“Don’t be lookin’ at me like that… I can feel your look.”
Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” The definition of language in this sense is broad. There is the obvious verbal definition, but language also encompasses gestures, demeanor, and body language. In general, one of the main uses of a language is to express oneself and to establish a sense of identity; our languages and their mannerisms are perhaps the most definitive explanation of our heritage. Thus, when someone communicates to us in our own language, it is an indication of respect towards our culture and customs and simultaneously creates a greater connection than simply communicating in a language we understand. In a similar fashion, when someone communicates to us aggressively in our own language a multitude of conflict is created because of the impact of the language choice. Mandela’s perceptions of language are displayed readily in Quentin Tarantino’s films. Characters interact with each other through different forms of language and conflict is created through the use, and even the misuse, of these languages.
Inglourious Basterds is an interesting film in that language plays such a major role in its success. The characters speak four different languages throughout the film and much of the movie is subtitled. It seems odd that a movie that requires us to read the majority of the time would be so successful. However, the use of so many languages paired with the backdrop of the deadliest war in modern history is the canvas for the creation of conflict that drives the film and hooks its audience. Multilingualism versus a lack of multilingualism facilitates much of the conflict in the movie. When multilingual characters speak to others in their maternal language it “goes to their heart” and they are more easily manipulated. When characters that speak one language attempt to communicate in another but fail, their failures lead to the development of conflict as well. The definition of language beyond the spoken form is also important in Inglourious Basterds. We cannot truly be considered multilingual if we know how to speak a language, but do not know how to communicate it. There are nuances, gestures, and mannerisms of language that are equally important to its portrayal as its spoken form. Thus, even when characters verbally speak the same language, they may still face a language barrier that, in some instances, leads to violence and death. Thus, foreign languages in both their spoken and unspoken forms create plot-driving conflict in Inglourious Basterds.
The impact of language in Pulp Fiction is subtler than in Inglourious Basterds. Rather than an overarching theme of multilingualism versus a lack thereof, the conversations and body language found in “The Bonnie Situation” are catalysts for the development of conflict in the movie. When we watch Tarantino’s movies there are two aspects that stand out: violence and profanity. The use of taboo and/or profane language creates a multitude of conflict in Tarantino’s films, but particularly so in “The Bonnie Situation” of Pulp Fiction. Harvard professor and cognitive scientist, Steven Pinker explains that, “taboo words activate brain areas associated with negative emotion.” This idea is key to understanding the conflict that is born from “The Bonnie Situation” and the conflict in many other Tarantino movies as well. When we hear taboo language, especially when it is directed towards us in a negative fashion, it sparks negative emotion, and conflict arises. For example, in Django Unchained when white slavers constantly refer to Django as “nigger” he is provoked to remember his, and his wife’s, time as slaves and his hatred towards the slavers escalates into a bloodbath at Candie Land. In contrast, as Dr. Shultz uses friendly, respectful language towards Django a partnership forms between the men because Django’s negative emotions are not provoked. This idea is also found in “The Bonnie Situation” of Pulp Fiction. Emotions are heated and tensions are high in this scene, and thus, taboo language is used extensively, which creates negative emotions and conflict that drive the rest of the film.
Initially, the essays in this portfolio seemed unrelated. One deals with the impact of language on the development of conflict and on the personalities of characters, while the other analyzes how conflict in one scene changes the dynamic of the rest of the movie. It became obvious, however, that the link between the two essays is different forms of language as facilitators of conflict in the films. Language is a powerful tool that can be used to provoke both negative and positive outcomes. At times a heightened skill in language is used to manipulate others, while at others simple word choice creates conflict within the movies. Language is a tool that we all possess, and although it seems simple, the way we utilize it has notable outcomes that are displayed readily in Quentin Tarantino’s films.