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Tarantino's Queer Universe



Queer Film, since its dawn, has been a unique genre within cinema itself, commonly distinguishing itself as either comedy or tragedy. For most cinephiles, it seems you either find representation through devastation as seen in Portrait of a Lady on Fire or Brokeback Mountain, or through cliche queer side characters, such as in Mean Girls. Through all of this, there remains one unlikely hero, someone who, through his projection of hegemonic masculinity and brutal violence, has garnered an untargeted audience.  


Tarantino is the last person one would think of when regarding queer cinema, yet an exciting interconnectivity exists between his work and queer culture. Within his films, several characters carry a specific espionage, no matter their sexuality, that solidifies themselves as queer icons.


Today's conversation would be nearly impossible to hold due to the type of fanbase that comes packaged with Tarantino movies. The majority of these men can't watch a movie without comparing it to Interstellar or knocking your favorite film for anything made by Nolan, Scorcese, or Quentin himself.


Though Tarantino has an intended brutal image to uphold through the majority of his movies, there is no doubt the man knows his cinema, and with this knowledge comes his own understanding of the importance of gay subtext.


To explain the importance of queer characters in Tarantino's films and the attraction queer people have towards his work, there needs to be clarification regarding Tarantino's feelings towards this subject matter. Most of his fanbase are caught up in an echo chamber of identical thoughts that they can not process his movies carrying any significance other than what is displayed right before their eyes.


However, Tarantino has clarified the importance of underlying queerness and unknown context within his films. In a 2010 interview with Craig Ferguson, Tarantino spoke on gay subtext, citing, "You can watch any movie, and it doesn't matter what the director was thinking, or what the people making the movie was thinking, if you can make a case for it, you can lay in a subtext into a film, make it a… much more enjoyable way to watch the film."


Additionally, it's essential to recognize his theory about the underlying gay male relationship in Top Gun. In a 1994 conversation with Todd Fields, Tarantino suggests: "It is a story about a man struggling with his homosexuality. That is what Top Gun is about. You've got Maverick: He's on the edge, man. He's right on the fucking line, alright? And you've got Iceman and all his crew. They're gay; they represent the gay man, alright? And they're saying: 'Go! Go the gay way, go the gay way.' He could go both ways."


It's crucial in cinema not to cross borders and reinvent the director's message, yet at the same time, movies are nothing without the viewer to interact with. It feels essential to point out Tarantino's own biases towards character exploration so his devoted fanboys understand why these arguments are possible in the first place. Tarantino's own words will serve as the foundation for the importance of diving into these characters' personalities and respective journeys and finding loopholes within their identity, as, after all, it is this very concept that resonates with a more diverse audience. 


Reservoir Dogs


Tarantino's 1992 debut Reservoir Dogs is known for its uncanny entrapment approach that fills the audience with inescapable anxiety of every character's move. The film follows a group of six criminals who embark on a bank heist only to fail, leaving them in fear of a traitor amongst the crew.


The following hour and thirty depicts the violence, anger, and pure hegemonic masculinity used to bring out the betrayer. The film's most unique attribute demonstrates a relationship development between two characters: Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) and Mr. White (Larry Dimmick).


Mr. Orange, aka Freddy Newendyke, is an undercover cop joining in on the heist to eventually arrest the criminal masterminds. However, as ironic as it is, Orange is the only one who ends up being injured throughout the process and leaves the bank with a nearly lethal gun wound.


Upon arrival at the warehouse (the primary location for the entire movie), White immediately tends to Orange, caring for him throughout the whole film through physical and mental support. It is through this lens of their interactions that the film is exposed for its cultural perception of masculinity and how often male sexuality is explored through brutality.


Violence becomes the primary language for this film and acts as the catalyst between the two characters, permitting them to be physically and spiritually demonstrative towards one another.


Coupled with this theory, it’s important to acknowledge the scene where Mr. Blonde (Micheal Madsen), a criminal in the gang, tortures Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz) while dancing to "Stuck in the Middle with You," a kidnapped policeman from the scene, Tarantino utilizes violence and machismo-obsessed culture to explore levels of sensuality that a normative 90s culture wouldn't allow.


The ultimate irony is that death, brutality, and bloodshed will enable them to ignite their homoerotic urges while simultaneously destroying the very thing they desire. 




Kill Bill


Kill Bill is an obscure scenario in the Tarantino universe, as most characters are relatively sexually repressed, not out of obligation, but more so, their isolated nature of being an assassin leads them to stray away from typical relationships.


 Aside from the apparent entanglement between Bill and The Bride herself, there aren't many examples of any sexual energy throughout the film. There are likely innuendos through The Bride herself, yet these are insignificant in the queerness of this film. Most importantly, it is obvious there can't be an argument regarding queerness if there are no characteristics, relationships, or respective personas to interact with.


This is not to suggest queerness can not exist without sensuality; different from Reservoir Dogs, queerness isn't seen through physical display; it is through the audience's self-insertion. There is no groundwork or reason to explain why queer people idolize this movie and its respective characters. Is it the bloody massacre that unfolds on manipulative and violent men? Is it the desire to cheer for a powerful female character as the underdog within the movie? Time will never tell, yet likely an accumulation of the film's visual elements, perfect score, and fight scenes that act as their own form of dialogue is what fits our respective taste buds.


There is little to no evidence as to why The Bride, O'Ren Ishii, and Gogo all have a special place in our hearts, yet I doubt the excitement for when those characters come onto the screen will ever die out. Kill Bill doesn't represent a typical display of queerness, yet the film’s underdog story and pure badass nature will never be repeated in cinema. 




Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds


There are various theories regarding these works by Tarantino, yet it's hard to identify queerness in these films for multiple reasons. In Pulp Fiction, on the one hand, various viewers have suggested Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) has homoerotic undertones in his relationship with Vincent (John Travolta).


Yet, the scene of Jules being sexually tortured later in the movie seems to suggest otherwise. Though it is a big contrast and the possibility is still there, the vulgar display of violence makes it impossible for the reader to offer so, likely due to the audience-based empathy built towards Jackson's character.


Yet, the more excellent queer idol in Pulp Fiction is prominent; Mia Wallace is a household name for a reason. Not due to her sensuality or relationships throughout the movie, the girl is simply fascinating. Uma Thurman's portrayal has served as the blueprint for female characters in the Tarantino universe for decades; her confidence, charisma, witty taglines, and eclectic dancing make her irresistible to the audience.


Fifteen years later, Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds struck gold as a brutal yet comedic Nazi massacre. The most ironic form of queerness stems from Hanz Landa (portrayed by Christoph Waltz), an allegedly queer "Jew-hunter" during World War II. Landa serves as the movie's antagonist, exterminating Jewish families and pleasing Hitler along the way, yet throughout all this, there are some exciting loopholes.


Fans have noted his closeness with his colleagues, and this is suggested at the end of the film when his SS is shot by Aldo the Apache (Brad Pitt). This theory could explain why Landa knows how to "think like a rat," as he said to LaPadite. Couple this with his excitement to meet the Bastard's leader, which seems almost like infatuation, his mannerisms, and flamboyance (a bit cliché, but still). After all, why would such a self-serving person like Landa make a "deal with your general for that man's life"? This hints at a more than professional relationship between them. This creates more depth to the Jew Hunter's character, too-someone who's dreaming of a free life, disguising himself as a Nazi to hide in plain sight. 




There is something so odd about Tarantino, as his work was made for the hegemonically masculine, who resemble guys like himself. It's so obscure to find that his work has resonated with an unintended audience. I additionally feel obliged to point out that there exist queer people that hate and disapprove of Tarantino's curations and aesthetics.


I adore Tarantino's universe, yet I am not scared to critique his lowest moments. Intertwining queer culture with Tarantino movies isn't to suggest complete respective adoration, as this relationship does not go without critique. It would be an injustice to rid Tarantino of his accomplishments and understanding of cinema while simultaneously catching the eyes of so many unlikely spectators.

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