(I apologize for the poor quality of the video… It’s the only version I could find online.  I own the movie, but I figured this would be an easier way.)

 

I chose to do something a little different and analyze a short scene from the movie Inglorious Basterds by using Barthes’ essay “Wine and Milk.” In the scene, the main antagonist, Hans Landa, a Nazi officer who hunts down Jewish people, heads to a dairy farm to interrogate a man that he believes is hiding a Jewish family. In the movie, the interrogation is nearly twenty minutes long, but I chose to focus on one specific part: the part where Landa turns down wine for a glass of milk.

In Barthes’ essay, he writes, “Some American films, in which the hero, strong and uncompromising, did not shrink from having a glass of milk before drawing his avenging Colt…” Landa is not exactly a hero; he’s a Nazi who is actually nicknamed “The Jew Hunter.” He’s a terrible person, but nobody can doubt he’s not strong and uncompromising. Barthes also writes that milk “is cosmetic, it joins, covers restores. Moreover, its purity, associated with the innocence of the child, is a token of strength, of a strength which is not revulsive, not congestive, but calm, white, lucid, the equal of reality.” Once again, Landa isn’t necessarily a poster child of innocence or purity, but in terms of strength and his ability to remain calm, he fits the category.

Whereas most characters, particularly villains, prefer to douse themselves in wine, beer and hard liquor when chatting with someone, Landa prefers fresh milk. When you think about milk and its benefits (high amount of calcium, helps strengthen your bones), it’s a good representation of a character like Landa who is steadfast and unwavering in his duties.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, in this scene, Hans Landa eventually discovers that there is a Jewish family living underneath the floorboards. Landa’s character has his men kill the family without batting an eye. While it’s true that his actions are cruel, to Landa, he is simply following the orders of his master. Even if a task is difficult to do, he truly believes that all Jewish people must be exterminated. He lacks purity by our perception of the word: he kills countless Jewish people with no regards to their feelings. However, by his perception of the word and the perception of people like him, Landa is the epitome of purity. By following orders and doing what he is commanded without questioning it, his purity remains intact, at least the way him and the Germans see it.

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One response »

  1. Michael K. Johnson says:

    You might also note the connotations of “purity” in a Nazi context. In addition to the points you make, the choice of milk as beverage seems ironic in multiple ways, its connotations of heroism and innocence making a marked contrast with the actions that Landa takes, but perfectly in keeping with notions of “duty,” of keeping away from anything that might prevent him from doing his job.

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