December 28, 2015 [The Hateful Eight]

The writing never stopped being snappy and startling, but it was all here-n-there, with never a whole thing made. To stem my impatience, I started imagining a theater piece in which new actors performed scenes from his movies. How would Denzel Washington check out the big brain on Brad? How would Michael Shannon torture that soon-to-be-semi-earless cop? Would Natsha Lyonne make a suitably ferocious Honey Bunny? It was all I could muster to sustain interest in his movies since Jackie Brown more than fifteen years ago.

And suddenly Tarantino realized he was a playwright after all, and traps eight hateful people in one suitably expansive set—but not too expansive, only enough to lose someone in the periphery who may or may not be sneaking up on you. The indulgence of those monologues finds armchairs, beds, tabletops, pot-bellied stoves to cozy up to the inevitable: bursts of humor and gore, slow boils that boil over, revelations as byzantine as any Empire.

Never have I seen him so intent on examining evil—not just the generic nastiness of Nazis and hit squads but full-bodied souls that grin and grunt and realize—often too late—just how brutal survival grows when cornered. And it's all so beautiful, lit and shadowed in burnished browns and gold, as rich as the farty grumble of a leather chair, as loud as indoor gunplay. And each little nook of that cabin pries up evil from the floorboards to let it rage and caper, grin and scowl—proud of what is in the end a mundane accomplishment: killing others. Everyone dies, but somehow evil thinks it's doing something special when it pulls a trigger or thrusts a knife. The Hateful Eight inevitably plays this out like dance and nimble gymnastics—how else? It's Tarantino! Master Showman! Provocateur Extraordinaire!—but I think for once it's not the simple visceral pleasures of bang-bang-tear-em-up but the ignominious slump, the final seizure, the needless loss, the tawdry last laugh cut short. 

By the end I felt exhausted—as I did when The Shining finally froze evil, suspending it in every moment of our lives, a viscous liquid in which a smudge-like blob forever floats in our line of sight, the "banality of evil" sliding along just inches before us—infinitely more horrifying than sound and fury because it's not a sudden startlement but our constant companion, trapped in the same room, bound by a locked door.


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