This story broke late yesterday and was all over the news today — the skull piece housed in Moscow believed to be Hitler’s and used as evidence to support the widely-accepted theory that he shot himself in a Berlin bunker was revealed as a woman’s, which brings into question, again, exactly how Hitler died.
For me, the story couldn’t have been better timed, because I thought the dumbest critical debate around Inglourious Basterds was whether or not it was legitimate to make a WWII movie that so blatantly flies in the face of established historical narrative (spoiler alert: Hitler and a passel of important Nazis are gunned down and/or burn to death inside an infernal theater).
I read an article about the film — and for the record, I did love it, though I understand it’s not everyone’s cup of tea — that discussed briefly one of the perennial problems of talking about the war, which is that war history and Holocaust history tend to become conflated in the modern mind, at least the modern American mind. They are separate, though linked, phenomena, and I don’t think it does the continuum of historical consciousness very much good to insist on making either about the other, although it does allow us to revel in a certain do-gooder status.
With this movie, I like to think that Tarantino was playing on the relationship between those two events, and messing with some of our entrenched notions about the European Theater (why else have Colonel Landa be so complicated, if still contemptible?) — and, of course, giving us gunfire and blood along the way, although there wasn’t nearly as much of that as I expected. When I read this story yesterday, I imagined QT getting a kick out of it — how all of the sudden, the ossified timeline printed in history books is made illegitimate. Or, in reality, the fluid and subjective nature of creating a singular historical storyline was laid out bare. Not that this discovery should shake the core of anyone’s beliefs about Germany, Hitler, or, god forbid, the Holocaust, but it does raise a few good questions about how younger generations should best translate the various successes and failures of their fathers and mothers into a useful narrative.
Ed: I don’t mean that Tarantino was exclusively confining himself to a discussion of WWII. There’s clearly a lot going on here, I just wanted to point out how he was using history as set and plot device in a really interesting way.