Inglourious Basterds — The Elements of Suspense


Hi, I’m Michael. This is Lessons from the Screenplay. At least once a year I put in my blu-ray of
Inglourious Basterds and watch two scenes. One of which is the opening scene which serves as an introduction
to the character of Hans Landa. This scene is like a master class in suspense. At seventeen pages, it’s one of the longest
scenes in the screenplay but it’s so captivating that once I start it I always have to finish it. So what makes this scene so effective? How does Quentin Tarantino turn seventeen
pages of people chatting into one of the most tension-filled scenes of recent memory? Today I want to take a close look at the anatomy
of the opening scene. To examine the elements required to create
tension. And show how Tarantino’s dialogue and character
design created the suspenseful opening of Inglourious Basterds. In a paper titled, “Toward a general psychological
model of tension and suspense” by Moritz Lehne and Stefan Koelsch, they discuss six key components of “tension experiences.” Today I want to examine four of them, beginning
with Conflict, Dissonance, and Instability. In their paper, Lehne and Koelsch write, “Tension experiences usually originate from
events associated with conflict, dissonance, or instability which create a yearning for
more stable, or consonant states.” Obviously conflict is the most basic and integral
part of storytelling. But the use of the word “instability”
particularly speaks to an important aspect of suspense in this scene. Tarantino begins the film with a brief but
effective portrait of what life is like for the people of this farm. We see one of the daughters hanging laundry, and see the Farmer swinging an axe at a tree stump. And in the script, Tarantino notes: “However, simply by sight, you’d never know
if he’s been beating at this stump for the last year or just started today.” I think this is a great way to suggest to
the reader that this is a glimpse of their everyday, stable lives. A stability that is broken as soon as the
daughter sees the Nazis coming. Again quoting the paper, such a disruption “creates tension and suspense experiences in the audience that persist until the conflict is
resolved and replaced by a more stable state.” The appearance of the German soldiers pushes
us toward a tension that will last until the conflict is resolved and a new stability is
found…one way or another. The arrival of the soldiers also incites
the second element of suspense: lack of control. This element of suspense is fairly self-explanatory. It simply states that our inability to influence
the course of events can lead to an experience of tension. In this regard, the medium of film lends itself
to suspense because it’s a mode of storytelling where the audience has no say in what happens. Even in interactive storytelling mediums, the
most suspenseful moments are often those where you have no control. When the daughter spots the Nazis approaching,
there is no protest or resistance, only a kind of subtle dread and acceptance. Tarantino includes in the script: “After living for a year with the sword of
Damocles suspended over his head, this may very well be the end.” The farmer calmly directs his daughters, reminding
them to check their behavior so as not to send the wrong signal. “Don’t run.” This suggests the wrong behavior may lead
to undesirable consequences, and that the family is going to have to play this interaction very carefully. They lack control of the situation. In just two pages Tarantino has laid the foundation
for suspense. But this alone is not enough to create the
intensity of suspense that we feel by the end of the scene. So now I want to move inside the house and
talk about the substance of the scene between the farmer and Colonel Hans Landa. When a coin flip decides something trivial, like which pair of socks you’re going to wear today, there isn’t a lot of suspense. But when a coin flip decides if someone will
live or die… “Call it.” …there can be a lot of suspense. This is because the intensity of the suspense
is proportional to the emotional investment in what is going on. And this is where the creativity of Tarantino
and the character of Colonel Hans Landa come into play. Tarantino uses his dialogue to increase the
emotional significance of anticipated events. As I mentioned in my video about The Social
Network, Aaron Sorkin uses his dialogue to mask exposition, and Tarantino does the same thing. “Part of my plan, my method, is to bury it
in so much minutiae about nothing that you don’t realize you’re being told an important
plot point until it becomes important.” When there is obvious exposition,
it is doing two things at once. Like when Landa literally asks the farmer,
Perrier LaPadite, to tell him about himself. “Please tell me what you’ve heard?” “I’ve heard that the Führer has put you in charge
of rounding up the Jews left in France who are either hiding or passing for gentile.” These lines aren’t just about exposition,
they’re about Landa subtly flexing his power. And the way he does it—through the guise
of politeness—helps evoke strong emotional reactions from the audience and increase tension. Landa begins by complimenting the attractiveness
of LaPadite’s family. “Each of your daughters is more lovely than
the last.” “Thank you.” Then, he requests milk instead of wine. This is an innocent-enough request, except
for the way he grabs the daughter’s hand as she’s getting the wine. “But no.” “Thank you, Monsieur LaPadite, but no wine.” “This being a dairy farm, one would be safe
in assuming you have milk?” “Yes.” “Then milk is what I prefer.” “Very well.” Landa noting how attractive he finds the daughters
combined with his grabbing of one of them creates a very uncomfortable feeling. A kind of implied threat delivered with a
smile. This aspect of Landa enhances yet another
element of suspense, uncertainty. “Everything Landa does — I mean, he is a
detective. That’s first and foremost where he’s coming from. He’s a detective. And every
scene he does is some version of an interrogation. And every piece of interrogation is a piece
of theater, or a mind game with the participant.” Colonel Landa plays mind games with LaPadite
throughout this scene. They are often tiny things, like requesting
permission. “I ask your permission to switch to English
for the remainder of the conversation.” “By all means.” He is acting as if LaPadite has the power,
but they both know Landa is an S.S. Colonel with soldiers outside who he could
order to kill LaPadite and his family if he so chose. So by behaving as if LaPadite has any control… “Please, Monsieur LaPadite, this is your house.
Make yourself comfortable.” …Landa is really just reminding him
of how little control he has. These mind games increase uncertainty, and
thus increase the tension. But the uncertainty doesn’t come just from
Landa’s character, it also comes from the lack of information given to the audience. So now I want to talk about the moment halfway
through the scene that changes the context of the entire conversation. Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, once offered the following example. He said to imagine there are a couple people
sitting around a table. “Talking about baseball—whatever you like.
Five minutes of it, very dull.” “Suddenly a bomb goes off.” According to Hitchcock, this provides the audience with only five or ten seconds of shock. But… “Now take the same scene and tell the audience
there’s a bomb under that table and will go off in five minutes.” When you tell the audience that there is a bomb
under the table, suddenly it becomes an emotional experience. In the Lehne and Koelsh paper, they make a
distinction between tension and suspense. They define tension as a more diffuse, general
state of anticipation, and suspense as a more specific anticipation between clearly opposed outcomes. The transition from tension to suspense happens when Tarantino decides to tell the audience about
the bomb under the table. Or in this case, the family beneath the floorboards. This is a big change that ratchets up our
emotional investment. The significance of every piece of information
we know is intensified. LaPadite has lied about not knowing where
the family is, and the people that Landa is looking for are literally right beneath his feet. This kind of mid-way revelation also re-energizes
the scene, and the same technique is used in the tavern basement sequence. “Might I inquire?” This is what allows Tarantino to have scenes
like this be gripping for so long, and he argues that longer scenes
are better for suspense. “It’s like the suspense is a rubber band, and I’m just stretching it and stretching it and stretching it to see how far it can stretch. As long as that rubber band can stretch, the longer the scene can hold, the more suspenseful it is. That scene is more suspenseful at twenty-two minutes than it would be at eight. So you want to just stretch it until the rubber band breaks.” And that’s exactly what he does. After the audience is shown the family beneath
the floorboards, Landa pretends like he’s finished his work and that relief is just within reach. But then he asks for another glass of milk. “However, before I go, might I have another
glass of your delicious milk?” And then brings up his nickname. “That they call your ‘The Jew Hunter.'” “Precisely!” And then goes on a two page tangent about
what animal German soldiers are versus what animal Jewish people are. And for awhile, the destination of this tangent
seems unclear. Again, the uncertainty. LaPadite, previously thinking himself victorious
in deceiving the officer, begins to lose his cool. And soon the destination of this tangent becomes
painfully clear. “However, the reason the Führer brought
me off my Alps in Austria and placed me in French cow country today is because it does
occur to me.” “Because I’m aware what tremendous feats
human beings are capable of once they abandon dignity.” Here, Landa again flexes his power and evokes
an emotional reaction. “May I smoke my pipe as well?” Tarantino has Landa stretch out the suspense
as long as possible, until finally the suspense turns to dread. “You are sheltering enemies of the state,
are you not?” “Yes.” “You’re sheltering them underneath your
floorboards, aren’t you?” “Yes.” Now the suspense evolves one last time, as the uncertainty changes from if Landa will find out to what he will do now that he knows. In this area, I think the fact that the audience
is aware they’re watching a Tarantino film adds to the suspense. We know there will be consequences, and that
Tarantino has no qualms about showing violence. And when the “bomb” finally goes off, it is
as stressful and explosive as can be. “So, Monsieur. Mademoiselle.” “I bid farewell to you and say adieu.” “He motions to the soldiers with his index
finger.” “They TEAR UP the wooden floor with MACHINE-GUN
FIRE.” “The little farmhouse is filled with SMOKE,
DUST, SPLINTERS, SCREAMS, BULLET CASINGS, and even a little BLOOD.” This is the last important element of suspense
in storytelling. There must be a payoff, good or bad. We need that catharsis, the new stability—horrifying
as it is in order to release, reset, and prepare for what’s next. “Au revoir, Shoshanna!” There are many ways to create suspense in
a story, but what I find impressive about Inglourious Basterds is how simple the elements are. By giving the audience some basic context, Quentin Tarantino is able to turn a chat across a table, or a card game, or having dessert
into some of the most suspenseful scenes ever put on film. Hey guys! I hope you enjoyed the video. I just want to say thank you to all my Patrons
for making this video and this channel possible! If you want to support this channel on Patreon
you can by clicking on the links below, and if you want to follow me on twitter @michaeltuckerla. I hope you have a great day, and thanks for
watching!

100 thoughts on “Inglourious Basterds — The Elements of Suspense

  1. One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite Tarantino films! What films should I do next? Let me know!

  2. Christoph Waltz won the Oscar mainly because of this scene. It's brilliance in acting. His entire performance is outstanding, but this one scene is pure perfection.

  3. A straight up terrible movie. There should have been a large, unavoidable disclaimer about the history re-write at the end, and many characters come off as cartoonish. I felt robbed and cheated of my time at the end, and never watched another Tarantino movie without giving up on it less than halfway thru because of it, which wasn't entirely a bad thing. It spared me the torture of viewing all of the Hateful Eight, one of the worst movies ever

  4. that incredibly subtle eyebrow drop before Christoph says 'you are sheltering enemies of the state…' is one of my favourite moments in film, and definitely one of my favourite bits of superb acting ever.

  5. This film is the most anti history ever it's full of history bullshit with Jews cumming in their pants

  6. The dialogue alone in the first 22 minutes of the film is already an Oscar winner for Best Screenplay

  7. this film sucks. never made it through the entire thing. never made it through an entire scene. periodically i will pick up here and there but … same result. it is poorly written mental masturbation. the premise is not only absurd but actually offensive. the use of violence is puerile and inelegant. there's nothing shocking or even effective about it. and frankly, the dialogue is trite, hackneyed drivel. lastly Tarantino does not know how to work with actors. period.

  8. It worth mentioning the amazing work of the French actor. One of the best supporting performances ever.

  9. Whats the name of the music in the beginning in the first 20 seconds or so?

  10. Please correct one of the worst verbal tics that you display. Whenever the word "the" is followed by a word starting with a vowel, the correct pronunciation is "thee" not "thuh." Every time you mention "thuh opening sequence" or such, you take me completely out of the video. It's like hearing fingers on a chalkboard or intentionally scratching an LP. Stop it, please!

    Otherwise, I find the content of your videos to be excellent.

  11. I would really like to know how much Landa was directed and how much of his character was from the actor ! This acting was a masterpiece !!!!

  12. Can't believe Tarantino put in so much work to show how much power Landa wields, when all he had to do was make the Colonel T-pose to assert dominance.

  13. I could and HAVE watched the bar scene more than fifty times.

    Michael Fas….. (however you spell it) is a genius and so is the line……

    Because I have my pistol pointed at your nuts!

    At this range I’m a real Frederick Zoller (sniper, crack shot mofo!!)

  14. The rest of the movie was terrible, but this was one of the great scenes in movie history. The acting was off the scale. Hence the Oscar for Waltz.

  15. Kann mir mal einer verraten was die Scheiße soll das der Titel und die Beschreibung auf deutsch aber das Video auf englisch ist? Video wird gemeldet!

  16. I believe that Linda already knew there were Jews hiding in La Padite's house before he even arrived, that would explain why Landa asked to change from French to English since he didn't want the Jews to understand. When Landa finally breaks La Padite into revealing the Jews, he just wanted him to confirm that they were there.

  17. I actually thought inglorious bastards was generally very boring especially the first scene. It’s my least favorite tarentino movie. The first scene especially serves only one purpose (introduce character) and has no effect on the overall plot. It could have been cut and not changed my understanding of the story whatsoever. Also, the bilingual nature of the scene was essentially just cannon.

  18. That pub scene is my absolute favorite scene of all time in any movie. It’s like a movie of its own inside a movie.

  19. The acting was just superb. Don’t get me wrong, direction will override most aspects of naturally driven acting, but you need talent to be able to direct it. Kudos to all involved, and damn good breakdown captain.

  20. What about the soundtrack? Surely this scene would be as good without the soundtrack

  21. Just to make one Thing clear, im a hetero Guy, but man If Tarantino wanted to fuck me up the ass just so i could be in a single movie of him…Dude im in

  22. I'm so ecstatic that your videos are now getting 7-digit-views. Slowly-but-surely, your awesomeness is spreading in its reach.

    Kudos.

  23. When the camera appears to study in one unbroken shot the farmer going through the entire ritual of lighting and stoking his pipe, as well as discarding the extinguished match, is it actually Landa's POV scrutinizing the farmer's actions in order to spot uneasy signs such as trembling? After all, we never see a reverse shot showing Landa studying his interrogatee's behavior during this particular action.

  24. In regards to tension-building and palpable suspense. there's an intentionally drawn-out scene in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" (at the ranch) that rivals the tavern scene in Basterds.

  25. Quentin Tarantino is wearing an IWC BigPilot. Nice watch! He's not a vanilla, routine Rolex owner.

  26. Watching a letterbox youtube video containing a letterbox Tarantino movie

    Tarantino-ception

  27. notice that when the jew hunter walks in he heads straight for the blonde and blue eyed girl (Aryan) and not the other 2.
    Someone has probably already said this but I have not looked through the comments

  28. The cruelty of Sergio Leone with Hitchcock´s suspense!! Fantastic Movie!!!!

  29. The second you mentioned a coinflip i instantly thought of no country for old men.

  30. it is really strange that the persons in the scene are talking english, that doesn´t make sense, because they are in france occupied by german. so the persons speaking german makes much more sense 🙂

  31. It makes more sense to say that he asks to switch to English because he assumes that the fugitives in the basement don’t speak English

  32. I think I have PTSD from this. It was so sad too, there were people that had to make this decision in real life

  33. He did it again, in "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood". The scene when Cliff wants to say hi to George Spahn, and Manson's "children" are very suspicious about Cliff.

  34. The way Landa asks Perrier to play along with his charade also makes Perrier go from a protector and dissenter to complicit in their execution. He changes who Perrier is as a person with his authority and knowledge, then decides who lives, dies, is let go, or punished. Eventually he even decides who wins the war. His position essentially makes him into a tyrant god, which adds to the suspense since it portrays him as an almost supernatural entity, and also makes the payoff fucking glorious.

  35. Who the hell puts inglorious basterds in and doesn’t wacth the whole movie

  36. 5:53 When Landa grabs her arm, he's discreetly checking her pulse to see how nervous she is (to ascertain whether or not they're hiding Jews)

  37. I just finished this movie probably for the eighth or ninth time. It is a master fucking piece. I get so irritated with people that only like it because of the violence and also don’t like it because it’s too much talking, those are the stupid people in the world. If you can’t keep up with the dialogue and the tension and the intensity of this movie you really should just go play with Legos the rest of your life.

  38. Nice reference to alien isolation by the way. Perfect example of tension for anyone who’s played it and knows what they’re playing.

  39. I rarely say this on YouTube but I completely agree with your synopsis.

  40. I really love that scene too. Just as you i continue watching it every now and then.
    But theres a small little moment where it looks like Perrier LaPadite (Denis Ménochet) breaks character. Once ive seen it, it cant be unseen.
    the last frames of him lighting his pipe he smiles pretty brightly, not matching the whole scene.

  41. This Lessons from the Screenplay guy … he, like literally ….uses the word 'literally' better than most youtoobers can.

  42. The Dark Knight opening pretty much served like this.
    Total lack of control about situation among the bad guys themself.
    The uncertainty and thrill comes together.

  43. I was watching this and thinking "wow this guy has a nice voice" then the end card showed up and I'm thinking "wow this guy is handsome"

  44. The first time I saw that first scene was on video. when the scene was over I put it on pause and walked out of the room. I was so emotionally drained I felt like I had just seen a whole movie.
    Then the strudel scene,and the Bar scene,and the brief movie lobby scene. Great movie!

  45. The "wait for the creme"-suspense is the goddamn best scene in movie history.

  46. This video brought me back to what I felt the first time I witnessed that scene in the cinema. You could hear a needle drop in the theater. I was left speechless and terrified by it. Thanks for the analysis, your videos are very interesting and entertaining.

  47. The opening class is one of the best I've EVER seen. Waltz was off the chain!

  48. Tarantino should make a prequel about the the Le Petit's family and the jews they were harboring.

  49. So this is where the Grammar Nazi skit from CollegeHumor came from……..

  50. You said you watch two scenes. What’s the other scene you watch?? I’d love to see a video about that!

  51. and because of this entire scene all he has to do is show up without even doing anything behind her in a later scene and it gets your heart pounding.

  52. yes, I also watch the first scene and sometimes the bar scene, specially the opening you are 100% correct, if you start you just have to watch fully.

  53. I've always thought the Basterds (Brad Pitt and his gang) were the weakest part of Inglorious Basterds. Would have been better if the movie had spent more time with other characters instead.

  54. *Landa switches to flawless Italian
    Audience: "saw that coming."
    Still big "oh fuck" moment though

  55. I still can't quite get why Landa didn't have his men chase Sousannah. A trembling young girl who's under shock (and probably hadn't ventured outside the house for a long time) couldn't possibly outrun Landa's men.

  56. Small detail… when the clothespin is removed from the sheet, it's not replaced. Now that sheet is unstable.

  57. I just found this film last week and it's brilliant,I can't believe I've wasting my time watching marvel films,if you like this film you might also like Watchmen

  58. Hans Landa already knew Perrier Lapatite was hiding jews. that's why he says in his conversation with Perrier, well I'm already well familiar with your family. Being a through detective and jew hunter. Hans landa first would have interrogated his neighbors and anyone else that knew him and make it clear to them what would happen if he found jews ( or enemies of the state as they were referred to by the Nazis ). Made it clear to his neighbors what would happen to them and their entire families if he found enemies of the state hiding at their neighbors house he would assume his neighbors had to know he was hiding jews, so they would be killed for not ratting out their neighbor. he knew Perrier was hiding jews, but since Hans is so evil, he likes to intimidate and make people nervous as he listens to their desperate lies, to his questions that he already knows the answers to. Hans was indeed only holding the girls hand to see how fast her pulse was. Pure evil genius.

  59. They never explain why Hans Landa let Shoshana live when he could have easily shot her when she was running after her family was murdered. What reason could Hans have to let her live? I get they needed her for the next chapter, but how do you explain why Hans didn't kill Shoshana in the first scene after he kills her family?

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