The Death of Chester Charles Smithers: The Christmas Story of The Hateful Eight
The scene is set. Imagine a small intimate room at Minnie’s Haberdashery. A group of men have recently finished dinner, and now they sit around the fire telling stories. It is around Christmas time and there is snow and wind whipping around the small shack. You can only assume that this is a typical Christmas story as the soft sound of “Silent Night” is being played from the piano in the background. However, the tale Major Warren spits out is anything other than “T’was the Night Before Christmas”.
The tensions are high between the Civil War enemies, as their disgust is forced to stew in Minnie’s shack. General Smithers (Bruce Dern) was responsible for the capturing and execution of many black soldiers, and this particularly hits home for Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), being that he himself was a former black Union soldier. As we watched this scene unravel we can only imagine the thoughts churning inside Major Warren’s head. As John Ruth puts it, “Yeah, Warren, that’s the problem with old men. You can kick ’em down the stairs, and say it’s an accident, but you can’t just shoot ‘em”. We know Warren cannot outright kill the general due to the law, so why not provoke him and make him squirm a bit. Warren plays off of Smithers’ emotions by bringing up the thing Smithers has on his mind most, the death of his son. Marquis Warren sets one of his two pistols on the table next to the General then paces to the other side of the room.
Major Warren has General Smithers eating out of the palm of his hand. Once Warren got a hold of General Smithers, he wasn’t escaping, just like his son. Warren tells of how Chester was begging to go home to his family. He forces Chester to strip and walk for two hours in the blistering cold until he collapses. Only begging for a blanket now, Warren agrees but with a hefty price. “You’d be surprised what a boy that cold, would do for a blanket.” Eyes bulging, General Smithers falls back in his chair as if he had taken a bullet right in heart as he learns that his son was forced to perform oral sex on Warren’s “big black pecker” naked and frozen in the snow. Being in the audience, I noticed myself feeling uncomfortable and unsure of what to think, I can only imagine the pain Smithers felt as Warren played on his heartstrings. Tarantino uses this graphic dialogue and provokes our interest into we are pulled in and then left there to take in every bit. The satisfaction Warren gains from this is obviously the revenge he was hoping for. He has his enemy basically foaming at the mouth and he is not finished with him yet. “Starting to see pictures, ain’t ya?” We were absolutely seeing pictures and there was no way to escape them. We know the hatred Smithers previously felt towards Warren, and the fact that his own son was forced to be submissive in the worst way possible to this black man was the final straw. Warren’s plan had worked, and as Smithers jumped up to end him, Warren smoothly and calmly placed a bullet right in the chest of the General, throwing him into the fire. Warren just told one of the most outrageous and disturbing stories, both to the audience and to General Smithers. The question is, was it all true? That is something no one will ever know.
This scene is especially significant because he makes Smithers feel guilty, and almost responsible for the death of his son. “The dumbest thing your boy ever did was let me know he was your boy,” Warren slyly spits at Smithers. It makes us wonder if the outcome could have been different for Chester, had he not disclosed that he was the son of the man who murdered hundreds of blacks. “When I knew me I had the boy of The Bloody Nigger Killer of Baton Rouge… I knew me I was gonna’ have some fun.” Warren also slides in that he never gave Chester the blanket that he had begged and even submitted to Warren for. “That blanket was just a heartbrakin’ liars promise.” Warren adds as he twists the knife further into Smithers’ emotional wounds and gives him enough fuel to make the final and eventually fatal move.
Warren’s monologue proves to be one of the most climactic scenes in the movie, as it concludes right before intermission. You would imagine the music played in the background to be a song that completely coincides with the theme, but what we find is quite the contrary. Bob the Mexican sits at the piano playing the sweet hymns of possibly the most famous Christmas carol, “Silent Night”. As one of the most significant Christmas carols in history, it is often used to display peace and pours a sense of calmness over its listeners. This song tells the story of the birth of Jesus and how he has come to save those who obey his word and scripture. The playing of this song in this particular scene requires us to think and gives us insight into what Quentin Tarantino pictured and imagined this scene to be like. Why would such a religious and peaceful song be played in a scene that completely contradicts every word flowing out of Major Warren’s mouth? This is exactly how Tarantino wants us to feel. The importance of the correlation between the song and and the scene is that they do not fit together at all. Their messages have the complete opposite effect. I have analyzed the lyrics to this song and they speak of the birth of Jesus and how there is very much peace and redeeming grace. Tarantino included this song as almost a paradox to the story. The revenge Warren is displaying is overpowering and consuming. As soon as Marquis Warren was introduced to General Smithers, he was planning some way to get back at him for his treatment against Warren’s race. The song serves as the voice of god speaking to each of them to follow the scripture and they will be saved, but it continues to be in the background, as if supressed by the evil and hatred felt between these two enemies. Its soft melody was trying to break through, but instead the harsh words of Major Warren overpowered. In the end we ultimately receive silence and a sense of calmness as Smithers is killing. Momentarily the tension is lifted out of the room and “all was calm, all was silent.” As if on cue, the piano closes.
General Warren constantly manipulates people throughout this film, and when he is presented the opportunity to play along with his most hateful enemy he does it willingly. Warren basically places a weapon in the palm of Smithers’ hand and dares him to shoot. This powerful monologue displays acts of revenge and devilish behavior that is continuously pushing the “redeeming grace” God to the background and because of this Smithers ends up dead. Samuel L. Jackson, the actor of General Warren, says “This speech is it. This is the one.”
Carter, Kelly L. “Inside The Most Shocking Scene In.” BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed News, 26 Dec. 2015. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.
Harris, Aisha. “How One Hateful Eight Scene Takes Tarantino’s Sexualized Violence to a New Level.” Slate. Slate’s Culture Blog, 29 Dec. 2015. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.
Tarantino, Quentin. “The Hateful Eight.” (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
O’Connell, Sean. “Samuel L. Jackson’s Favorite Part Of The Hateful Eight.” — CINEMABLEND. Cinema Blend, 05 Jan. 2016. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.