The chapter opens with a scene cut like a music video as Shosanna prepares for the premiere in her quarters above the theater. The scene is a transformation, Shosanna arming herself with makeup, with a veil, with the props and costumes of an actress to play a part--to set the stage. Shosanna marks herself a warrior with rouge that obviously connotes an actress’ backstage preparation while the placement of the makeup calls to mind Aldo’s Apache resistence.
Shosanna’s preparation sequence collapses two meanings of theater. Firstly, the theatrical experience, as she is preparing to play a role, a subterfuge, on the surface entertaining a theater-full of her enemies while playing host to their whims. Secondly, this first surface meaning is infused with the “theater of battle” mentality that was previously province of the Basterds. In this final chapter, the two connotations are embodied in the figure of Shosanna Dreyfus and the physical extension of her character, her theater Le Gamaar.
After Shosanna’s preparations for the premiere, the film shifts its focus to von Hammersmark and the Basterds, who, because of the disaster at La Louisianne the previous night, have had to replace Lt. Hicox and the two German-speaking members of the Basterds with Lt. Raine, The Bear Jew and Pvt. Ulmer now disguised as members of an Italian film crew. The problem is that von Hammersmark was wounded the shoot-out and is now sporting a cumbersome leg cast and Aldo, Donowitz and Ulmer’s Italian is less than stellar (and in Ulmer’s cast, non-existent).
These hurdles could have been surpassed, however, if it was not for Landa, always the bloodhound, having investigated the crime scene at La Louisianne, knows von Hammersmark is a spy. He corners the party in the lobby and launches into another piece of investigatory theater, much to the alarm of the Basterds’ and to von Hammersmark’s peril. The multi-lingual Landa spouts off Italian, running circles around the confused imposters. It’s a scene of uncomfortable comedic effect, so over-the-top and ridiculous it’s hard not to laugh at Raine’s hillbilly Italian, even though the audience is simultaneously aware Landa has ensnared our heroes completely.
Like other characters in Inglourious Basterds, Raine, Donowitz and Ulmer find their aliases in the annals of film history. Aldo Raine introduces himself to Landa as Enzo Gorlomi, the birth name of Enzo G. Castellari, the Italian director of The Inglorious Bastards, the 1978 war film from which Inglourious Basterds takes its name. Sgt. Donowitz takes his alias from Antonio Margheriti, an Italian director and one of Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth’s favorites. Margheriti himself cameos in the film as one of the Nazis at the Nation’s Pride premiere. Omar Ulmer’s false identity is as Dominick Decocco, a name that doesn’t occur in film history, although that may not be necessary as he is already named for Austrian expat and film noir director Edgar G. Ulmer.
Landa quickly dispatches of von Hammersmark having produced the shoe she misplaced at La Louisianne. Landa is quickly gaining ground on the Basterds, eliminating one chess piece afteranother. After Bridget, Landa orders Raine brought to him, although by this time, Donowitz and Ulmer have safely reached their seats in the theater with dynamite strapped to their legs. Landa's capture of Aldo Raine brings certain themes full-circle. Landa re-instates his love of play-acting and games, after he has hooded Aldo, taunts him saying, "Caught you flinching!" Once Landa transports Aldo and another Basterd, Pfc. Smithson Utivich (BJ Novak), he and Landa exchange aliases. Having never met face to face before, the two men only know of each other through the circulated gossip of the front. Each man is more a character, or caricature of their roles and they greet each other as such:
Tarantino intercuts the drama of Shosanna and Zoller with shots of the Nazis enjoying the film. This puts us, the audience, is an uncomfortable viewing position. Much as Tarantino challenged the viewer in the second chapter, daring us to laugh and cheer as The Bear Jew beat a Nazi to death with a baseball bat, in this sequence, he is daring us not to enjoy the exaggerated patriotism of Nation's Pride. There is a disquieting replication of audiences, as the Nazis mirror our position as a theater (or home-viewing audience).
Shots of Hitler laughing tears of joy as Frederick Zoller recreates sniping dozens of American troops hard to watch--harder still because of the previous hyperbolic representation of Hitler as a buffoon and tyrant. Are we laughing at Hitler laughing at us? This sequence represents a unique and purposefully undefined position of spectatorship for the audience enjoying Inglourious Basterds. Further complicating this position is the fact that when Hitler congratulates Goebbels on Nation's Pride, it represents another set of character that are brought together by film or theater in IB. Even those characters the audience is meant, or perhaps not meant, to hate, share a common bond with our heroes and Basterds who define themselves in filmic language and through play-acting.
Meanwhile, back in the projection booth...
Zoller groans. Shosanna feels a pang of regret. Perhaps she shouldn't have shot this Nazi? After all, he does love Max Linder...Of course, because Shosanna's is a sacrifice and they both would have died anyway, and because theirs is a thinly-veiled Romeo & Juliet story, she approaches him. But because this is a Quentin Tarantino film, not a Shakespeare tragedy, Zoller shoots her. They both die. But not before Shosanna changes reels and signals via pre-recorded film:
"Marcel, burn it down."/"Oui, Shosanna."
Thus begins the gruesome, fiery and controversial ending to Inglourious Basterds. Everyone in Le Gamaar is burned to death, although Hitler gets his face rather graciously machine-gunned off by Donowitz and Ulmer before the dynamite on their legs adds to the pyre. The destruction of theater-as-church (remember Goebbels comment that Shoshanna's theater has a church-like reverence rarely seen) consumes Nazi and Jew alike. The grand finale brings the house down, literally of course. Theater and film are ultimately the great leveler, and as Tarantino argues, as powerful a weapon as any BAR, Mauser or explosive.
Some brief conclusions: After tracking the themes of film and theatricality in Inglourious Basterds, it's clear there is evidence for the conclusion that the film is steeped in film history. This is apparent when you consider how many characters are named for film stars and directors, how many characters have connections to film and theater, either in their true identities or as adopted aliases. I've tried to prove that Tarantino effectively blends the theater of war with the conventional theater of plays and drama. Christoph Waltz's Col. Hans Landa is the central character in the film, the character around which the narrative universe revolves. We can extrapolate his attitude towards the theatricality of interrogation and the performance-based nature of the character to define the film as a whole. The net effect of all these factors is a rejection of historical reality in favor of a meta-reality, that is the reality of film and film history. Thus, it is a mistake to view Inglourious Basterds as a WII film, or perhaps as merely a WWII film, for historical accuracy is not its province. Its true nature is the emotional reality of theater-going, the collective ecstasy of living through the figures on screen, a companion of the celluloid characters as much as with the man or woman in the seat next to you.