Like many folks my age, I had a Dad who was a bit of a western junkie. Any time I’d see a box at the video store with a cowboy hat or a horse on it, I knew we’d be watching it that night. His love extended to things like “Bridges of Madison Country” (because it had Clint Eastwood in it) and “Brokeback Mountain” (cause he was convinced there’d be a gunfight at the end). As a kid, I never really understood why he liked them so much. But as I grew up I came to appreciate them more. Just when I think I’m out, someone figures out some new twist on the genre to make them relevant to me again: making the US Cavalry the bad guys, incorporating existentialist philosophy, setting one in India (Sholay), etc. Since my Dad died, I actually love going to westerns and imagining what my Dad would think.

Honestly, I don’t think my Dad would have liked this one. There weren’t enough mountains. But personally, I thought it was one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. “The Hatefull Eight” stars Samuel L Jackson as Major Marquis Warren, a civil war vet turned bounty hunter. While transporting his bounty over some mountain pass to Redrock, he gets hit by a blizzard and has to take shelter with 8 other strangers. They’re all trapped in this lodge for a few days. One guy’s a competing bounty hunter transporting his own ward, one guy’s a war vet too but from the other side, one guy claims to be the new Mayor of Redrock but who knows if he’s lying or not, etc, etc. It’s a great setup and all very suspenseful too. By the end of it, Samuel L Jackson is solving his own personal tea cozy mystery like he’s Miss Marple, uncovering blood stains, doing forensics on the stew and trying to trip up suspects in their lies. I was really on the edge of my seat for most of the movie which is impressive considering the majority of it is just people talking in one room. It’s a cracking yarn as they say but I thought it had a lot of philosophical meat to chew on afterwards as well.

One of the major themes of this movie was the idea of justice versus revenge. Kurt Russel is like the moral center of the movie. He has a strong sense of justice and instead of just killing his bounty, he wants to bring Daisy Domergue to Redrock to be hanged. Samuel Jackson, not so much. Our introduction to his character occurs right before the camera pans down to a pile of corpses he’s sitting on. And so on down the line. All the characters represent some point on the spectrum between complete nihilistic lawlessness as embodied by Domergue, to an enlightenment era ideal of civilized society as represented by the hangman (or so we think) with his posh British accent. I guess if I were holed up in this shack with these characters, I’d be on Kurt Russel’s side. I like to think I’m a modern civilized human who believes in rules and order. If we all went around killing people we didn’t like, society would just collapse. For example, I was very sympathetic towards Major Marquis Warren when he shot up those hillbillies in “A Time to Kill”. But I don’t think he should be let off scott free despite Mathew Maconohey’s powerful and unintentionally racist closing argument.

The best scene in “The Hatefull Eight” is the showdown between Samuel L Jackson and Bruce Dern. Bruce Dern plays an old racist confederate general on his way to visit his son’s gravestone. Samuel Jackson wants to kill him (revenge) but can’t just pick up his gun and shoot the old man in the chest. So he tells Bruce Dern this long involved story about killing his son, hoping to rile him up. It doesn’t really do the trick so he keeps going piling on crazier and more insane details. Then it takes this surreal left turn and the next thing you know Samuel Jackson is laughing like a maniac about having gay fellatio with Bruce Dern’s son. And it works! Bruce Dern shoots at Samuel L Jackson who returns fire and wins the gunfight. Pretty cool trick. Except now everyone’s wondering if Samuel Jackson is gay. Anyway, this is kind’ve an old ploy I’ve seen before. You can’t just sucker punch a guy. But if you brag about having sex with their Mom and you take one punch from him, then you and your friends have free reign to kick the crap out of him for hours. So I guess the moral of the story is sometimes you just have to let people call you a worthless shit and brag about their gay sex relations with your family all day long, unless you’re one punch man. At least that’s what I’m telling my kid when he gets old enough.

I’ve heard criticisms that this movie might be misogynist and I guess I can see their point. Every time Daisy Domergue called Samuel Jackson the N-word and got smacked in the face, the theater started roaring with laughter. I guess there’s also the symbolism at the end when Walter Goggins has to “choose sides”. After hearing Daisy out, he decides to ultimately reject her and climb into bed with Samuel Jackson. But to me that wasn’t about rejecting women in favor of men. That was about rejecting lawlessness and nihilism. I thought it was great to see two men from opposite sides of the civil war teaming up together to honor a third man, their friend, who believed in law and order. Anyway, to me feminism means treating everyone equally. To paraphrase Mathew Macanahay, imagine how the movie would change if Daisy was a man. So instead of calling Rey (from Star Wars) a Mary Sue and Daisy Domergue a punching bag, how’s about we just treat them like any other movie character and call Rey a hero and Daisy Domergue a villain.

In conclusion, I really like this movie and how it used western tropes to explore larger themes. I saw the 3 hour 70mm print, but given the lack of mountains you could probably do with seeing the regular theatrical version.