The Good, The Bad, and The Inglorious
“I must say I grow weary of these monkeyshines.” -Dieter Hellstrom
(Warning: Spoilers Ahead)
“”Inglourious Basterds” was for me, as if someone had opened a window and let in fresh air. Looking back I can only describe that, when I read the script, I asked myself: How do I get out again? And suddenly I realized that all of it fall apart… ”
A man steps into the light. His uniform symbolized absolute power. A Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler uniform, signifying that he was a high ranking member of the Gestapo. The Gestapo is the German secret police under the Nazi rule. It ruthlessly suppressed opposition to the Nazis in Germany and occupied Europe. Murder was their reason for justice, and they quenched their thirst with Jewish blood. As a Nazi member, the man would uncover his dark side in the light. He was now the center of attention as he stands in the spotlight. This devil’s was Major Dieter Hellstrom of the Gestapo. This fantastic character was played by August Diehl, a German actor. However minor his character may be in the film, Inglorious Bastards, his powers of detection, suspicion, and analyzation are what led him to stand out as a symbolic entity in the grand scheme of things.
Major Hellstrom was first introduced in Chapter Three: German Night in Paris, in which he arrives to the Le Gamaar Cinema in a luxurious black car. His mission was to collect Shosanna and bring her to a dinner, where her suitor, Federick Zoller, awaited her.
Shosanna was on top of a ladder, adjusting the letters on her theater’s board. This signifies that her status was powerful, affiliated with people of greater status and untouchable. However, a ladder can also easily fall. Psychologically, the effect of the low-angle shots, in which she was portrayed in, makes her look strong and powerful, whereas Hellstrom was quite the contrary. Hellstrom was on the ground, looking up towards Shosanna. A high-angle shot was used to to make him seem vulnerable and powerless. This is ironic because she is merely a French girl in a world of Nazis and he is a high ranking official of the Gestapo. His commands her to descend and get into the car.
Once she climbs down the ladder and steps foot on the ground, their statuses suddenly become equal, one equally as powerful as the other. In the end, the ladder did symbolize weakness within the strength. Hellstrom, like the jealous bastard he is, orders her to “get her ass into the car.” He needed to feel dominant, a sign that connects him to a regular Gestapo member. He played a minor role in this scene, almost reflecting as a designated driver for a commoner, hence his presence went unnoticed.
After he brings Shosanna to the dinner, he puts on a facade, his best show in front of his supervisors, also implying that he was gentle when he had escorted Shosanna. As Zoller was about to introduce Hellstrom, Hellstrom interrupted him and said, “Actually I didn’t introduced myself. Major Dieter Hellstrom of the Gestapo.” This quote was filmed as a medium shot, which gives the audience a partial view of the background and also shows Hellstrom’s facial expressions in the context of his body language. This type of shot was perfect, because it is used when the subject in the shot is delivering information. This is the first time that he is formally introduced to the audience. Soon after, with hate in his eyes and a wide grin on his lips, he pulls out a chair and asks “Mademoiselle” to have a seat.
It is clearly evident that he finds this act demeaning, for she is a commoner and he is giving her his at-most respect, solely to impress his supervisors. To add a classy touch, he pours her champagne and then for himself. The camera pans leftwards behind him, it starts from his right shoulder and pans over to a black fluffy dog.
There is some symbolism here. This representation could signify that the dog’s fur is his uniform. No matter how much hair she grows, she is still a little bitch on a leash. An example is when Joseph Goebbels complains, Hellstrom swallows his pride and says, “Duly noted.” This comparison is once again perfectly portrayed when Colonel Hans Landa of the SS arrives to the table. Hellstrom, without a second thought stands upright and salutes him, practically as an involuntary action. This gesture makes the audience question his overall standing in the military. Hellstrom then leaves the table, overwhelmed by the power of his authorities. At this point, he practically becomes invisible and the audience forgets about his existence.
Hellstrom once again appears in Chapter 4: Operation Kino. It is in this chapter that his presence is finally acknowledged and his skills are elaborately displayed. A small conflict occurs between Lieutenant Archie Hicox and Wilhelm Wicki about Hicox’s strange accent. The devil, from the other side of the tavern, hears the conflict and he comes to investigate. He makes a dynamic entrance by stepping into the spotlight. His uniform shining with colorful insignia, and his posture was as firm as ever. A Nazi armband encompassing his left bicep gives an insight into his loyalty for his country. This scene’s setting took place in an underground La Louisiane Tavern in France. Hellstrom was a man no one wanted to pick a fight with since Germans had the country on lockdown. However he suspects a Lieutenant named Archie Hicox for being an imposter. He also found Hicox’s accent to be strange. Hellstrom says, “I, too, have an acute ear for accents. And like him, I, too, find yours odd.” This is the first time the audience learns something useful about Hellstrom. His perception skills are all-round fantastic. Hicox, a British secret agent, explains a convincing story about the origins of his accent. He refers to the film, White Hell of Pitz Palu, to make his story far more convincing. It was an excellent idea to bring this film up because it is a silent film, and the video quality is poor. Hicox could say that he was in the film, but no one would really know for sure. The confidence in his speech was clear, hence it made the story far more believable. As he explains the story, the camera takes a wide angle shot and everybody in the tavern is shown. They were pin-drop silent, constantly turning their heads Captain to Major and Major to Captain, and were amazed at Hicox’s pre-rehearsed stage act. Bridget von Hammersmark, a beautiful actress, sides with Captain and cracks an awful joke, to which everyone starts laughing.
Once again, the elevation differences represents each man’s status. Major Hellstrom is standing, looking down in a low angle shot, hence representing great power and has the upper hand on the current situation. On the other side, Bridget von Hammersmark, Lt. Hicox, and Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz are sitting down at a table. A high angle shot was used to portray them, thus representing the weak and the unconvincing. They are at a disadvantage. Hellstrom finally accepts Captain’s story and joins them at the table.
Dieter Hellstrom sits down and casually asks Captain what he’s doing in France, to which the Captain responds in a question, “You know every German in France?” This gives the audience an insight into the type of man Hellstrom is, intelligent and noteworthy. It takes a great amount of dedication to memorize every single German stationed in France. But devil boy plays it cool and responds, “Everybody worth knowing.” It is quite appeasing that the Gestapo beast can crack a joke. Later we find out that the actress, Hammersmark, has her three escorts attending the Minister Goebbels’ film premiere. A perfect reason to end all suspicion. Suddenly there’s a jump cut in this scene to a neighboring table. Six drunk Germans are playing a card game called Blind Man’s Bluff, its a variation of Poker in that each person sees the cards of all players except his or her own.
Then the person must stick the card on his or her forehead and guess who or what is written on the card. Hellstrom finds this interesting and fun, therefore introduces this game to his table. He chooses this particular table because he is the type of man who does not fraternize with enlisted men, hence referring to the lower class Germans. This indicates to the audience that he is, in fact, a picky person and chooses favorites. Perhaps he wants to stay at the table a bit longer to find out more about these mysterious people, whom he know very little about. His suspicions have not yet neutralized. Curiosity drives this man. So he stands up and commands the other table to give up their cards so he may enjoy socializing with the beautiful actress and her escorts. The Gestapo is known for getting what they want, and this commanding act brings out the Gestapo in him.
He sits back down at the table and distributes the cards as he explains the rules for the game. Hellstrom, as the attention seeker he is, is willing to go first to demonstrate how to truly play this game. His special card was King Kong written by Hugo Stiglitz. Stiglitz hates Nazis. It is unclear as to why but he’s a psycho when it comes to killing them. The hate he has towards Germans is accurately portrayed by the disgust in his eyes. Hellstrom then proceeds to ask a series of questions to which the group responds with answers:
MAJ. KING KONG: Am I German?
MAJ. KING KONG: Am I American?
The table laughs.
WICKI: Wait a minute, he goes to-
BRIDGET: Don’t be ridiculous. Obviously he wasn’t born in America.
MAJ. KING KONG: So… I visited America, aye?
The table says, “Yes.”
MAJ. KING KONG: Was this visit Fortuitous?
WICKI: Not for you.
MAJ. KING KONG: . . . Hummm. My native land, is it what one would call exotic?
The table confers and decides, yes, it is exotic.
MAJ. KING KONG: Hummm. That could be either a reference to the jungle or the Orient. I’m going to let my first instinct take over and ask, am I from the jungle?
The table says, “Yes, you are.”
MAJ. KING KONG: Now gentlemen, around this time you could ask whether you’re real or fictitious. I, however, think that’s too easy, so I won’t ask that, yet. Okay, my native land is the jungle. I visited America, but my visit was not fortuitous to me, but the implication is that it was to somebody else. When I went from the jungle to America, . . . did I go by boat?
MAJ. KING KONG: Did I go against my will?
MAJ. KING KONG: On this boat ride . . . Was I in chains?
MAJ. KING KONG: When I arrived in America . . . was I displayed in chains?
MAJ. KING KONG: Am I the story of the Negro in America?
The table says, “No.”
MAJ. KING KONG: Well, then, I must be King Kong.
He slams the card on the table.
King Kong was a major symbol in this film. Fun Fact: King Kong (1933) is Adolf Hitler’s favorite movie. When Major Hellstrom reasons out that his card reads King Kong, he is giving Quentin Tarantino’s analysis of the movie as an allegory of the American slave trade (NPR). Quintin Tarantino is greatly fond of his subtextual interpretations. But when he first writes his scripts, he is rarely analytical, and later on he goes back and adds some subtextual features. For example, in this particular scene, King Kong was a metaphor for the prehistoric slave trade passage to America. Tarantino always builds up his story from scratch. Major Hellstrom, played by August Diehl, does a mind blowing job at getting deeper and dirtier about America’s racial past, evolving his every thought. In the middle of his guessing, he summarizes the basic idea. The audience could guess that he already knows the answer, but he dwells on the fact that America was a racist country, and if anyone has any affiliations with America, it would mean that you are racist too. But no one questions the irony that Germany was racist towards Jews and, in fact, most religions. After his midpoint summary, he states things such as, “Did I go against my will? Was I in chains? When I arrived in America . . . was I displayed in chains?” These questions are hinting to the subtext and the audience definitely knows exactly what he’s referring to.
The slaves on the passage to America. And it all becomes clear when he says, “Am I the story of the Negro in America?” The connection to the movie, King Kong, was brilliantly displayed to the audience via the mindset of a Gestapo Major. Before watching Inglorious Bastards, the audience probably assumed that both King Kong (1933) and King Kong (2005) were just about a furry hideous ape causing havoc in New York City. But now, after watching the Inglorious Bastards, it brought the story to life. With these step-by-step evolution of questions, one can relate to the past and to the German pride.
After this symbolic scene, Major gets excited for he has guessed the word correctly, and commands the others to finish their drinks. After a mini-celebration, Captain Hicox politely asks Hellstrom to get the hell away, for he is intruding a reunion. Major suddenly becomes the underdog but refuses to back off. His Gestapo instincts kick in, and he once again wants to be a center of attention. So he asks Bridget if he’s intruding, to which she responds, “I don’t think so.” He then says, “The Captain is immune to my charms.” Clearly Hellstrom is complimenting himself even though his neighbors think otherwise. He is a bloody self-serving narcissist, because he thinks he’s the most handsome, the most fearsome, and the most powerful person in the tavern. There is a moment of brief silence.
And to end this awkwardness, he starts laughing to clean up the “mess” he has created. He finally agrees that he is intruding, but before he leaves, he wants to treat his “new acquaintances” a 33-year-old bottle of whiskey from the Scottish Highlands. This particular bottle of whiskey costs a fortune, and if someone were to offer you this bottle of whiskey, then it must either mean you are soon a dead man or you are significantly valuable. At this point, it is obvious that no one at the table is significantly valuable, so that is to be crossed off the list. The only other option that remains shall be assumed as foreshadowing.
Hellstrom doesn’t want to drink this prestigious drink, perhaps this implies that he doesn’t plan on dying anytime soon. The actress also doesn’t fancy this drink, therefore she passed up on the offer, which can only mean she lives. The remaining three escorts desire to drink this distilled beverage, foreshadowing their battle with the grim reaper.
The Captain lifts three fingers up for the bartender to see, and orders “Drei Gläser” (three glasses). He used his index, middle, and ring finger. In this pivotal scene, the British spy outs himself simply by using the wrong fingers to order a drink. Hellstrom allows the men to take their last shots before he says, “I must say I grow weary of these monkeyshines.”
Suddenly, the party comes to an end when he cocks his Walther and points it at the Captain’s testicles. And when the Captain asks why, Hellstrom responds, “Because you have given yourself away, Captain.” Hellstrom is referring to Captain’s improper use of fingers.
A true German would have ordered “three” with the index, middle finger, and thumb extended. This is the common way that most Western Europeans (such as Germans, Italians, the Swiss, and the French) count with their fingers, and it also extends to how they order drinks. When counting, the thumb is always the first digit and represents number one, followed by the index finger (2), middle finger (3), and so on so forth (businessinsider). Captain Archie Hicox returns the favor by pointing his gun at Major’s testicles and says, “I’ve had a gun pointed at your balls since you sat down.” And finally the impatient Hugo Stieglitz goes above and beyond by actually sticking a mini gun right above Major’s Nazi balls. Hugo quotes, “And at this range, I’m a real Fredrick Zoller,” implying that he’s a sharpshooter and a killer. However Major has the audacity to joke, “Looks like we have a bit of a sticky situation here.” Major already took an oath when he joined the Gestapo that he will never succumb to a traitor or an enemy of his country. He does not fear death, but he can easily evade it if he listens to the British spies. Knowing Major, he does not…
To briefly explain the storyline, the French tavern becomes a 19th century American wild west cowboy saloon. Guns are drawn, men swear in drunken oblivion, actress screams, beer bottles soar in the air, screeching yee-haws, and a young German lashes out a machine gun and kills nearly everyone, Rambo style. Hellstrom’s glory days come to an end. He chooses loyalty to his country over his chances of survival. He had the chance to surrender and leave with the British spies, but his Gestapo mind disagreed.
Hugo Stieglitz goes berserk and stabs Major Dieter Hellstrom of the Gestapo in the back of his neck several times until he, himself, is shot to death by Wilhelm. By the time the excitement is over, everyone, except for Sergeant Wilhelm and Bridget von Hammersmark, are dead. Major Dieter Hellstrom of the Gestapo’s chapter closes permanently.
If anyone were to say the film lived up to it’s title, it would be an understatement. Inglorious Bastards does a fantastic job at guiding the audience through the film from start to finish in a very beautiful and creative way. The director, Quintin Tarantino, is a filmmaker who creates his characters, and through them, the very stylized realm of tough guys, brutal violence, and insidious comedy are established. Major Dieter Hellstrom stood out in terms of displaying the true color in various situations. A shade of this and a tint of that was illustrated as the character developed throughout the film. The German Nazi from Gestapo, played by August Diehl, is a unique character with an overwhelming sense of National pride. And it is that National pride of his that causes his downfall. Son of Satan, blinded by his devotion to his country, chooses loyalty over his own survival. In the eyes of a loyal German, he may be heroic, but in the eyes of natural selection, he has corroded.
“Pulp And Circumstance: Tarantino Rewrites History.” Interview by Terry Gross. Pulp And Circumstance: Tarantino Rewrites History. NPR, 22 Aug. 2009. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
Rosson, Loren. “The Busybody: The American Negro and King Kong.” The Busybody. Lorenrosson, 18 Dec. 2009. Web. 04 May 2016.
Willett, Megan. “How To Order A Beer Like A True German.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 21 Mar. 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.