The Hateful Eight: What about that Crucifix?
Updated: Jun 8, 2019
The camera is fixated on an old graying wooden crucifix. It is a life sized carving of Christ; it is cracked, and dilapidated over years of weather wearing it down. Yet it stands. It is unmistakable in the piling snow. The viewer is very close to it, almost able to touch its rough wooden features.
Behind it, in the distance approaching is a stagecoach led by running horses, steam of heat pouring off, trudging through a blizzard. These horses will soon gallop past this cold totem of Christ. In the passing we leave the religious symbol and join the action of the stagecoach.
Because of this opening shot, one cannot help but be confounded, confronted, with that symbol. That cross with a crucified Christ? It is obviously intentional. And just in case the viewer forgets about it, Tarantino brings it right back later in the film. Again, it is still standing there in the snow as if to say, “Remember me?”
The film begins with a religious symbol… so what? It gnawed at me. Why would QT include this symbol as a forward to his film about hate? It took me a while, but then I began to wonder about that title and about what God hates.
In Proverbs 6:16 God outlines a set of extremes. The verse speaks of some particularly evil character traits and actions. These things are so corrupt that God explicitly hates them. There is a liar that, in order to gain selfish advantage, this person tells whatever tale necessary so as to delude those around, every word spoken can be a deceit, who also uses language which is so coarse and filled with depraved words it is hard to even listen. How about a person whose eyes are filled to the brim with conceit and pride that others’ lives are not relevant, even one who has knowingly killed innocent people and will continue to without regret. Or another whose core is so rotten that all his plans are literally wicked, add to these a human who, in witnessing all these profane displays, wants to join in with all the rest and add his own maliciousness to it by sowing seeds of doubt, distrust, and viciousness among all acquainted. These traits taken as individual or paired evils are hard enough to take, but what if each of these characteristics were combined and embodied in one human being?
How difficult is it to believe that there could be a person with all those characteristics? Imagining a person so corrupted seems inconceivable? A part of me wants to say that it just can’t be. Yet I know about some of the atrocities of the Holocaust and the fact that they were human caused and that many of the humans that did them actually enjoyed it. Too many of us still want to believe that no such person or persons could possibly exist. We accept the secularist idea that man cannot be that thoroughly corrupt, that mankind must have a tinge of goodness somewhere even though the Bible explains it quite differently. In Genesis 6 we are told that, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Or in Romans 1 where it says that God had given man over to all sorts of impurity. I truly think that we still want to hold to the age old humanist idea that man somewhere, somehow, deep down, is essentially good. That there is some molecule, or atom that has a spark of goodness in man somewhere. A little light that will shine in the darkness of a man’s soul in order to show him the way. But the Bible, in places like Colossians and Ephesians, states that all are dead. Dead means no spark or hint of life. Dead is dead.
Inconceivable or not, what if one created actual characters like the ones described in Proverbs 6:16? Characters filled and spilling over with vile metaphors which come to life, walking and talking on screen. In fact, what if someone created a whole a group of them in a close room? A collection of people that want only to lie, plot evil, stir up malevolence, who are corrupted and wicked? This is what The Hateful Eight is all about.
The Hateful Eight? Why the discrepancy in the numbers? The number of things God hates and that number eight?
The actual number of people in the film fluctuates so there are really never only eight individuals in the haberdashery on the screen. It could even be argued that the number of “The Hateful” peaks at nine individuals once all the facts are flushed out.
The truth is that the number the Bible passage is actually referring to are character traits. Thus the number of things hated by God is never in relation to the number of individuals. It is the characteristics and actions of individuals that are hated. Traits that each of the characters in the movie’s story completely embody. It was never to be a physically countable number of people.
In other words, each of the characters in the story have all six and even seven of the hate-able traits that God abhors. Characters like a man who laughingly cracks a woman in the face with his elbow to the amusement of others, or a nauseating and detailed story that is probably a lie, which ends with forced male on male fellatio, even shooting a human head off at point blank range, or secretly administering poison with a bloody and vomitous result. It is almost too much.
The first 16 verses of chapter 6 in Proverbs actually fit well with the film. There is an agreement entered into between two of the characters that potentially puts lives in danger (v. 1-3). There is a character that refuses to sleep or rest (v.3-4). There is a commander of no one sitting quietly in a chair as if he is sleeping and is eventually overcome by violent men (v.7-11) There are troublemakers and villains with corrupted mouths winking maliciously, secretly signaling in order to plot evil and stir up conflict. And finally there is disaster and destruction without remedy (v.12-15).
On a technical note, It was a little disappointing seeing the 70mm version of this film. These are the same lenses that shot the magnanimous chariot race scene in Ben Hur or the broad sweeping shots in Lawrence of Arabia. But in this film we spend most of our time in a one room, wooden cabin. Why would a director use these lenses to shoot a majority of the film inside of a one room wooden cabin? It seems that lenses of this import would be used to shoot broad and wide. To capture the scope and breadth of the action, not a single room. Granted, there are shots that occur outside the room but most of our time is spent in close quarters. Also, for those interested, there are some interesting connections from John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) a movie that also stars Kurt Russel, to this film.
The Hateful Eight is not easy to watch, and I don’t recommend running out to see it, especially if you cannot get to a shower right after the bloodbath, but I think it does tell truth about pure human nature. The film has no apparent hero. No good guy is a difficult thing for Americans to accept. We want a hero and we try to lend our emotions to one or two characters in this film hoping this one will bring us through the story redeemed. This cannot be and it hurts. It hurts like the retching poison consumed by a few of the characters in the film. Again, what we see on screen is unadulterated human nature, without God, or hope, or love. And it makes us sick.
An intimate shot of a dried out forgotten God nailed to a cross begins a film full of hate and entices viewers to consider its meaning. How does God fit into a movie like this? The God of the Bible hates. What if there were multiple individuals so filled with characteristics that mirror the hate-able qualities found in Proverbs 6:16 and they had a little jamboree at the local snowed in haberdashery?
No, really, what if there were a group of people whom God hated everything about each of their characters and then they were placed in a location where they could not leave? We might end up with an all too clear understanding of what Camus means when he says, "L'enfer, c'est les autres" or "Hell is other people."
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NETFLIX currently offers an extended version of The Hateful Eight on streaming. It is split into four separate 50-ish minute episodes. Incidentally, each episode intentionally starts with the introductory credits and on that crucifix.
I did take the time to re-watch this version of the movie and I was reminded of the song that "Bob the Mexican" plays at one point on the piano, "Silent Night." Again, an interesting choice. He plays a song about heavenly peace and the incarnate Christ in the form of a tender and mild child, a savior. It is in grand contrast to the not so silent or peaceful play going on in this "haberdashery" with truly evil people.