How should we, Americans, confront our complicity in reproducing the Shoah? For complicit we are, if consumerism is any metric: Steven Spielberg<'>s 1993 film Schindler<'>s List had grossed $321 million as of 2012; more than 40 million people have made the pilgrimage to the sacred US Holocaust Museum; at last count, The Diary of Anne Frank had sold 30 million copies. These numbers are stale staples in the debate over the ethics of Shoah representation, of course, but they bear out the skepticism of critics who have questioned American Holocaust consumer culture. And consumerism is only the first of many such ethical quandaries, which include how to deal with the trauma that audiences experience upon viewing Holocaust films and what happens when secondary witnesses overidentify with Holocaust victims.This paper takes up an unusual form of Holocaust art: misrepresentative film. I discuss two films, Quentin Tarantino<'>s Inglourious Basterds and Wes Anderson<'>s The Grand Budapest Hotel, to argue that intentional misrepresentations not only call attention to the pitfalls of traditional representation but also encourage audiences to work through the transhistorical trauma of the Shoah. Released in 2009, Tarantino<'>s was perhaps unique in cinema for its radical alteration of history, intended to give audiences the sheer pleasure of seeing the Nazi regime go up, literally, in flames. Though the film is undoubtedly a revenge fantasy that, using Dominick LaCapra<'>s terms, embodies <"e>acting out€ in response to historical trauma, it does so by flipping the traditional narrative: unlike most depictions of the Shoah, it complicates the victim-perpetrator binary, identifies audiences with the transgressors, and constantly calls attention to its own fictionality. Movies like The Grand Budapest Hotel are evidence that Tarantino really did shatter the constraints of the genre. Basterds certainly makes no effort toward historical accuracy, but since its appeal depends on the audience<'>s awareness of its inaccuracies, Tarantino is still elbow-deep in real history. Anderson is not. Budapest is a troubled film, haunted by invasions, wars, arrests, and displays of arbitrary power, many of which recall the Third Reich. The function of these ominous forces, however, is not to offer commentary on the Shoah but simply to recreate the illusory world of Stefan Zweig, on whose writings it was based. In producing a movie about Nazi-occupied Europe in which the troubles of the period are relegated mostly to the background, Anderson furthers the deconstruction of the Holocaust film genre, raising the possibility that such films can be historically serious without being bound by restrictive rules.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Read, Madeleine Erica, "Misrepresenting the Shoah in American Film" (2017). Theses and Dissertations. 7214.
representation, history, Shoah, Holocaust, contemporary cinema, film, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Inglorious Basterds, Grand Budapest Hotel, Dominick LaCapra, Jean Baudrillard