Quentin Tarantino, a huge fan of the Western, likes to hybridize genres. His latest experiment, The Hateful Eight, set in Wyoming about a decade after the Civil War, is a movie about a bunch of cunning entrepreneur-cowboys for whom, in Saturnine style, the end justifies the means.
A significant part of this three-hour, solo-film festival – replete with an overture, intermission and interstitial chapter headings – is a series of panoramic views of terrain, enrobed in pristine snow. It’s an image of the land that contrasts sharply with the cunning underbelly of those business types who walk on it.
One of the unsavory folk is bully bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell, doing his best John Wayne). He’s transporting fugitive harridan Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the town of Red Rock, where she’s to hang. Daisy represents such a good entrepreneurial payday for John – she had a $10,000 bounty on her head – that he’s booked the stagecoach just for the two of them and handcuffed himself to his meal ticket.
Because there’s a vicious blizzard right behind them, John takes pity on a fellow bounty hunter – black, Civil War veteran Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), who fought for the North – who’s equally desperate to transport his own corpses for an $8,000 pay off. John also lets on board Captain Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who states he’s the new sheriff of Red Rock. It’s like a small-business convention on four wheels.
By the time these three, along with the driver, arrive to refresh their horses at Millie’s Haberdashery, the storm has caught up with them. Weather conditions require them to stay at the outpost, where other men folk have gathered: Bob (Demian Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern).
To reveal any more would spoil the twists in Tarantino’s screenplay, all tied to Daisy’s being successfully delivered to the proper authorities. But if Daisy is part of this underbelly, she’s also a female entrepreneur running her own show. Tarantino pairs Daisy’s marginalization with the peripheral status of the Major, an astute analytical observer who’d easily give Sherlock Holmes a run for his money, but is instead forced to endure crude racial comments from the rest of the bunch.
The Wild West was a brutal place, with Saturnine survival – the triumph of being at the top and forcing others to play by your rules – the only game that mattered. Tarantino’s opening shot – a wood-carved, crucified Jesus, half-covered in snow – signals the rough justice to come, delivered by modern renegades whose territorial interests are strictly financial.
Astrology Archetype: ♄ (Saturn)