hamlet, and the hateful eight

One paragraph in this article in The New Yorker popped out at me:

Before the show opened, Hüller read an essay that portrayed “Hamlet” as a critique of the conventions of Renaissance revenge tragedy—and of the society from which those conventions emerged. “Shakespeare wrote the play at the edge of these times when blood revenge was still a thing,” she told me recently. “Shakespeare’s showing it one more time, but in the most absurd way—because everybody’s dead at the end. The play is saying, ‘This can’t be the way.’ ”

It’s rather embarrassing that I never thought of this (or perhaps I did, way back when I studied Hamlet in school*). I’ve read and seen some of the classic “revenge” plays (The Duchess of Malfi is the one which sticks in my mind, although ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore may also qualify).

Rounding around to my actual point (and I do have one 🙂 ), this is something I haven’t seen commented on about Quentin Tarantino’s film The Hateful Eight.

[SPOILERS (obviously)]

As with Hamlet, The Hateful Eight takes the form of a revenge plot to its natural conclusion: Everybody dies. As has been pointed out, the eight characters break down into an obvious series of icons of the United States at that time (and in general): White/Black, North/South, Mexico, England, Cowboys (and no Indians, which is interesting). A bunch of men and one woman, but (to take the charitable view) this does make sense for a movie about male violence. And these various characters mostly seem to know each other, or at least know of each other, to a degree which would be unusual if they were intended to be real and/or random.

(The question of male violence also makes me think about Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood — how even the violence of Charles Manson’s female acolytes is fundamentally his violence. To quote from Kill Bill, “I could see the faces of the cunts that did this to me and the dicks responsible.”)

I’m not entirely endorsing Tarantino’s approach, by the way. I think his enthusiasm for wild violence — and his skill at it — does get the better of him sometimes, but I think he does have his deeper purposes and points to make.

But I think that this is the point of The Hateful Eight: to step back and look at the revenge framework, which Tarantino has used, less critically, in other films. As with Hamlet in the quote above, I think his point is “This can’t be the way.”

* I studied the play in both high school and college, and in high school we got so caught up with it — dissecting it week after week after week — that we ended up having to blast through Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in just a few days (the semester was supposed to be fifty-fifty between the two).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Movies, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.