Mystery, Cold, and Death Abounds in Tarantino's The Hateful Eight

By: Berlin Howell

For most of the 21st century, “that new Tarantino” has become a shorthanded anecdote for “the most recently released Quentin Tarantino movie,” and all that’s necessary to strike an endless conversation. Few artists have held the world’s attention so consistently, and few artists make use of that attention like Tarantino. The Hateful Eight is his eighth film and in many ways references his filmography. A sequence of chapters, a cast of familiar faces, and a hyperbole of bloody violence have become iconic Tarantinian.

Photo: Bryce Duffy, Variety

The film’s title contains a meta-acknowledgment of its place in Tarantino’s canon as the eighth film, but also a conventional description of the central group in a work of art (see Family Force 5, ¡Three Amigos!, The Ridiculous 6). Such an intentional numeration is both intriguing and confusing due to the lack of reference to any sort of “hateful eight” beyond the title shot. No narration or subtitles associate any numerology with any of the characters, and in that absence one is left to keep track for his or her self.

Galloping hi-hat and throbbing timpani pace the opening. Though the sawing, eerie melody foreshadows mystery, the natural instrumentation and stylized lettering of the credits are telling of the film’s influence. In the last 20 years, Tarantino has sampled many movies I’ve never seen in the same way that Kanye West has sampled songs I’ve never heard. In the case of The Hateful Eight, Tarantino relies heavily on the western theme. Yes, this western is based in Wyoming, but the movie’s conflict between man and nature could have taken place in any state or country.

The setting is introduced with a shot of a wooden cross affixed with the body of Jesus, whose frozen face is obscured under an accumulation of snow. A stagecoach moves in the background across a despairing expanse of cold. It is bleak and unforgiving winter “in the middle of Wyoming,” which drives an assortment of undesirables to shelter before an impeding blizzard. To survive, the cadre crams into Minnie’s Haberdashery, a single-room building which appears to be no match for the weather, let alone the implosive presence of so many hateful individuals. “Hell” is used repeatedly as a comparison to the world these characters find themselves in, which is a fitting analogy given the hellish conditions both inside and outside of Minnie’s, with only a fine separation between life and death. Much like Quentin Tarantino’s debut, Reservoir Dogs (1992), the majority of this movie is confined to four walls.

Photo: Weinstein Company

Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and John Ruth (Kurt Russell) are the first two characters introduced within the hateful eight, representing a recurring duo in Tarantino’s films. Both are paid killers made partners out of circumstance and not volition. Tarantino renders death a menial daily routine, not just to The Hateful Eight’s characters, but across the morbid universe in which they exist. Killing people is just one of many loathsome jobs. By examining the methods of hit men, bounty hunters, assassins, and soldiers, Tarantino thoroughly leads viewers to examine themes of justice, especially killing. John Ruth’s ethics are the center of the film’s discussion of justice. Ruth lacks heroic qualities, but still maintains the closest of any to a protagonist. He practices a rare form of bounty hunting which relies on the less-popular, latter option between “dead or alive.” 

Due to the palpable tension in Minnie’s Haberdashery the characters’ walls are up, and the facades they wear throughout the film obscure internal conflict. External conflict is the force that moves the narrative along, and through squabbling, small talk, and hearsay, every character’s backstory is revealed through exposition. Recognitions occur through their intricate network of tall tales and handbills. Don’t be fooled by the 19th century grimy smiles and raggedy hair—people waste their time yelling about “two pieces of wood!” just the same any group would yell at Steve Buscemi for not tipping. 

WATCH The Hateful Eight Trailer below: 

Berlin Howell is a Sophomore Creative Writing major at Christian Brothers University, an avid music critic, and a staff writer for the Galleon.
Posted by Josh Colfer at 11:32 AM

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