight perfectly Cruel people could never end up on the same mountain at the same time], no one could Will this to be our world either. If the story is impossible, and not desirable, then what is the utility in telling the story?

7 out of 10 points.

4. Is there (a) anything unique in the story being told or (b) in the writing itself? (each part worth 5 points)

Part A) There was a time [probably around 1990] when this story would have been unique and groundbreaking. Now there have been so many of these Impossible Characters written that it barely counts as unique thinking to clog them all together on the same snowcapped moutaintop.

3 out of 5 points.

Part B) The writing in this is not up to the Tarantino Standard—in terms of dialogue and Story design. That’s a fact. The only things I found interesting about this story were its narrow window in time, and its claustrophobic, contained, nature. Both of those were partially destroyed by the prolonged flashback.

3 out of 5 points.

5. Are we inspired, for however brief a time, to live in harmony with the theme of the script? (10 points)

Oh lord. I have sufficiently answered this question.

0 out of 10 points.

 

Total Score: 54

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10 responses to “The Hateful Eight

  1. Hey man. I’ve been reading your blog for a while but never commented but now I want to comment just to let you know that I love these posts, they’ve been so crucial to mastering a proper understanding and execution of the craft. And besides that, you’re a very entertaining and insightful writer.

    So I’d truly be down if I ever saw this deleted or if this was the last blog post.

    From one person to another, you do really great work, and I really appreciate the time you take to post these entries. I don’t know if this comment will mean anything to you, but your blog means a whole lot to me and surely many others. I really hope you continue pushing on!

    You da bess

    • Hey that is a very nice comment. I think I recognize your name from Scriptshadow. I am glad you discovered Joel’s blog and are benefitting from his analysis.

      • Yup, that’s me! Truth be told not sure how I found this place but I did and am pretty thankful that I have.

  2. I just want you to know that your blog posts mean a lot to me. Your perspective is truly unique and your lessons have changed me.

    Losing your voice is something I don’t want to think about. I hope you have a great New Years.

    Sincerely,

    Alex

  3. Thank you all for the endorsements. It makes doing the reviews worthwhile. I sincerely appreciate it.

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