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Victim No More?
Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to take a stereotype and send it spinning on its head.
That's exactly what the "Pulp Fiction" director has done with "Inglourious Basterds," his latest movie, opening in the region this Friday, in which Jews don't play the victims -- for a change -- during the Holocaust.
To everything, change ... and it's a welcome one from past images, in which Hollywood has inordinately cast the Shoah in a victim mentality. In creative endeavors where there are heroes, they're usually gentiles standing up for the helpless survivor -- think Oskar Schindler on the big screen ("Schindler's List"), and the much more recent Irena Sendler on the small screen ("The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler") and Irena Gut Opdyke on stage ("Irena's Vow").
The non-Jewish guy behind "Kill Bill" taking a stab at spearing stereotypes?
When you think of it, who better?
The one-time video-store clerk has rewound the way people think of films; he's unafraid to deal with social issues defiantly and even comically.
Indeed, his take on the topic is far from disrespectful, even as it is distinctive. It's a step beyond Mel Brooks and his kitschy -- you may even call it safe, and certainly nonviolent -- take on the Nazis and the Holocaust.
Tarantino is different. Having a ragtag band of American Jewish soldiers nicking Nazis one by one is seen as a kind of sick fantasy. He has taken his comic-book credibility to the silver screen and with a bam! pow! splash! made the meek inherit the earth -- or at least bash it to pieces.
Call it what you will, but Tarantino's calling is in keeping with an extraordinary shift in Hollywood/Holocaust dynamics.
For example, at the end of last year, Edward Zwick's "Defiance" -- the fact-based World War II drama about a band of Jews taking a stand against the Nazis from their bulwark deep in a Belarus forest -- drew acclaim for adding spine to the otherwise specious image of a Jew as defenseless.
Yet why now, after all these years and visions of hat-in-hand Jews marching silently to their deaths?
In a way, Zwick explained, it's in defiance of the past iconography -- Jewish adults are tired of seeing themselves portrayed as victims, and as such, are seeking out hidden truths and triumphs to hand off to future generations.
So here comes Tarantino, the "bad boy" of cinema, whose bloodlines -- and blood-soaked fantasies -- have become its own kind of fiction. Sure, giving a Jewish soldier a baseball bat and asking him not to bunt may not make him Babe Ruth.
But it sure changes the league he's seen playing in.