© 2016 by James Clark
The Hateful Eight (2015) is suffused with such a dazzling and challenging vein of cinematic bounty as to momentarily stop us in our tracks when setting out to convey it in all its bushwhacker severity. Tarantino’s work here is indeed a delicious entertainment; but it is also a cornucopia wherein very little is in fact what it seems to be.
Proceeding on that premise, we’ll tap the film’s vital signs by way of two scenes seemingly miles apart. The first has to do with a factor eclipsed here by the movie’s more disconcerting virtues, namely, that of our host’s comedic genius. In the wake of our accompanying four characters on a stagecoach ride through a snowbound Wyoming countryside a few years after the official end of the Civil War—a quartet revealing themselves therewith to be steeped in murderous violence of various kinds—they reach a stopover point just as a blizzard hits. That ride had been marked by a bounty hunter, John Ruth, having handcuffed to himself his prisoner, Daisy Domergue, en route to the regional hangman, repeatedly smashing her face and head while the bloodied captive persistently referred to another bounty hunter on board, Major Marquis Warren, as a nigger who should not be in the coach, and defiantly ridiculed her captor. His penchant for beating up Daisy, notwithstanding, Ruth, as his name rather quaintly telegrams, is a mainstream, rather doctrinal, John Locke liberal (referring to Warren as “Black fella”), whose well-known (to Warren, for instance) nickname, “The Hangman,” pertains to his eschewing the “dead” part of the “wanted dead or alive” prescription. Warren’s three frozen corpses on the stage’s roof declare that he is all for the “dead” clause. His referring to himself as “a servant of the Court” introduces a touch of chivalry which might be lingering in his kindly eyes and resonant voice. Daisy, a Southern girl, to judge from her accent, blows a nostril full of snot in Warren’s direction and spits on his letter from Abraham Lincoln which has left Ruth deeply touched (“That gets me”). In smashing her for that latter impudence, he brings both of them crashing outward into the snow. When he catches up with her and his letter, Warren spits on Daisy, smashes her and then she remarks, “That nigger like to bust my jaw… Is that the way niggers treat their ladies?” A fourth member of the party, the son of a notorious leader of a rebel, post-War vigilante gang, “Mannix’s Marauders,” enters into a heated quarrel with Warren—each citing lurid, well-known details of slaughter perpetrated by the other, with firmly anti-slaver Ruth siding with the dishonourably discharged Black fella and putative friend of Lincoln. (more…)