Eye on Film: The Hateful Eight

Hateful Eight opens like one would expect from a western set in a desolate region of Wyoming in the years following the American Civil War. We find mean men who deal in death converging at Minnies Haberdashery during a blizzard. Desperate men are hot on their trail and a female prisoner who holds the key to it all.

As the stagecoach carrying John Ruth (Kurt Russell) plods through the snow, the mountains loomed in the background, the drifts and trees in the foreground, I found myself shivering as my mind was trapped within those boundaries. As the characters complained of the driving snow and pending storm, I too found myself concerned for its arrival. 

More often than not Samuel L. Jackson is one of the baddest dudes in whatever cinematic offering hes in, especially when Tarantino is involved. And as Ed the stagecoach driver first lays eyes on Major Marquis Warren (Jackson), as he is standing in front of a pile of dead white men in two feet of snow, you just knew he was once again, a bad mother trucker. 

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Warren had the misfortune of having his horse die of exhaustion and asked for assistance with getting his bounty into Red Rock. The driver recommends Major Warren ask his passenger, John The Hangman Ruth. He explained that this coach wasnt a regularly scheduled coach but was chartered by his employer.  Ruth recognizes Warren but is uneasy about allowing another bounty hunter to board the stage as he is very protective of his bounty, Daisy Doumergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

Ruths The Hangman moniker is revealed to have something to do with his ability for getting his prisoners to their prescribed justice rather than dishing it out on his own. But that doesnt mean hes treating the accused murderer in his custody as if shes some delicate prairie flower, as from the very moment she opens her mouth it is revealed that Doumergue is as wretched a soul as any. Her liberal usage of the n-word is the first of many instances the term was used, and from a multitude of characters in the film. Add in the physical beatings Daisy received and I was immediately put off, but I understood the context. This woman is a cutthroat, murderous individual.

Warren and Ruth reminisce over the last time they were in the same company, Ruth recollecting a legendary letter from President Abraham Lincoln thanking an elite Negro soldier for his services during the war. When Warren brandished it at Ruth’s request, Daisy spat on it, resulting in Warren punching Daisy so hard she is launched out of the stagecoach, dragging out John Ruth who is handcuffed to his valuable, volatile human cargo.

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This ill at ease trio becomes a quartet when they happen upon Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins). He is recognized by both parties as a former Confederate combatant whose father was of great repute in the war of Northern Aggression.  It just so happens that Mannixs had his horse break an ankle and also needs a lift. 

He says he’s just been named the new sheriff of Red Rock and was on his way to accept his new commission.  Warren remembers Mannix as the pup in a murderous, racist confederate militia that delighted in killing innocent, helpless Blacks. Mannix remembers Warren as something of a Union super soldier who reveled in killing anyone white he could get his hands on, Confederate or otherwise. 

As they arrive at Minnies it’s immediately apparent that something is amiss when Minnie and her man Charly arent there. A mysterious Mexican worker named Bob helps the party disembark and explains that the owners had gone over the mountains to visit her mother.

Major Warren followed Bob to the barn to secure the horses and quiz him some more. Meanwhile, John Ruth, still chained to Doumergue, and Ed enter the cabin where Ruth begins to take control of the scene by letting each person in the cabin know he was in charge.

A motley crew fell under his scrutiny. Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) says he is the executioner for Red Rock, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) says hes in the area looking to spend Christmas with his dear old mother and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) is in town to find his dead son; but the Hangman is not trying to hear any of that. He asserts himself, demanding that each man in the room disarm himself and generally reasserting that he was an all-around bad ass.

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With the characters in place, and the encroaching blizzard upon them, Tarantino begins to weave the familiar web that he is famous for.  Everyone is under suspicion of either looking to steal the bounty on Daisy or suspected of being part of the dastardly Doumergue Gang and will try to free her and kill everyone in the room.

Hateful Eight is broken down into six acts, each thematically different than the other but all integral to the overall tapestry. And each drawing you further into the film as it progressed.

Despite the ridiculous number of times the n-word was spewed, I was totally engulfed in this world where my ancestors would have been at the bottom of the social strata. Major Warren was a true alpha male but I couldnt help wondering what type of life the average Black person had. But seeing Minnie alive and vibrant, then dead and gone, is what wrapped it up for me. I was mad about how they did Minnie. She was familiar to me. As I envisioned it, and as was crafted by Tarantino, she was supposed to be there in that world. 

But it doesnt take long for the viewer to deduce that Minnie, Charly and Sweet Dave are likely dead. I came to that conclusion in Chapter 3, but it isnt until the 5th chapter that this was revealed. Minnie is depicted as being vibrant, funny and loving but in this chapter we see how Minnie Mink (Dana Gourrier), Charly (Keith Jefferson), Six-Horse Sally (Zoe Bell), and Sweet Dave (Gene Jones) are befriended and brutally murdered in order to set up an ambush.

Through all the brutality, bloodletting, buck-naked death marches in the snow, male-on-male sexual humiliation, and the hateful, greedy people that are paraded across this beautifully framed stage, the illustrated treatment of the innocent is the thing that turned my stomach the most. When it was revealed that Minnie was just as hateful as those who occupied her establishment it was still of little solace.

Yes, we did need an on screen example of why these bad men were bad, but that didn’t change the way I felt one bit.

It is sobering that Tarantinos fleeting depiction of the fragility of Black life in the 1800s isnt very far off from the manner in which Blacks are exponentially more at risk of being victimized by criminals and law enforcement than the average American in the 21st century.

A Black man who is empowered to avenge them by proxy does provide some balance for me, but not nearly enough when we tack on the fact that Sweet Dave and Six-Horse Sally perhaps were the only non-Black characters to not say the n-word at least once. I hated most of the characters by the fourth chapter and hated them all by the end of the movie.

Hateful Eight is beautiful to behold, at times hilariously funny and clever in many instances. But its bloody, callous and gratuitous nature undermine it a great deal. Hateful Eight would have been a better movie without all of the racial content but may not have been as intense but more suspenseful. As a Black man in modern times I dont think I can watch it multiple times, but its still a sound movie.

And if you know anything about Tarantino you should expect to be offended anyway.

I give Hateful Eight a B minus. I would give it an A if it didnt appear to jump out the window in an effort to dehumanize, disrespect and further marginalize Black people for the sake of art. But I didn’t feel right about giving it a C either. This is definitely an above average piece of work, for sure. Yes, its a period piece and as far as I can surmise such treatment of Blacks is historically accurate. But after a while it became too distracting for me.

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