Fighting with the Sky

The Women of Inglorious Basterds

Posted on: September 23, 2009

This cross post comes from Amanda at The Undomestic Goddess (on Twitter as @TheUndomestic). Be sure to also check out her feminist projects: The Undomestic 10 interview series and the tumblr This is What a Feminist Looks Like.  Make sure to check out Amanda’s previous cross posts on Watchmen here and here.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

final-melanie-basterdIn many reviews and interviews I read leading up to Inglorious Basterds’ release, I kept hearing about how Tarantino’s women are “femme fatales.”  That definition, by example, has come to mean that a woman uses her female power (in most cases, her sexuality) to undo men.  In Inglorious Basterds, this is not the case (a pleasant surprise!).  In fact, our heroine comes from a position of absolutely no power as a Jew in Nazi occupied France (Shosanna, played by Melanie Laurent, right).  She takes it upon herself to burn down her theater (side note: a woman owning a theater, awesome!) that will hold the highest ranking Nazis (including Hitler himself) during a premiere of a propaganda film.  She acts cooly among the very man who killed her family, and carries out her plan with poise, and even with a little necessary force.  In no way does her sexuality become a weapon (though arguably, it is what gets her into this mess/opportunity in the first place, as the war hero/actor in the film becomes smitten by her and insists that the premiere take place at her theater).

The other female character, Bridget von Hammersmark, played by Diane Kruger, is a famous German movie star cum British spy.  While she is able to use her status and charm to infiltrate the Nazi ranks, she only holds power to a certain point.  In one instance she is questioned by a German acquaintance, which ultimately costs her her life.  One would think since the two are friends and supposedly equals, she could come up with a clever excuse not to let herself be alone with him.  In many cases, she allows politeness and formality to trump her safety and the safety of others.  Even though her status may be higher than Shosanna’s, she is given little power within it (side note: she also gets called a “slut” by a German officer who discovers she’s a spy; nice, right?).

Being that this is the 1940s in the very male-dominated Nazi regime, women don’t play too much else of a role in this film.  There is a French translator – slash – mistress, a young waitress, and three beautiful, yet silent (and obedient!) farm daughters in the opening scene, but that’s about it.  Our real “femme fatale” rests in Shosanna; she is the one whose story we’re shown the most, and it is she who is ultimately responsible for the downfall of the Third Reich, even though the Basterds’ plan, imperfect as it may be, helps her along.  I am relieved to say that she accomplished her goals without using her sexuality, and I actually think it is BECAUSE of her status as a soft-spoken woman that she is able to get away with what she does.  The Third Reich is so preoccupied by the Basterds’ movements, that they never think to question her.  In being overlooked due to her gender, Shosanna rises to power.  A female character carrying a Tarantino film?  Glorious indeed.


4 Responses to "The Women of Inglorious Basterds"

I wasn’t going to watch this movie because the review weren’t that great. Now I’m intrigued. Thanks, Amanda – looking forward to seeing this!


I agree with Amanda. It’s nice to see women portrayed as powerful for reasons other than their sexuality. And it’s also true that being female gives us, whether we want it or not, a degree of invisibility in some situations.

I wasn’t going to see the movie because I’d heard it was too violent, but now I think that I will.

Definitely not as violent as Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill – and it’s really nothing at all like what any previews or posters would have had you believe – I’d love to hear what you both think afterwards!

Shosanna totally kicked my ass. I loved her.

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