Like most of America, you probably spent much of December avoiding Star Wars spoilers and avoiding the indignity of actually shopping at a brick and mortar store when you should be able to get everything you need on Amazon Prime. Now that everyone’s nerdy cousin has dragged them to see Star Wars over the holiday, we can move on to talking about a movie that will inspire far fewer shitty Twitter parody accounts, The Hateful 8.
From this point on, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen the film yet, take this opportunity to take in The Hateful 8 in sumptuous 70 mm, or take the fact that you can’t see it in 70 in your city as a cue that it’s time to move to a town that is adjacent to modern civilization.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
People have been comparing The Hateful 8 to Tarantino’s earliest work, Reservoir Dogs. Though both involve mysteries focused on one location, Reservoir Dogs’ primary concern is unraveling a central event; The Hateful 8 is a character study with a mystery that helps us float between the inner lives of the desperate guests at Minnie’s Haberdashery.
This is a movie about angry people, and they have every right to be pissed off. In this harsh world of bounty hunters and highwaymen, something as simple as getting from the inn to the outhouse is likely to kill you. Part of unravelling the mysteries of The Hateful 8 and sussing out the characters’ motivations is figuring out what, among many things, everyone is so pissed off about.
So, we figured the best way to talk about The Hateful 8 is to talk about what makes these people so hateful.
8. Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins)
Every actor in The Hateful 8 gives one of the best performances of their career. Goggins’ might be the best, even though he is likely least familiar to movie goers. TV fans will remember his phenomenal work on Justified, The Shield, and Sons of Anarchy, but many audience members were likely introduced to Goggins when they saw him as Chris Mannix on Christmas Day.
Mannix is one of two characters in The Hateful 8 who served in the Confederate Army. Unlike the embittered old General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), Mannix’s racism is limited by his own desire for survival. Toward the end of the film, he is the only of the eight who hasn’t chosen a side, and when given the choice between aligning himself with fellow Southerner Daisy Donmergue or the black calvary officer who represents everything he lost in the war, he picks Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). His reasoning: Warren hasn’t tried to kill him, unlike pretty much everybody else in his half-assed haberdashery.
Though Warren is certainly the main character in the story, Mannix is revealed as the only one of the eight capable of change. While the rest of this hateful bunch cling to their rigid worldviews, Mannix figures that in the post-war West, it might be best to align himself with the guy who doesn’t poison his coffee, no matter what color his skin happens to be.
7. Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson)
Major Marquis Warren has every reason to be pissed off. After serving heroically (if brutally) as a Union cavalry officer, he was drummed out of the military in disgrace with a Southern bounty on his head. He retreated to the West, where angry ex-Confederates came looking for him hoping to earn a fortune and exact revenge. Every single one of them ended up dead, but even so, having a bounty on your head is enough to make anyone irritable. Unlike most of his hateful counterparts, he keeps his anger in check. His disgust for General Smithers drips all of his story of murdering his son only after forcing the young man to service him (and we’re not talking about stabling his horses), but it’s all in hopes of coolly luring the general into making the first move. Finally, Smithers goes for his gun and Warren takes his revenge for the General’s brutal war crimes.
Throughout the rest of the film, Warren endures racist slights calmly, never allowing the slings and arrows to draw him into a blind rage. Nothing gets in the way of his cool assessment of his situation, and his focus on survival. We’ll never know if he made it out Minnie’s Haberdashery alive, but if he dies on that mountain, it isn’t because of his blind rage or immutable worldview.
If Maquis Warren died up there, it’s because there’s no way he could have known there was a ninth guy hiding under the floorboards.
6. Bob (Demian Bichir)
If the movie’s character development has a weakness, it is Bob, who seems to be there just to arouse Warren’s suspicions and tickle the ivories. Bichir definitely gets some points for pulling off a credible Eli Wallach homage (though unlike Wallach, he is actually Mexican), and the suspicion surrounding him adds some fun to the early proceedings, but his character is ultimately little more than murderous window dressing.
5. Owswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth)
While we never get much of a read on Mobray’s backstory, Roth has some of the juiciest dialogue in The Hateful 8. Posing as a hangman gives Mobray the opportunity to wax philosophical on the nature of justice. For John Ruth, the civilized justice of the hangman is preferable to Frontier Justice. To the gangsters working with Daisy, Frontier Justice is preferable. As Mobray says, “if the relatives, and the loved ones of the person you murdered were outside that door right now, and after BUSTING down that door….they drag you out into the snow and hang you up by the neck, that would be Frontier Justice.”
Even though Mobray is with a gang of outlaws outlaws, those outlaws have a code. They punish those who get in their way and save their own. Mannix and Warren live to see the end of the movie because they understand something fundamental to survival that no one else seems to understand: life isn’t fair and there are no codes.
Why does Warren shoot Daisy’s brother? It increases his chance of survival. Why does Chris side with his former enemy when he could kill the notorious black cavalry officer? It increases his chance of survival. Though we don’t really get a clear sense of who Mobray is, he sets the moral parameters for the rest of the film.
If you have a sense of justice, an idea of how things are supposed to be, in an uncaring world where waitresses and horses end up dead as often as it snows, you’re only fooling yourself. Because out here, it snows a lot.
4. Joe Gage (Michael Madsen)
Whenever Michael Madsen shows up in a Tarantino film, you can’t help but wonder why we don’t see him more often. Though his non-Quentin work has largely been in B-movies, Tarantino manages to channel a scene stealing energy in him with every part he throws Madsen’s way. For Tarantino, Madsen plays characters that seem to have hardened around some great loss or pain in the past. In The Hateful 8, his words about his mother, his clumsy attempt at a memoir, and the regret in his eyes when he hunts down the stableboy all hint at some greater pain.
You get the sense that Gage is carrying out his tasks against his will, but the bottom line is he is still in cahoots with Daisy and company, and agrees tacitly with their sense of Frontier Justice. If Gage really cared about survival, he wouldn’t risk his life to save Daisy from the hangman unless there was something in it for him. And if he was really the man of regrets he seems to be, he might have turned things around before he ended up bleeding out like the rest of them.
3. General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern)
Bruce Dern has forged a career creating case studies in why you shouldn’t always respect your elders. He plays dying men who cling bitterly to a sense of how things were supposed to be and just how unfair their lives have been. Though a century and change separate Woody Grant in Nebraska and General Sandy Smithers, the two men are cut from the same cloth of impotent rage. Grant has deluded himself into believing that all his failures can be cured by a hail mary lotto ticket and Smithers sacrificed scores of men to a cause he knew was lost. Rather than drift into oblivion content with what’s left of his family life, Woody sets off for Nebraska. Rather than be content to spend his dotage admired and attended by the men who served under him, Smithers elects to fight the Civil War over and over again in his head until he’s finally a battlefield casualty.
Though he is clearly interested in self-preservation, as we see with his cowardice following the slaughter of innocents at Minnie’s, he doesn’t value his life enough to withstand the taunts of Marquis Warren. All he had to do to make it through the storm and see to the arrangements of his dead son was listen to a (likely) fabricated story about a blowjob in a snowy field without pulling a pistol. He couldn’t even do that.
Smithers is the most pathetic character in a story filled with pitiable men. He sent hundreds of his countrymen to their death knowing there was no chance of victory. He sent his son to his death on a foolish revenge quest. Then he sealed his own fate when he blundered into a trap set by a man who gave him the gun to take a shot he knew was sure to miss.
2. John Ruth (Kurt Russell)
Somewhere along the line, John Ruth got the crazy idea that life could be fair. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, by the end of his life, Ruth had clearly started to believe that might be the case. Though he is already in one of the most dangerous professions known to man, John Ruth makes bounty hunting harder on himself out of a sense of justice. Truly bad people ought to be hanged– not shot, not stabbed, not frozen: hanged — to show the world just how bad they are. Ruth is willing to put himself in incredible danger to make things the way he believes they’re supposed to be. As far as he’s concerned, bad men are supposed to hang, and he’s on Earth to make sure that’s what happens. As the exchange between Ruth and Warren goes,
John Ruth: No one said this job was supposed to be easy.
Major Marquis Warren: Nobody said it’s supposed to be that hard, either!
That isn’t the limit to John Ruth’s belief that he can impose his black and white vision of reality on the unforgiving world. He thinks that if he can’t tell who you are, you should give up your gun. He thinks that if you can’t provide proper documents then you shouldn’t ride in his stage coach. He rolls through the world thinking he can impose his sense of justice on every haberdashery he thunders into, and somehow that will keep him safe.
It turns out that he’s wrong.
Before his gruesome death, we get a preview of John Ruth’s worldview butting up against the harsh realities of an unkind world. Early on, we see Ruth take great comfort in a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Marquis Warren. He is later told what everyone else already knew: the letter is a forgery. He’s deeply hurt when he finds out Warren lied to him. Warren sees that he’s hurt Ruth, but feels no remorse. Without the letter, he would never have gotten on that stagecoach. If he didn’t get on that stagecoach, he would have died. So, for Warren, the letter is as real as it needed to be.
1. Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh)
Just like Warren, Domergue has reason to be hateful. Unlike Warren, Daisy has allowed the hate to consume her and turn her into a monster. If this movie has a villain it is Daisy, but really, The Hateful 8 is about a bunch of villains trying to get revenge and get off of the mountain. Domergue is just the most desperate of a desperate bunch.
At first, we’re somewhat sympathetic to Daisy. She’s beaten to a pulp by John Ruth as she suffers slight after slight on the road to the hangman. With each bruise and each insult, we see how in a world where women are treated little better than property, a woman can grow hard. Daisy is the only female in the film who isn’t murdered with cavalier disregard before we learn anything about them other than how easily they’re fooled by a smile. Daisy has learned that being a nice woman in this world will get a lead ball in the back of your head.
Like so many of the other characters in this film, Daisy is undone by her code. Her gang outnumbers John Ruth five to one, and there was probably a way to do him in without causing a blood bath. Unfortunately, the bloodlust of Daisy and her gang lead to a massacre. It wasn’t enough for her to give John Ruth the slip, Daisy had to bathe triumphantly in his blood.
Daisy’s flaw is the same as John Ruth’s: she believes in justice. While Marquis Warren accepts the world as it is, Daisy, like John Ruth, will only accept the world as it should be. Her justice isn’t the just of cities and hangmen, it’s that Frontier Justice. Chris Mannix should take the money that will make him rich. Marquis Warren shouldn’t kill her brother when he’s unarmed. John Ruth has to die because he has the gall to bring criminals to the hangman instead of settling things with pistols where they stand. Just as the lawman has a code, so does the highwaywoman.
Unfortunately for Daisy, on the mountain there are no codes. And anyone who thinks there is a code ends up brought low, spewing their guts out on the floor or hung high, spasming and twitching as they die in the rafters.