Artworks Find You Where You Are

Two young men dancing exuberantly in the kitchen of a student apartment; a blurry moment of exultation
Image courtesy of the author

In that apartment, a dim square expanse above a karate dojo, events only ever materialized. Something happened to you—you’d run into some drugs or girls on the street, a hypothesis gestated over hours of mainlining daytime TV, now in need of testing—and you brought it back to the gang of idiots. On an unremarkable Wednesday, one of us had trudged through the snow to the decaying Blockbuster and rented Inglourious Basterds, which had come out the previous August.

I had been away at school in Chicago for a few months. The other idiots had spent that interval festooning the place with crap. A surfboard-sized flip-flop rested against the kitchen bar; a set of decals depicting a buck rising from a cluster of cattails had been affixed to the wall behind the TV; cheap inflatable balls made of marbled plastic, around which entire sports were invented and lost to history in the space of an hour, rested in the pits of sagging couches. One of the idiots had recently installed cheap surround speakers, little gray cubes nailed or taped to the upper corners of the ceiling. Perhaps he wanted to give them a test drive. It would be irresponsible to assign clear motives. We turned off the lights and hit play.

Quentin Tarantino's revenge flick argues that in order to defeat monstrous ideologies, the righteous must commit themselves to brutality. He's describing how bureaucracies can be weaponized, the chasm between politeness and civility. He is, as ever, professing his love of film through allusions and quotation. Dispensing with all subtlety at the movie's climax, he incinerates a theater full of Nazis with nitrate film stock. If some of this registered with us that night, it was secondary to our primal response to Basterds as an entertainment: its tension and silliness, the beautiful costuming, the chemistry between Mélanie Laurent and Christoph Waltz. For two and a half hours, we were still and silent, achieving rare degrees of attention. The movie's concluding punchline—Tarantino ventriloquizing Brad Pitt: This just might be my masterpiece—landed. In fact, we agreed. Then we got into some vodka and the night devolved pleasantly from there.

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