Delving Into Tarantino’s Top Scenes
There’s really no one else out there like Quentin Tarantino. From the way he creates fascinating characters and stories to the way he constantly captures the attention of viewers. he’s created cinematic masterpieces time after time. So it’s only fitting that since his latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, has just hit theaters this past weekend and that I’ve just gone through his filmography that I delve into my favorite moments throughout his films.
Now, for starters, these are just my picks and you can feel free to talk about some of your favorites in the comment section if you desire. I won’t be talking about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as it’s still new and I don’t want to spoil anything. However, if you’re interested my favorites from that film are the Bruce Lee scene, Sharon sitting in the movie theater, and the entire Manson family finale. Lastly, most of these movies came out quite some time ago, but just in case, a SPOILER WARNING is in effect. So, you have been warned. Enjoy!
Death Proof – Stuntman Mike Shows How “Death Proof” He Is
With all of the build-up of Stuntman Mike’s stalking behavior on the first half of Death Proof’s leading ladies, their final encounter is set for a bloody end and boy does he deliver. With the use of music blaring out the sound of Mike speeding past them on the road and him turning his headlights off, they are completely unaware of the danger of Mike speeding towards them. It’s a great use of dramatic irony and the use of “Hold Tight!” from Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich perfectly elevates the dramatic irony more as it embodies the lackadaisical and good vibes the girls are feeling even though they’re about to meet a gruesome end. It’s also a great turn for Mike as we’ve mostly seen him as charming, yet slightly creepy and with him just coming off of killing Pam, we know that his bloodlust is at an all-time high and DJ Jungle Julia and her friends are his and his Death Proof car’s next targets.
What makes this scene so effective, though, is how Tarantino repeats the shot of Mike flipping his headlights back on just before he rams into their car. With each repeat we specifically she the effects of the crash on each of the girls and gives each death a personal touch. The scene contains the shocking gruesome violence that Tarantino is known for, as well as the Grindhouse genre, with Shanna being thrown from the car and Julia having her legs be ripped away. There’s even a solid use of the Wilhelm scream after we get to see the entire crash play out. When the dust has settled, we get to see the gruesome results of Mike’s dirty work and the rest of the film perfectly plays off of this dark turn for Mike. Really, this scene is a perfect example of Tarantino building up suspense and tension and showing off his skills in creating memorable scenes for viewers to connect to characters.
Pulp Fiction – The Apartment Scene
Who doesn’t know this scene? Not only is this probably Tarantino’s, as well as Samuel L. Jackson’s, most recognizable and quotable scene, but it’s a perfect showing of how strong Tarantino’s direction is. Jackson basically must sell this scene on his own as he basically has most of the dialogue and it’s the scene that people generally associate with Jackson becoming an absolute bad ass. It’s the kind of scene that immediately imprints a smile on its viewers the second it starts, and it’s got everything to make a scene great: excellent monologues, satisfying shifts in tone, lots of lore for world-building, and, of course, those tasty burgers.
It’s a scene that dared, even double dared, its viewers to say “what” one more goddamn time, remember what a quarter-pounder with cheese is called in France, and oddly find themselves reciting Ezekiel 25:17. After seeing it, you surely won’t forget what Marcellus Wallace looks like, especially the fact that he doesn’t look like a bitch. It’s a scene that not only set the tone for Pulp Fiction, but rightfully earned Jackson an Oscar nomination that he was absolutely snubbed for. When people talk about where they first fell in love with Jackson as an actor, they’ll likely be pointing to here for quite a while. It’s a true pop culture moment that solidified Tarantino as a true master of creating defining moments in film and I’m sure even years from now that this scene will still be talked about for quite some time.
Reservoir Dogs – Mr. Blonde Gets Stuck in the Middle
For the most part, Reservoir Dogs is pretty much a straight up crime thriller, but when Mr. Blonde begins to torture the officer he’s captured, the film takes a horrifying turn that’s just plain psychopathic. Up until this point, Mr. Blonde has stayed pretty quiet and mysterious, but once everyone leaves, he shows his true colors. Even as he kicks on the radio to K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the 70’s, he spouts a line that would later be re-imagined in American Psycho and Michael Madsen puts in a haunting performance that’s sets the tone for what’s about to unfold. Tarantino does an excellent job pretty much framing the scenes perspective from the helpless officer as seeing him attempt to wrestle out of his restraints as Mr. Blonde teases him with a gun to his face immediately creates sweaty palms in every viewer. Then when Mr. Blonde takes action to cut off the officer’s ear, Tarantino expertly pans the camera away to Mr. Blonde’s actions up to the audience’s imagination.
However, once the deed is done, we are subjected to some classic Tarantino dark humor as Mr. Blonde talks into the cutoff ear to ask him what’s wrong and we are given a small break as he leaves to grab a tank of gasoline from his car and the music drowns out. I love this because it breaks the tension as we get more of the natural sounds of city that sort of show how crazy things are in the warehouse. While things are normal and calm outside, as Mr. Blonde heads back in to heat things up, the inside is loud and chaotic with the sounds of the officers screams and Stealer’s Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” filling the room. The scene ends with the sounds of the officer screaming for his life while Mr. Blonde holds a lighter over a gasoline trail being extinguished by Mr. Orange stepping in and shooting Mr. Blonde to death. Even for his first film, Tarantino was more than ready to show how effective he is at building suspense that ends with a shocking bang.
Inglorious Basterds – Bring Out the Bear Jew
Tarantino has had some strong introductory moments for his characters, especially in Inglorious Basterds, but no introduction is more perfect than that of Sgt. Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz. The amount of conversation had about him before his appearance is just perfect. It’s almost like they are talking about some kind of mythical monster or ghost, but it’s just simply a pissed off soldier with a bat at hand. The conversation between Aldo and the captured German soldier is haunting as they treat him as a truly intimidating figure. It’s all capped off with the German soldier not complying to Aldo’s orders and Aldo and the rest of the Basterds exclaiming in glee, just as viewers are, that he has been called upon, and then it happens.
The mysterious, yet intriguing score kicks in, the sound of Donny’s bat clanging against the wall sets the daunting tone, and we constantly cut back and forth between the dark shadows of the tunnel he is walking out of and the anxiously awaiting faces of everyone as they await for him to emerge. There’s a perfect amount of suspense and intrigue that’s ends in the satisfying image of Donny emerging from the shadows to execute the soldier. Just the way the score changes to match Donny’s towering presence is spot-on and, as a horror fan, the fact that it’s Eli Roth as Donny always bring a smile to my face. Roth’s performance is absolutely incredible, and it all ends with a vicious attack that reflects the rumors and myths that built his presence up. First impressions are such an important part of connecting them to viewers and this scene sets a new bar with how to reveal and set up a character’s introduction.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 – Killing the Crazy 88
In any sort of modern-day action film, viewers expect to see the film’s action hero, or in this case heroine, take on impossible odds and an insurmountable number of foes. While we’ve seen action heroes like John Wick and Taken’s Bryan Mills take down hordes of enemies, they all pale in comparison to when Kill Bill’s The Bride took on the entire Crazy 88 in Vol. 1. Talk about a fun and blood-pump fight scene, the fight against the Crazy 88 is full of over-the-top action that just needs to be seen and a great use of sound and score. With each slash of The Bride’s sword comes flood of blood that’s perfectly paired with the sound of a sprinkler to create kills that are hilariously fun. Whether she simply slashes someone across the chest or completely decapitates them, you can rest assured that blood will spew out of every open wound and bodies are going to hit the floor. I love how Tarantino does the sound and score here as well as he starts the scene with no score, then adds a more energized score to ramp up the adrenaline, then finishes things off by adding in “Nobody but Me” by The Human Beinz to spice things up.
Even the movement of the scene is incredibly fun, and the choreography is just stunning. Tarantino really utilizes the entire space and having The Bride fight on railings, stairs, jump to the rafters to take down enemies is just a blast to see on-screen. The most beautiful looking moment, though, comes when everyone is left in the shadows fighting against a blue background. It’s truly a gorgeous moment and I love how diverse this scene is with bloodshed, shots, and choreography. Kill Bill Vol. 1 was Tarantino’s departure from creating crime thrillers and this scene is one of the biggest showcases of his talents in creating fun and memorable moments. When people talk about iconic action sequences, The Bride’s battle against the Crazy 88 is one that can’t go unnoticed and it still holds up today as one of the genre’s top moments.
Reservoir Dogs – The Commode Story
Reservoir Dogs is easily my favorite film of Tarantino’s career and there’s one scene in particular that makes it my favorite – The Commode Story. Coming just after it’s revealed that Mr. Orange is the undercover rat in this group of criminals, viewers get to see how Mr. Orange got into the group and how he gained their trust. In an effort to gain some credibility with Joe, the boss, so he must learn the Commode Story. This is described by a fellow undercover officer as an amusing anecdote to gain their mark’s trust. It’s all about creating details that make a generic story more personal and unique – something that Tarantino is quite familiar with. Through this scene, not only does Tim Roth truly give one of the best performances of his career, but viewers get a glimpse as to why Tarantino is such a phenomenal storyteller.
There’s so much rich detail in the story that makes the environment and the situation seem real – even though we know that it’s not. The shot of Mr. Orange telling the story within the story is just absolute perfection and the way the camera circles around him as he’s telling the story showcases Roth’s talent excellently. The monologue perfectly mirrors his feelings of regret after the heist goes wrong. Even the suspense Tarantino builds within the scene after Mr. Orange hits the button for the hand dryer and drowns out the sound the officers talking, causing all of them to stare at him, is so well executed. Like I said, this situation didn’t even happen, but the amount of detail and effort put into it brings real emotions out of its viewers and I can’t think of any other films that do that. This is truly Tarantino storytelling at its best and is something I always look forward to when I watch Reservoir Dogs.
Django: Unchained – The Final Showdown Between Schultz and Candie
Frankly, throughout Tarantino’s films, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a stronger rivalry between two character than between Dr. Schultz and Calvin Candie. Throughout the film, you can cut the tension with a knife and you’re really just waiting for these two to come to blows. That’s why the scene after the destructive dinner has the perfect amount of suspenseful tenseness and is such a satisfying conclusion to their feud. The start of the conversation with Schultz taunting Candie for his actions of feeding his slave to dogs is a great start to him showing his distaste for him and things only heat up with Schultz bringing up the legendary Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers. He brings him up as the slave that was mercilessly killed was named after one of his characters and his final exclamation to Candie that he would disapprove of his actions because he is black shows that he’s through with being nice. Add in that Schultz would rather say “goodbye” rather than “Auf Wierdersehen,” as it actually means that he will see him again, and things are about to come to blows.
Thus, as a final act to get under Schultz’s skin, Candie tells him that they cannot leave and that their deal for Django’s wife’s freedom won’t be concluded unless he shakes his hand. There’re some tough words shared between these two, that only acting legends like Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz could deliver, that leads to one of the satisfying ends to a long string of suspense. While Schultz seems as if he’s going to give in and shake Candie’s hand, he pulls out one last trick up his sleeve and shoots Candie. It’s a shot, no pun intended, that perfectly mirrors Django shooting Big John Brittle earlier in the film and caps off the amount of hatred these two have. It all ends with a perfectly said line of Schultz saying that he just couldn’t resist and kicks off a bloody shootout that Django attempts to survive. It’s scene that’s fitting to show why Waltz got his Oscar win and a spectacular finale to one of the greatest rivalries in film.
The Hateful Eight – The Big Black Johnson Story
Another great rivalry that Tarantino has brought to the big screen comes from The Hateful Eight and the growing distaste between Major Warren and General Smithers. Though they fought on opposite sides of the Civil War, it almost seems as if Warren is about to put these differences aside and Bob even plays a piano in the way that’s somber and sets a more peaceful tone. However, once they start to talk about family matters, things take a more confrontational turn as Warren reveals that he not only knew Smither’s son, who he never figured out how he died, but that he was the one who killed him. The line that Warren says about him dying the day that he met him is both a great callback to something that he had said to John Ruth earlier and a bone-chilling start to the horrifying story he regales about their fateful meeting.
With Warren placing a gun at Smither’s side, his intentions are clear and as he begins to tell the story you can immediately tell that things aren’t going to end well. With the flashback that Tarantino provides, he shows some absolutely haunting imagery as we see Warren making him trek through the freezing Wyoming snow until he can no longer walk. Then, instead of offering him his only desire of a blanket, Warren makes him give him a blowjob just to stay warm and humiliate him. Even at the end he never gives him a blanket and you can feel the uneasy tension and the building hatred that Smithers is feeling. Jackson gives one of the most entertainingly evil performances of his career that should’ve absolutely guaranteed him an Oscar nomination at the very least. When I saw this scene in theaters, my jaw hit the floor with how shocking it was and it’s easily one of the tensest scenes that Tarantino has crafted.
Pulp Fiction – Bring Out the Gimp
Though Pulp Fiction has plenty of memorable scenes scattered throughout, there aren’t many as unique as the scene of Butch and Marcellus being captured by rapists. There’s so much horrible imagery throughout this scene with the man in the Gimp suit being almost sickening to see and when Butch opens the door to see Marcellus being raped. It’s easily one of the tenser scenes of the film and it’s all set up perfectly. Really, all of this just starts as a simple cat and mouse game between Butch and Marcellus and they only end up in the hands of the rapists by chance. However, once they are there, they realize that they are not in good hands and the image of them sitting there with ball gags in the mouths is just bone-chilling.
That’s what makes Butch finding the strength to fight back and as he grows closer to the door with sword in hand, there’s a perfect layer of suspense built with the sound of Marcellus being raped that lets viewers share in Butch’s worry as to what’s happening. Not to mention, all of this is capped off with Butch turning the tides on the rapists and Marcellus ready to exact some revenge. The scene really shows Butch’s good-hearted nature as he goes back to help Marcellus, even though he was just on the run from him, and Marcellus’ respect for Butch for helping him. All of this ends with a line from Marcellus that lets Butch and the audience know that he’s far from okay and that’s something that I think anyone can understand from seeing what happened with them.
Inglorious Basterds – Give You Something You Can’t Take Off
Frankly, out of all of Tarantino’s films, I can’t think of a film that has a more satisfying ending than Inglorious Basterds. Just when think that Nazi Col. Hans Landa has made it off scot-free by making a deal with the Americans to sell out the entire command for his freedom – Aldo has one more trick up his sleeve. Rather than just accept defeat, Aldo fulfills the deal, but does it his own way. He kills his right-hand man, Herman, and while Landa thinks that Aldo has just guaranteed his death sentence, Aldo has other news for him. I think the whole line about being chewed out is both hilarious for Pitt’s delivery and interesting as it showcases the different mentalities of American and German punishments. Even the way they talk about the deal that Landa makes is perfect and it shows how die-hard they are about what they believe in.
The best part, though, must be how Aldo marking surviving Nazi soldiers with a swastika comes full circle. Just placing Landa in handcuffs and taking him as prisoner isn’t enough to satisfy Aldo, or really any viewers because he’s such a despicable person. So, Tarantino knew that he was going to have to leave viewers with one more thing to signify Landa’s demise and he truly chose the perfect way to do so. The second Aldo asks him if he’s going to take off that uniform when he reaches his future home, everyone knew where things were going. That’s why when it cuts to Aldo cutting a swastika into Landa’s forehead, viewers can get a sense of relief that justice has been served and that things are finally right again. Everything is capped off with Aldo saying that Landa’s marking just might be his masterpiece and it’s a feeling that I’m sure Tarantino shares as he looks back on Inglorious Basterds as it contains one of, if not his, best endings.