Schindler's List, Inglourious Basterds, and the Problem of Evil in American Cinema

14 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2020

Date Written: 2011


The relationship between the cinema and history is distorted to sheer absurdity in Inglorious Basterds, a film that forces the viewer to look at these gross distortions of our familiar Holocaust and World War II genre. Within such a deformed space of Holocaust witnessing, the audience is implicated by the reflexivity of the cinematic apparatus in a climactic ending sequence: we look at Nazis looking at Nazis killing, and everybody laughs. The American audience laughs at the absurdity; the Nazis - Hitler and Goebbels among them - laugh at the screen of Nazi brutality; and Frederick Zoller (playing himself) laughs maniacally at the death of allied soldiers and his brutal efficiency. Within two cinemas, the cinema of the American audience, and the Parisian cinema house of Shoshanna, we all have a part to play in the entertainment of death. Inglorious Basterds is a celebration of the cinema, but it is also a disruption of the relationship between the screen and the Holocaust. A close analysis of the closing sequence in which Hitler is cut to pieces by a wave of bullets shows how our incitement to look at the Holocaust and Hitler is fulfilled by an incitement to violence. The Nazi pole of evil that is fixed so strongly in a landmark Hollywood Holocaust film like Schindler’s List is amplified to such an extreme in the Basterds that it casts the entire dynamic of identity/difference and good/evil into doubt. This analysis engages William Connolly’s Identity/Difference, a work of political theory that reveals a troubling tenor in postmodern politics and culture in which finding evil in the other is integral to identity formation. This paper will argue that Inglorious Basterds radically amplifies the good/evil dynamic in such a way that forces viewers into an agonistic reflection of their identity.

Keywords: political theory, cinema, Holocaust studies

Suggested Citation

Steinmetz, John (Jay), Schindler's List, Inglourious Basterds, and the Problem of Evil in American Cinema (2011). Western Political Science Association 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: or

John (Jay) Steinmetz (Contact Author)

University of Oregon ( email )

1280 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States

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