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The Nazi hordes, spurred on by their diabolical leader Adolf Hitler, committed horrid atrocities in the hunting and extermination of the Jews.

The National Socialists (yes, that’s what “Nazi” means) reigned through terror and wickedness, and as our schoolbooks and popular culture reinforce over and over again, the Nazis were the real “bad guys” in history, likely the last enemies of the U.S. that today’s politically correct gatekeepers allow to be treated as “the bad guys.”

Perhaps that’s why the college students around me laughed and clapped when Nazis were beaten, tortured and executed in gory, blood-bathing detail in “Inglourious Basterds.”

Perhaps that’s why they said, “Awesome,” and, “Cool,” when a Nazi’s head, clubbed by a baseball bat, exploded onscreen like an overripe watermelon.

More stunning, however, than the celebration of violence and vengeance in the theater or the amazingly surreal gore of “Inglourious Basterds” – even more stunning than Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant direction in the film (and I’m not a Tarantino fan, but, admittedly, this was an incredible piece of work) – was the reaction of an elderly woman who walked, silent, out of the theater.

She and her husband held hands as they left “Inglourious Basterds” with grim and stoic faces trying in vain to mask an undercurrent of emotion that swelled strong within them.

I thought perhaps they were offended by the brutality of the film or the constant mocking of others’ suffering … but I was wrong.

When her husband slipped off to use the restroom, I stopped and asked what her reaction was to a film that showed Nazis being stabbed, shot, scalped and carved up before her eyes. Her answer has haunted me ever since:

“My eyes were riveted,” she said with an intense gaze holding back tears. “We would have loved for it to have really been that way, being as I was born in 1941.”

Her answer reminded me that the Nazis killed more than just the six million Jews in World War II, but they also killed in combat American fathers, brothers, uncles, friends.

There’s a wellspring of hurt that gets drudged up when the twisted cross of the swastika rears its ghoulish specter, and there are more than just the Jews that would wish a measure of vengeance could cover the pain.

After hearing the woman’s words, I confess, I struggled not to cry myself.

I wanted to cry for her, that she would still carry that pain so deeply and yet so close to the surface. I wanted to cry for those – on both sides of the war – who were swept up in Hitler’s demonic wake to suffer terror, torture and death.

And I wanted to cry over the applauding of man’s vengeance.

As a man of German descent, born in the Fatherland myself less than 30 years removed from the Holocaust, I couldn’t help but be torn by the images on the screen. I weep for what my grandfathers did in Dachau. And I was ready to weep in the theater for the joy others took in watching my grandfathers’ bodies be torn by bullets and burned alive.

There’s a reason, I think, that God said vengeance was his to exact; man’s version looks too little like justice for me to be convinced it’s just.

“Inglourious Basterds” gives the Nazis an eye for an eye for their crimes. I can understand the profoundly wounded celebrating their tormentors’ torment … it’s natural, it’s understandable. But does that make it right?

“Inglourious Basterds” is a very unique, often funny film that throws reality out the window to create a curious “what if” alternate history. And for a brief moment – very brief – one of the main characters, a Jewish woman, stops to wonder if the lust for vengeance strips a person of human dignity, making the avenger little better then the avengee. But the moment is brief.

Mostly, “Inglourious Basterds” is a frolicking romp through givin’ them there Nazis the what for, what they done got comin’.

And as the film reaches its grand finale, its ultimate slay-fest of the Nazi high command, a former victim of Nazi brutality is seen, her wraith-like face projected into the smoke of the rising flames, cackling:

“This is the face of Jewish vengeance!”

Yes, and it’s the face of army widows, children left fatherless by the war, the wounded, those that lost loved ones, those that lost legs and arms and lives. This is the face of their vengeance, too.

But – I couldn’t help but wonder, as she roared and laughed in the blaze – is this the face of God’s vengeance?

Content advisory:

  • “Inglourious Basterds” revels in showing bloodshed in grisly detail: including several scenes of scalping, a brutal baseball bat beating, blood flying in mist as bullets explode through bodies, a flogging, the gurgling of blood through a slit throat and a close-up of carving a swastika into a man’s forehead with a Bowie knife, among others.
  • The film is smattered with several profanities, though intentionally placed, and the script is not littered with cuss words meaninglessly to make up for the writer’s deficiency. The total amount is relatively mild for a 2.5-hour R-rated war film.
  • Nazi racism is depicted in several instances though the film.
  • Save for the frequent appearance of the swastika, there is little to no religious or occultic content in the movie.
  • The film shows a few waitresses in skimpy clothing and contains a brief sex scene played for comical effect, though there is no nudity.

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