Although it is completely coincidental, I find it uncanny and extremely interesting to me as a film lover that just after we recorded a new episode of The Uncut Gems Podcast (coming to your ears very soon) on Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, the man himself spent a weekend doing the talk show rounds and he ended up appearing on a bunch of podcasts to boot. As a result, our own discussion, which invariably touched on the Weinstein scandal, Uma Thurman’s crash and much more, has been given an interesting new context, ex post facto as it may be.
Naturally, I invite you to listen to it when you have a chance (in a few days’ time), just as I would seriously implore you listen to his stint with Joe Rogan, as it is a treasure trove of nuances driving Tarantino’s work and a great look at how his brain works, which you simply would not get during a regular TV interview. However, this isn’t what seems to interest most people as – almost immediately after the interview was published – any and all coverage concerning the interview pertained to (a) Tarantino’s comments about his treatment of Bruce Lee’s character in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and (b) his comments about his relationship with Harvey Weinstein, which also included him admitting to seeing him as “a fucked up father figure”. Granted, it was impossible Rogan wouldn’t ask him about it and some commentators may be right to point out he did not push the issue too much, but at least from where I am sitting it looks as though the vast majority of people who took to Twitter and Youtube (in addition to pieces in THR, Collider and elsewhere) to share their thoughts on this are failing to see the forest for the trees.
What caught my eye is the seemingly crystalline consensus regarding Tarantino’s history with Harvey Weinstein following the now infamous revelations of his countless sexual crimes against dozens (if not hundreds) of women, which alleges his complicity through inaction. Therefore, his own admission to wishing he had done more are not only dismissed but met with outright hostility, as though it was after all his job to stop Weinstein’s long-running reign of abuse. Now, I don’t have a dog in this fight and I am not here to empathetically defend one of my favourite filmmakers, partially because I believe he is perfectly capable of fighting his own corner and also because it is completely pointless. After all, online pitchfork mobs are not interested in eliciting apologies; they are interested in wholesale destruction. In fact, it might be a good idea to one day explore why Quentin Tarantino is such an easy target for crowds of anonymous virtue-signallers, but for now let’s just focus on this one little wrinkle.
Having listened to the entire interview – and yes, Weinstein is mentioned on more than one occasion, albeit in a different context – I think I have a good idea what Tarantino might have meant when he referred to him as a “fucked up father figure” and what he also tried to say without starting a massive fire in the top echelons of Hollywood. On two separate occasions he mentioned budding heads with Weinstein over matters relating to his films, one relating to casting John Travolta in Pulp Fiction and the other to the notion of splitting Kill Bill into two separate features. Even in the absence of any external knowledge, you could easily infer that Harvey Weinstein is a controlling sociopath with an oversized ego, a man who has to be manipulated into thinking your ideas are his if you want him to agree to anything. Without going into excessive details I think I can safely say that I have met at least a couple such characters and I might have even worked for one a while ago.
Therefore, I think I understand that what Tarantino means when he describes Weinstein as a father figure is an admission of latent victimhood that he himself might not fully realize is in operation. I think it is crucial to remember that before he sold True Romance and directed Reservoir Dogs thus becoming a pivotal piece of the 90s Indie Revival, Quentin Tarantino was a loser. He worked a minimum wage job and lived in what is commonly referred to as first-world abject poverty. He spent his twenties bashing his head against successive brick walls, watching movies and fantasizing about one day making a movie himself. And one day, out of the blue, it all came true. Admittedly, the story of Tarantino breaking into Hollywood is a bit more nuanced than that, but it kind of involves a big shot producer taking a young loser under his wing and giving him a career. And even if there weren’t any strings formally attached to this, you best believe there were strings attached; strings of implied subservience. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t identify with the outraged mob of folks voicing their disgust at Tarantino describing his relationship with Weinstein that way. He delineated an incredibly complex position he was in because his view of that hot shot producer who gave him a chance was irreversibly skewed. He was groomed by a sociopath who kept everyone around him in a chokehold.
But nobody cares. What matters is showing we bat for the right team and make sure we are on the right side of history because everything – especially our online existence – is part of our permanent record and, by extension, everything we say can be used against us in the court of public opinion. So the nuance of what Tarantino may have said or included in between the lines is irrelevant because we must get angry at the fact he referred to him as a father figure and admitted to thinking the rumours were weirdly harmless. Of course, there is a possibility he is lying to cover his own posterior or to avoid becoming a target of mob justice, though Mira Sorvino’s THR column doesn’t suggest his complicity in anything. But a key question remains: why does Tarantino continue to be associated with the Weinstein scandal? Why is he told by hundreds of online commentators and armchair pundits that it was his job to put an end to this? It seems that people conveniently forget that Tarantino wasn’t the only person working for/with Weinstein. There were plenty more and I will refrain from naming them (though Tarantino implies it in the interview). All I will say is Good Will Hunting, Clerks, The English Patient and – yes – even Paddington were bankrolled by Weinstein. Do you think they didn’t know if everyone and their mother knew? And yet, Tarantino is the only one asked about this because he is the only one willing to say anything. And it might just be that he is willing to talk because he doesn’t think he has much to hide and he most likely doesn’t care about the online outrage.
What is truly fascinating here is not the idea of scratching at Tarantino’s psyche and understanding his own precarious position in all this, but rather investigating just how deluded people can get when empowered by operating in large groups. If you venture on social media or into Youtube comments sections you will find vast swathes of enraged keyboard warriors gleefully assuming some kind of moral high ground and demanding Tarantino turn back time or implying that had they been in his position, they would have behaved differently. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, this is the same behaviour as espoused by people who think that if they had a time machine, they would go back and kill Hitler, or if they had been born in Nazi Germany, they would have shown moral resistance against evil Nazi regime. Maybe some would. In fact, it is statistically improbable that more than a small minority would have made huge personal sacrifices for the greater good, regardless of context. Most people conform. Most people look the other way. Most people mind their own business. The sad truth is that our online existence is seemingly policed by marauding dignity militias patrolling the landscape of shifting moral goalposts and dispensing divine justice accordingly despite the fact the vast majority of them have never broken up a real fight, stood up for a bullied classmate or blew the whistle at their workplace, all of which typically carry serious personal ramifications or a threat of bodily harm.
Call me old-fashioned but the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that what George Carlin once described as ‘pussification of America’ has become a general guidance for online conduct which smothers honest discourse. And I am glad Tarantino doesn’t care. Granted, his willingness to say provocative things continues to be a catalyst for the recreational online outrage and maybe shows he is now completely out of time, but I am glad he is here. He is a great filmmaker and potentially one of the most influential artists of our time and on top of all that an immensely complex human being, but none of that seems visible from atop a moral high horse everyone seems to be sitting on. Who knows? Maybe I’m a dinosaur myself…