Silent Night: The unforgettable carol representing “peace”

So them Johnny’s climbed this mountain lookin’ for fortune, but there wasn’t no fortune to be found. All they found was me.
--Major Marquis Warren

As Major Marquis Warren gets up from the long dinner table after some racist banter with the others staying at Minnie’s Haberdashery, he makes his way with two bowls of Minnie’s famous stew to the small living area where General Sanford Smithers is sitting silently by himself. “May I join you?” Major Warren asks in a friendly tone, as General Smithers’ biggest supporter, Chris Mannix, stands up in a shielding manner. General Smithers dismisses Mannix’s precaution with a simple response to Major Warren, “Yes you may.”

“May I join you?” -Major Warren

As the two carefully adjust and settle into this improbable dinner across from each other, Bob sits down at the piano and begins to tap the tune to silent night with stammering hesitancy on the piano.

Bob sitting down at the piano
Bob doubtfully attempting to play Silent Night on the piano

As expected between two men who have only seen each other as mortal enemies in the past, small talk ensues: talk of how they’ve been since the war. Do they have a woman in their lives, what about children?

“Well, how’s life since the war?” -Major Warren

The “Not-So-Silent Night”

You shut your lying nigger lips up.
— Chris Mannix

The song Silent Night was first performed in the Saint Nicholas Parish in Oberndorf, Austria on the Christmas Eve of 1818. This song, which would one day grow to become a universal song of peace, was originally performed during hard times. The Napoleonic Wars had just swept through, leaving behind economic depression and an unsure future in its wreckage. Silent Night shone through these difficult times as a song that suggested hope for better times. Times full of peace and prosperity.

This historically renowned song of harmony among humanity sets the atmosphere of General Smithers and Major Warren’s not-so-peaceful discussion. When the two foes sat down across from each other and began their seemingly benign chat, the pitter-patter of Silent Night being played across the piano in an increasingly learned manner planted a small flicker of hope that this may be the moment the two truthfully begin to drop their feelings of resentment towards each other, similarly to the way the song provided hope for the townspeople of Oberndorf on Christmas Eve night. The importance of this song choice and genius of the scene in general is illuminated here as Tarantino compares the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars to the lurking racism of the Civil War.

“ Took the steak he gave me and bought a bunch of peach orchards. Set myself up pretty well.” -General Smithers

As the “small talk” fades, the true intent of the conversation is revealed as Major Warren mentions that he knew General Smithers’ son before he died. His devious tone-of-voice, righteous body language, and the context of bringing Smithers’ son up are the first outward signs of Warren’s true malicious objective.

“Did I know him? Yep. Ha, yeah I knew him.” -Maj. Warren

As Major Warren announces his bone chilling confession, “ You wanna know the day he died? … The day he met me”, Silent Night briefly and suddenly pauses, emphasizing the cold nature of what he just reveled.

Smithers’ reaction as Warren announces his bone chilling confession

Major Marquis Warren sets down a gun on the table next to Smithers, a sign that he wants Smithers to get worked up enough to reach for it and shoot- giving Warren reason to kill Smithers.

Warren placing a gun next to Smithers as he continues to goad him.

As General Warren continues with his over-sexual and offensive goading monologue, Silent Night reaches its maximum intensity in volume and stylistic mastery, just to end perfectly at the pin-point of not only the turning point of this specific scene, but the beginning of one of the most memorable and tumultuous moments of the movie

Major Warren announces, “Beggin’ for his life, your boy told me his whole life story, and you was in that story general” as Silent Night comes to its powerful closing notes.

Blurring of the Lines

“Now that was a nice dance.”
— Major Warren to Chris Mannix

In Chapter 3, Oswaldo Mobray, a “neutral party” as he is not from America, decided the best way to ensure peace between the clashing Confederate and Union supporters during the inevitable stay at Minnie’s Haberdashery was to separate the house into sections symbolizing the North and South. As his plan to separate the feuding parties comes to fruition, viewers see a re-segregation of men representing the North and South with the fireplace as a representation of Georgia, and the bar as Philadelphia.

“As long as the bar is Philadelphia, I agree” -John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth

In the time during and leading up to the scene with Warren’s address about Smithers’ son, the separation of sides in the house is very distinct. It becomes obvious who supported the North and who supported the South. Major Marquis Warren actually crossed the threshold from a neutral part of the house to the designated “Confederate” section of the house- the fireplace- before his dramatic charade goes down. After this scene, the lines between the two parties, and who is in which, begin to blur. For example, Mannix- an originally outright, die-hard Confederate supporter- begins to side with Warren as the movie continues, portrayed finally as he dies bleeding out next to Warren in an almost brotherly manner.

Warren and Mannix share their last laugh together, as they hang the only other survivor in Minnie’s Haberdashery.

Silent Night is an apt symbol in the form of a song within The Hateful Eight. The scene it is woven into is the point in the movie where the dynamic and alliances between the characters begin to change. The song serves as a great transition between the outright racism during and before this scene and the mixing of the lines that occurs after the scene. Silent Night was even allegedly sung on Christmas Eve between enemy troops in WWI showing a brief but significant flicker of peace for the holiday. This is comparable to the changing of sides of the characters- almost as if the opposing parties were starting to find peace with one another.

The “silent” and “holy” nature of Silent Night also serves to highlight the two opposing entities’ vulnerability at this point in the movie. No one can leave the house. No one can call for backup. No one can acquire more weapons or means of attack. They are, for the first time, on a level battlefield. Even race can’t affect the outcome of this “battle”.

John Ruth collects, disassembles, and gets rid of all the weapons he can find in the inn.

Sources

“Origin of the Song.” Origin Song. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

“Quentin Tarantıno on White Supremacy, Obama, and Why He Doesn’t Worry About a Transformers Future.” Vulture. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

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