WHY QUENTIN TARANTINO SUCKS ACCORDING TO SCIENCE (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Admit Tarantino is Grossly Overrated)
Prepare your posterior for a pummeling. Brace your behind for a bruise. Fortify your fanny for the fury. Ready your rump for the rage. Gird your glutes for a grinding. Strengthen your seat for a sanding. Friends, your collective Tarantino loving asses are going to get butthurt.
Quentin Tarantino. Prolific and influential director, actor, and screenwriter. Known for his numerous groundbreaking films, all of which garnered widespread critical and commercial acclaim upon release. Do the words Pulp Fiction mean anything to you, you scrub? Of course they do. You’re a person of the world, after all. You’ve really lived, because you’ve seen Pulp Fiction, the marker of the true post-modern cynical bourgeoisie. You’re hip. You’re trendy. You’re fucking suave.
Well, I’ve got news for you: Quentin Tarantino is grossly overrated. I’ll give you a moment to take in the searing pain of 40-grit sandpaper rubbing your clenched sphincter with all the gentleness of Vlad the Impaler. Finished? Good. Throw some topical cream on your toasted bagel and let’s forge onward.
Like most 20-somethings who grew up in the 1990s and 2000s, I believed Tarantino brilliant. However, there is a certain tendency among 20-somthings, fresh to adulthood with the world at their grubby, privileged little fingertips, to confuse something that feels new with something good. Just because Tarantino utilizes excessive dialogue in his movies doesn’t mean it’s done well, and just because you wasted your childhood on Michael Bay and James Cameron doesn’t mean Tarantino is brilliant. Simply put: your standards were normalized at “abysmal” from the get-go. You weren’t expected, the first time you watched Kill Bill, to know it wasn’t the pinnacle of filmmaking.
You’re not convinced. You’re intelligent. This isn’t your first time on the internet, and you know not to believe everything you read. “But even Roger Ebert liked Quentin Tarantino!” you cry, indignant. You demand empirical evidence: “Our aching keisters require scientific rigour!” Fair enough. This isn’t actually science, but whatever. Like a political philosophy class, I’ll slap the term “science” on this so you take it seriously.
EXHIBIT A: DIALOGUE
Tarantino is known for his long, drawn-out dialogue, used to in scenes to build tension, often leading to a bloody and dramatic release. It’s a powerful directing tool, one underutilized in today’s post-Independence Day-action-packed-Hollywood-blockbuster era of films. Tarantino is, unquestionably, a master of the technique, revealing intimacies about his characters, injecting subtle humour, and drawing in the audience to the point of breathlessness through his commanding use of language. So what’s the critique?
The problem with Tarantino’s use of dialogue is: it is, quite literally, the only thing he does. Every scene. Every film. The “greatest independent film of all time”, Reservoir Dogs, uses the dialogue-driven buildup to the point of nausea. As does Pulp Fiction. As does Death Proof. As does Inglourious Basterds. Yes, the tavern scene in Basterds is brilliant in its subtle buildup of tension and subsequent release in bloodbath, but was cheapened by all the other scenes in the movie that did the Exact. Same. Thing.
Not surprisingly, of Tarantino’s filmography, his most enjoyable movies are those that rely on this technique the least (Kill Bill 1 & 2, Django Unchained), but even in these his dependency on excessive dialogue is markedly present. When you first watch a Tarantino movie, the dialogue draws you in, it involves you in the story and the characters. If you decide to watch it again, the dialogue becomes wearing. If you (in a fit of madness) desire to watch it a third time, the dialogue is tedious, grating, and entirely unenjoyable.
EXHIBIT B: THEME
Tarantino’s dependence on established paradigms extends beyond individual scenes to nearly his entire filmography, in the form of a theme: revenge. Inglourious Basterds? Revenge. Both Kill Bills? Revenge. Django Unchained? Revenge. Death Proof? Revenge. The upcoming The Hateful Eight? Revenge. Six out of nine Tarantino films are blatantly about revenge.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that artists work in themes, and to break out of the mold can (and often does) spell certain doom for their career. Horror authors write mostly horror-themed books; heavy metal musicians write heavy metal music — and so on. To branch out of their established, popular paradigm is to risk alienating a fan base. And yet I see a difference between horror authors penning horror novels with substantially different plots, characters, and themes, and the sameness that pervades Tarantino’s work. Two-thirds of Tarantino’s movies use (or will use) revenge as a theme. All of them use excessive dialogue as a tension building technique (some more than others). They all feature similar styles of music, near-identical tone and mood, and even clone copies of the same characters, over and over. Yes, they’re all in different settings and time periods, but if I were to copy/paste the same article over and over again, change the title, time period, all involved names, and market it as “new”, readers would quickly realize I’m not producing anything original.
Were Tarantino were using one particular aspect of this sameness to establish his unique voice as a filmmaker across his filmography, I wouldn’t have an issue. Even if he used two of these as constants I would have little to criticize. But because all his movies feel like the same characters are spouting the same dialogue for the same reasons in the same situations to come to the same conclusions, I’m not convinced that his repeated use of the same theme is anything but laziness and unoriginality.
EXHIBIT C: AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULTURE
“As a writer, I demand the right to write any character in the world that I want to write. I demand the right to be them, I demand the right to think them and I demand the right to tell the truth as I see they are, all right? And to say that I can’t do that because I’m white, but the Hughes brothers can do that because they’re black, that is racist. That is the heart of racism, all right.” – Quentin Tarantino
Okay, fair enough. Your film, your characters, your creative control. This is art, and art should push boundaries; it should be a reflection of current culture, even in the breaking of paradigms. Maybe especially in the breaking of paradigms. Django Unchained, in its over-the-top use of the “n-word”, is culturally significant. It is truly indicative and a reflection of this age. Before we go any further, however, I ask you to watch this video:
Don’t tell me that didn’t make you squirm. Now let’s re-examine Tarantino’s demands to “be them . . . think them . . . and tell the truth.”
Had Django Unchained been the only Tarantino film to use the “n-word”, it would be almost unparalleled in its cultural significance. But considering his gratuitous use of this most taboo of racial epithets in previous films, it becomes (are you recognizing a recurring theme yet?) cheapened. And when you witness his awkward, real-life interactions with black people, his strange obsession with black culture suddenly reads as pandering at best, appropriation at worst.
Of course, Tarantino is not a racist. The actors (many of whom are Black) in Tarantino’s movies are outspoken in their defence of his use of the word, and we need to take that into account. But in light of the blatant same-ness across the scope of his filmography, this constant recurring use of a racial slur, as well as his seeming need to give black people revenge for the sins of the fathers instead of trying to create a new dialogue between races in light of the drastic cultural changes over the last century, his appropriation of the “n-word” comes across as disingenuous. Not to a degree that anyone would be, or should be, offended, but to an extent that, like everything Tarantino touches, wears on the viewer through excessive repetition.
EXHIBIT D: FROM DUSK TILL DAWN
At this point you’re either on board with me, or your bottom is flaming like a beacon on a hill. Allow me to clarify some things: I think Tarantino movies can be enjoyable films. Django Unchained was fun, funny, and worth a watch. I’ve analyzed it, yes, and found it wanting under the same lens with which I’ve critiqued his other films, but I won’t sit here and lie to you. I liked it. I liked Pulp Fiction the first time I watched it. I liked both Kill Bills. Tarantino is not without talent, and I can understand, to a certain extent, why people praise his movies.
The Robert Rodriguez directed From Dusk Till Dawn is Tarantino’s greatest saving grace; the best showcase of his talent. The writing is succinct; it showcases a clear Tarantino bent without devolving into the tired, dialogue-driven tension building cliché he seems to save for his own movies. The characters are not typical. They don’t feel tired and reminiscent of other situations and places. The movie is fresh, alive, fun, and bursting with energy (not to mention Rodriguez’s typical tongue-in-cheek directing). It proves Tarantino has the potential to produce interesting material but leaves me to conclude that Rodriguez must have been the defining creative force, since Tarantino’s track record shows he lacks the originality to produce such a film. Still, as the writer, he must be commended. I wish he would work solely as a writer in more situations as losing the creative control he has as both writer and director appears to suit him.
This is possibly the crux of the matter. Oft times artists find themselves frustrated by constraint, yet produce their best works under the yoke of limitation. Tarantino, in writing and directing his own movies, has proved he is unable to restrain himself. He demands that be not be restrained, and yet if From Dusk Till Dawn is any indication, he would benefit from such imposed borders.
In retrospect, I wish I would have only watched one Tarantino film in my life (and I wish that film were Django Unchained). But I have watched almost all of them, and in the watching have become less and less impressed with the movies and their critical and commercial reaction. Tarantino has really, truly, only made one movie, and has then restated it seven (soon to be eight) times. I don’t ask for every film to be groundbreaking, to shatter the paradigms and social conventions of a generation. I just ask that each film have enough originality for me to believe it’s a separate work of art. I enjoy voice, I enjoy seeing a directorial style revisited. I don’t appreciate one theme, one voice, one style being shoved down my throat, movie after movie, and being told it’s profound. When I watch a Tarantino movie, I can’t help but feel Tarantino is Tarantino’s biggest fan. If I wanted to watch masturbation on film, I could go to any number of adult websites and enjoy myself a lot more (and be done in less than three minutes). In addition, the dialogue would be a lot less tedious on a repeat watch.
So. On a scale of one to Pi, how chapped is your ass? I too was young and naive once. I believed in Tarantino, his dialogue, his directing, his strange penchant for revenge and black people. The truth became plain to me, however, on an attempted repeat watch of Inglourious Basterds when I realized once the plot had already been revealed, it held no more enjoyment. It took but this simple push to get me started out of the cave of Tarantino, to realize he’s really not doing anything new; rather, my expectations of Hollywood films were so low he seemed a genius. You don’t have to come out of the cave with me, my friends. Enjoy your shadows.