I would suspect that the two most used words in pitching movies are “what if?” Many films use this question to sell their story. It allows our minds to take something that exists and play out an alternate universe where a minute change could have huge consequences. While these speculations can usually be tied to the science fiction genre, and its examination of the future, sometimes they can be used to postulate about the past. The biographical picture (or biopic for short) tends to want to hold to the truth of what happened in the past, but the opposite could be considered with this week’s two films. What if the history that we all know had been slightly changed?
Length: 162 minutes / 2.7 hours
In Watchmen, the “what if?” has to do with superheroes. What if people stepped into the roles that so many children idolize? What if these superheroes actually changed the flow of history? Many historians spend most of their time speculating how world events may have been affected by small decisions. Lets say, for instance, the United States had actually won the Vietnam War. What would that have done to our society as we know it? Would Nixon have gotten a second term? Would we all have come to a global peace, or would more wars have been started as a result? Watchmen examines what the 1980s would have been like if superheroes were infused into our history.
While we tend to idolize superheroes, Watchmen starts with these caped crusaders in retirement after the government decides that their services are no longer needed. It’s 1985, and their era has come to an end. And yet, retirement doesn’t seem to satisfy some people, be it Rorschach, the masked vigilante, or the murderer of “Comedian”, one of Rorschach’s colleagues. The death of Comedian is the event that brings the gang back together, as they try to figure out why they’re being targeted. As the film progresses, the conspiracy deepens as we learn about how the superheroes changed the world, but in the end, they were only human (well, mostly human, Dr. Manhattan might not fall under that category anymore). The shocking ending, while somewhat different than the ending of the graphic novel it was based on, ties everything together as the “Doomsday Clock” strikes midnight.
Length: 153 minutes / 2.55 hours
While Watchmen examined an altered 1985, Inglorious Basterds looks at one of the biggest influences on our world to date: World War II. And even though the film doesn’t go much into what happens after the altered history, it does provide an intriguing twist. The reason it is intriguing is that with an understanding of history, the audience will know what will happen at the end of the movie, or at least what they think will happen. They’ll watch Titanic and they know in the back of their heads that the boat will sink. That was history, it can’t be changed. So when a movie like Inglorious Basterds comes along, the audience has an idea of how it will end, but the twist is that this film examines an altered history, thereby disguising its ending.
The brunt of the film revolves around revenge. In Nazi-controlled France during World War II, some Jews have had enough. They tire of the holocaust against them and pick up the fight to bring some of the suffering to the Nazis. Two factions of this vengeance are examined in this film, although they end up playing off of each other in the end. The first person out for blood is Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), who was the only survivor of her family after some Nazis led by Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) brutally murdered them. Secondly, we have American Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), who leads a contingent of Jewish-American soldiers, the “Basterds.” Their only goal is to kill Nazis, plain and simple. Throughout the course of the film, an opportunity arises that drives both Dreyfus and Lt. Raine to put their lives on the line in order to take out the heads of the Nazi party. While history certainly has one outcome for World War II, Inglorious Basterds certainly has another.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 different takes on history