The Antagonists of Inglourious Basterds: An Analysis
It’s no secret that writing a full-length feature film script is one of the biggest challenges a writer can face. Not only do they have to worry about the rules and tips surrounding crafting a script, but they also have to have a story with great antagonists for it to have the conflict it needs. Two weeks ago we wrote an article on how to write antagonists in your screenplay, so feel free to check it out.
Fortunately enough, today’s society allows aspiring screenwriters to analyze a wide range of information surrounding screenwriting. Whether it’s tips from a professional screenwriter or just analyzing excellent films, all of it is more readily available than ever before. Thus, it’s even more accessible for people to watch great films and take a look at what makes them so special.
Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 film Inglourious Basterds certainly falls under the category of being an excellent film, primarily due to Tarantino’s style and the excellent writing surrounding the script. The film stars Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Eli Roth, and Christoph Waltz, and it tells a story in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, in which a plan to assassinate Nazi leaders is done by a group of Jewish U.S. soldiers which coincides with a theatre owner's vengeful plans. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at what makes this script and film’s antagonists so special.
Still from 'Inglorious Basterds'. Photo credit: Industrial Scripts
Upon reading the logline for Inglourious Basterds, it’s easy to know that it’s a piece of fictional history. However, it’s not in the Philip K Dick sense where it’s science fiction based and major historical points are different. Still, a story about Jewish U.S. soldiers hunting down Nazis is obviously a part of fictional history.
Despite the heavy subject matter, Tarantino manages to write a rated R film that has captivating characters in every way. Our protagonists, led by Lt. Aldo Raine (played by Brad Pitt), still have a bit of antagonism attached to them since they enjoy torturing so much. Although they’re torturing quite literal Nazis, it’s still disturbing to see how much they enjoy doing it.
Regardless, this script’s dialogue and scenery make us understand that it’s not realistic, but it’s done in such a way where it could be believable. For example, the script begins by introducing us to one year into the German occupation of France in 1941. Anyone with a level of history knowledge will clearly know the film is taking place during World War II, allowing us as an audience to get a sense of the setting.
Inglourious Basterds is a complicated film with its villains. Although it’s obvious to be against Nazis in every single way, the characters are so overtly quirky and dialogue-heavy that we’re captivated by the main villain right from the start. The film purposely begins with the scene on the farm with Col. Hans Landa (played by Christoph Waltz), as a way to show us that the film centers on his character more than anything else.
Although there are several main characters in the film, a lot of it surrounds Col. Hans Landa and his evil actions by being deemed The Jew Hunter. This entire scene sets us up to know Col. Hans Landa is an evil person and to see how his dialogue is intentionally comedic and entertaining in a sense, so we don’t solely hate him for being evil.
If you were to ask any script expert what they feel about antagonists, they more than likely will bring up their purpose for being evil. A good rule of thumb is to understand that a character isn’t evil solely for being evil. Even a Nazi officer that’s referred to as The Jew Hunter has another side to his character that explains why he is the way he is.
We see this later on in the script when Col. Hans Landa explains to Lt. Aldo Raine about his plan to be granted immunity by the United States for his role in allowing the Americans to assassinate Hitler. Raine’s men put a swastika in his head so it wasn’t totally happily ever after for Col. Hans Landa, but we see what his true motive was: he only cared about himself, regardless of how much pride he had in being an evil man.
Long Passages of Characters Talking
Part of the reason Tarantino is as popular as he is has to do with his long passages of characters talking. For instance, back at the farm scene, rather than have Col. Hans Landa rush in and immediately kill people so we know he’s the antagonist, there are 17 pages of dialogue that ends with Col. Hans Landa sparing Shosanna’s life.
Characters Do Unexpected Actions
Besides the long passages of characters talking, Tarantino’s writing does an excellent job at having characters do unexpected actions. The biggest turn in the script is when Col. Hans Landa chokes Shosanna to death. It’s a troubling read, just as much as it is to watch, but Tarantino does a fantastic job at surprising the audience with the action.