Friday, October 14, 2016

Super Delegates Bonus: The Lincoln Letter in "The Hateful Eight" (2015)

Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight
Welcome to Super Delegates Bonus. As a subsidiary of Super Delegates, the sporadic additional column is meant to explore depictions of politicians on film outside of the conventional methods of the column. This ranges from everything such as political candidates in TV movies and miniseries to real life candidates providing feedback on their pop culture representation. While not as frequent or conventional, the goal is to help provide a vaster look at politics on film as it relates to the modern election year. Join in and have some fun. One can only imagine what will be covered here.

The Hateful Eight
Release Date: December 30, 2015
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
Written By: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Oscar Wins: 1
-Best Original Score
Oscar Nominations: 2
-Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Jason Leigh)
-Best Cinematography
Delegates in Question:
-Abraham Lincoln

*NOTE: Spoilers for The Hateful Eight

To consider director Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight as being a political film is itself deceptive. After all, he is a filmmaker better known for stylistic reinventions of history and cinema. His films are better known for violence than having any deeper catharsis. Yet his 2015 film feels like an attempt to make a magnum opus about his thoughts on modern politics. While Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained can pass for silly revenge fantasies, The Hateful Eight lacks the energy of Tarantino's other work. It's predominantly told in one location - Minnie's Haberdashery. It's also his longest single film (Kill Bill's Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 together are theoretically his longest) and lyrically his most self-indulgent. It makes sense then why it's his most divisive. 

Over the course of the script's existence, the screenplay has existed in many forms. Before its first hiatus, the ending would suggest that Major Warren's (Samuel L. Jackson) Lincoln Letter was real. In the revised final draft that is seen in the film, it is a forgery designed to get him the respect of his white peers. After all, he is the token black man travelling east in a racially tense period following the Civil War. The aforementioned Lincoln Letter is largely used as a way of suggesting that Warren was a pen pal with "Honest Abe": a man who was respected by both sides of the country in one of its most controversial periods. Lincoln fought for a more unified and accepting culture. It is why his letters would hold a great deal, even among racist and sexist passengers who get stuck together after a snow storm.

The issue is not that the Lincoln Letter is a lie, but that it could be one of many. Convict Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has her gang stashed in the floorboards ready to shoot at a moment's notice. Warren's story in which he abused a white man by dragging him naked through the snow is a cryptic story meant to disturb, but how much of it is true? Everyone has their own borderline accuracy, and it only builds to tensions that includes poisoned food and personal standoffs as they each turn on each other. Tarantino never lets one character be painted as a true American patriot - a mold that he likely borrowed from director Sam Peckinpah. These are some hateful people who do violent, racist, misogynistic behaviors over the course of the film, eventually hanging Daisy while surrounded by the graphic deaths of everyone in and below the room.

The man that Warren kills Daisy with, Sheriff Mannix (Walton Goggins) is a known racist. However, the bond of gender appears to be stronger than race, choosing to hang the convicted evil that probably exists within themselves. As Warren reads Mannix the letter, there's the optimistic language that reads ironically as the last men standing are on the verge of death. The "Lincoln" that Warren created wants the future to feature men walking hand in hand in a form of peace an unity. Along with the music singing "There won't be many coming home," there is the sense that the ending is a bleak yet ironic tale. The fight for peace and unity is a myth, and one that is embodied in the archetypes inside Minnie's Haberdashery.

There is that desire for a peaceful America that continues to exist in 2015 when the film was released. With the former notion also being that America is a post-racial environment (a theory destroyed by Donald Trump's racial comments during his candidacy), there is the belief that the country has changed when stacked alongside the reality. Things have gotten better, but there will always be something tense in how civilians relate to each other. The rise of Black Lives Matter is evidence of this, especially as it represents a desire to put an end to police shooting innocent black people. Yet it isn't over. Things need to keep changing, or face the harsh reality that being post-racial (akin to The Lincoln Letter) is a myth created to make the country appear better than it is.

The Hateful Eight doesn't seek to solve racism, but it does paint it in an abstract fashion. There's constant offensive language and abuse done over petty differences. There's almost an encouragement by the main eight characters to see who will survive. If bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) cannot hang Daisy legally, then others will find a way to finish the job. The Civil War is over, but things have never been less civil. It may be one of the bleakest endings for a Tarantino film yet, but it intends to show how racism impacts everyone in unapologetic fashion. It may be uncomfortable to watch, but that's part of the point. Racism isn't at all pretty.

In an election that has seen Trump rally against every race and gender, it feels like The Hateful Eight remains as relevant as it is a self-indulgent mix of Tarantino's cinematic fetishes. His rallies have been known to break out into fights. He sees women as being defined by their husbands, as is the case with him accusing Hillary Clinton of Bill's sex scandals. Progressiveness is achievable, but can never be fully reached. It is up to society to either believe the lie that a Lincoln Letter solves all problems, or accept its flaws and try to respect each other honestly. It may be difficult and may even be a little bloody, but that's part of what America strives for. The Hateful Eight's cautionary tale is a heightened warning to anyone who chooses to question this.

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