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How INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS Ratchets Tension

The first time I saw Quentin Tarantino‘s Inglourious Basterds, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all, which is not a bad thing. But the second through 20th time I watched it, because I already knew what to expect, it became my favorite QT movie of the bunch, and a lot of that has to do with the Hitchcockian degree of tension that gets ratcheted up and stretched to the breaking point in just about every scene. It’s this tension that the YouTube channel Lessons from the Screenplay tackles in their latest video.

The channel’s Michael Tucker uses one scene in particular—the opening 17-minute farmhouse chapter—to illustrate how, even in the writing stage, Tarantino uses polite conversation to build the tension. While Sergio Leone used silence as a build up to violence, Tarantino uses chitchat. Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) pays a visit to the French farmhouse of Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet), ostensibly to dot the I’s and cross the T’s on his report about escaped Jews…however, he knows more than he lets on, and LaPadite knows more than he wants to share. And all of this seeming pleasantry is turned to horrifying tension by the reveal that there’s a family of Jewish refugees hiding under the floor.

inglourious Basterds

It’s something so simple and yet it works beautifully. As Hitchcock himself said, tension comes when the audience knows something’s about to happen but aren’t sure when. His classic example is when a five minute scene of banal conversation ends in an explosion, people get a rush for a few seconds, but when people are shown there’s a bomb under the table that will go off in five minutes, suddenly the same banal conversation becomes wrought with fear and anticipation.

Inglourious Basterds is full of scenes and moments like this–the Bear Jew walking out of the tunnel with the bat, Shoshanna having to have dessert with Landa, the brilliant and masterful scene in the basement bar in Lucerne–but perhaps none is as effective as the scene that pretty much single-handedly won Waltz the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

What are your thoughts about Inglourious Basterds? Do you love it as much as I do? Let’s talk about it in them there comments down yonder.

Image: Universal/The Weinstein Company


Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!


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