** I viewed the 70mm Roadshow version of the film **
The Hateful Eight is more simplistic than the rest of writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s work at times, but contains a political complexity in its DNA. On the surface, we are placed into a room with eight despicable people and are asked to struggle with our affinity for any of them, but Tarantino has also weaved contemporary social commentary into the film to craft a story of America and our unwillingness to change our ideals.
It is tough to be completely in love with the final product by Tarantino because of how unlikable each of the characters are. This also makes The Hateful Eight so engrossing. Tarantino plays with the notion of us as the audience becoming comfortable with “the hero” of the story and this allows us to come to terms with his uneasy point of a pessimistic view on the American principles.
The Hateful Eight follows eight characters following the Civil War who become trapped in a cabin in Wyoming as they wait out a blizzard. Each one comes from a different place: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is a bounty hunter looking to make it into town to bank a few rewards, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) is allegedly coming into town to become the new sheriff, and John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is bringing in Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an outlaw who he is intending to hang for her crimes. Among the others are Bob (Demian Bechir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern).
Tarantino introduces the film in true western fashion — getting us familiar with each of the characters’ personalities before the shots start to fly. In the first hour and a half of the film, we become well-acquainted with each of the characters and their stark characteristics.
Major Warren fought for the Union side and has become famous for his incredibly violent escape from a Confederate camp that led to the deaths of multiple soldiers on both sides, Mannix is a former rebel member whose father was a part of a brigade of somewhat freelance Southerners who didn’t take kindly to the changes in the land, and Domergue is a blood-thirsty criminal who is bidding her time with John Ruth, who has about as much respect for her as a shoe has for a bug.
The violence towards Daisy Domergue is much more pronounced than any of the other characters. This is made apparent the moment we meet her when she locks eyes with Major Warren and calls him the n-word, which takes us aback for a moment and makes us align with Jackson’s character. That moment is short-lived as she is pistol-whipped by John Ruth, who repeats the action multiple times.
It is hard to align with one person, and this seems to be Tarantino’s ambition. We would love to think Major Warren is the moral center of the cast, but he is just as wicked as the rest of them — obsessed with a vendetta that makes him crass and prone to killing. In making his point, Tarantino has crafted characters that the audience is unable to root for, which is something unheard of in American cinema. There’s always a hero — always someone that we can get behind and know they’ll somehow win in the very end.
The Hateful Eight resents that, making the point that there is no true moral center to get behind. This is a country that must realize without changing our ways of thinking, we will end up dead and stagnant like the rest of them. This idea is foreign, cold, and fickle making it difficult to come to terms with at first.
Tarantino doesn’t look to paint it clearly either. As we come to the end of the film, it seems like progress has been made. Racism is shown to be more of a hereditary trait that can be forgotten in order to move forward and survive, but it doesn’t come about that easy. In the end, there is still someone hanging from the rafters in a worse position and the final shot echoes this idea that there is no solution in this world rather we must make the best with whatever hole we dig for ourselves.
It can be easy to label Daisy as getting the brunt of the violence, but this goes against the point Tarantino is making. Each of these characters is contemptible and vile with no one “winning” in the end. While the violence is much more brutal with Daisy, it is yet another comment on the country and how, while racism may be slowly eradicated with steps being taken, sexism isn’t (with a hint of other issues being treated the same as the rest).
The Hateful Eight is not one of Tarantino’s best, but is one that says more about the outside than the rest of his resume. The point is not nearly as poignant as he wants it to be, but once uncovered, helps to make sense of the three hours of cinema that were presented to you. At its core, The Hateful Eight is cinematic splendor and the 70mm presentation seemed to champion the revival of the expedition.
The film keeps up with the majesty around it that demands a pure cinema experience, but I don’t know if this was the winning revival that Tarantino intended.