Recently, I went to see Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, The Hateful Eight. During the lead up to the film’s release, I saw discussions that said the movie provides a commentary on current race relations in the United States. While I see this, partly, I do not wish to focus on that aspect because in order to do so, I feel that I need to watch the film a few times in a more careful manner. I do find Armond White’s review and Johannes Fehrle’s essay on Taranatino’s obscuring sources for Django Unchained important conversations that need to be developed. Today, though, I want to focus on the conclusion of the film. If you wish to avoid spoilers, stop reading here.
Ostensibly, the film centers around John Ruth “The Hangman” transporting a female fugitive, Daisy Domergue, to Red Rock where she will be hanged for her crimes. En route, the pair come across a former African American Union solider, Major Marquis Warren, and a white Confederate, Sheriff Chris Mannix. The party stops over at Minnie’s Haberdashery, where they meet with other “travelers,” and the film takes on the feeling of a stage play because all of the action takes place inside of the establishment.
Needless to say, Major Warren and Sheriff Mannix become the characters who continually butt heads over their views in regards to Warren’s place within “white” society. Throughout, Mannix speaks negatively of Warren and tries to convince the others characters to view him as nothing more than a “nigger.” This dichotomy does not come as any surprise, especially considering the setting of the film during the post-Civil War frontier expansion in Wyoming. This setting, which is another discussion for another day, removes regionality from the discussion of the North and South and places both in a new setting that does not play to one side or the other.
At the conclusion of the film, one that sees almost every character die as a tragedy is wont to do, Warren and Mannix sit, bloody, on the bed and struggle to hang Daisy from the rafters. The men succeed, and they share a semi-conciliatory moment at the end, focused on the death of a white woman. (It is not clear whether or not Daisy is Southern.) The fact that Warren, as an African American male, hangs Daisy, with the help of a Souther white man, makes me wonder what is actually occurring here. Some say that Tarantino, throughout the film, shows his misogynist tendencies
, and if taken as a solitary film, he does. However, his entire oeuvre shows strong female characters from Jackie Brown to Beatrix Kiddo.
If Warren hangs Daisy alone, and if Mannix dies, then I could see this as an act of vengeance in much the same way that I see Django’s comments about killing white men in context. Plus, this would play in to these expectations following Warren’s show of power when he has Chester Smithers fellatiate him before he lets the man die, naked, in the snow. However, this does not occur; rather, we have Warren and Mannix extinguishing Daisy’s life in tandem. Thinking about this, I cannot help but consider when Mr. Compson, Dalton Ames, and others call all women “bitches” in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.
Another aspect that strikes me, in relation to the “predatory” black male on the virginally pure Southern white woman occurs when Daisy’s brother, who remains hidden under the floorboards, shoots Warren in the testicles, effectively castrating him and removing the power that he held over Smithers. Warren never confronts Daisy sexually or insinuates a “savage” nature that corresponds to stereotypical representations. However, his castration, then subsequent participation in hanging Daisy, make it appear that Tarantino is, in some way, playing with that conceptualization, whether consciously or not. I can’t help but think about texts such as Richard Wright’s “Big Boy Leaves Home” or even Gwendolyn Brooks’s “A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, A Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon.”
Daisy becomes a pawn in the coming together or Warren and Mannix; she achieves, through her death, what Pauline and Louise could not do in Ernest J. Gaines’s Of Love and Dust. There, the Cajun overseer Bon Bon loves Pauline, an African American woman in the quarters. The two carry on a “hidden” relationship, but they cannot come out in the open because of the “rules.” Likewise, the African American convict Marcus starts a relationship with Bonbon’s white wife Louise. Like Bonbon and Pauline, these two cannot show their love publicly because of the differences in their races. These relationships ultimately fail when Bonbon discovers his wife’s new relationship.While he loves Pauline, he cannot relinquish his manhood to Marcus by allowing the man to run off with his white princess.
Even though Daisy does not come across as this princess in The Hateful Eight, her mere presence, and importance, causes us to question what exactly we should take from her life and death. While the action of the film rotates around multiple characters, Daisy lies in the middle. Through her “lynching,” this white woman brings together two disparate figures who remain separated after the Civil War by the falsity of race. What this says, I’m just not sure at this point. I’ve only seen the film once, so I’m not sure I can comment past these initial reactions. However, I would love to know what you think. Let me know in the comments below.