There’s nobody in American movies who can turn a phrase quite like Quentin Tarantino. And with Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood hitting theaters this week, the canon of great Tarantino one-liners is about to get an update.
While Tarantino’s certainly got a one-man-house style, his voice has morphed over the years from the hyper pop-literate enfant terrible to, well, a less showily hyper pop-literate, middle-aged terrible. But trying to rank all of his lines against each other is something of a fool’s errand: There are too many gems — each with their own uniquely profane facets — to justify such an exercise.
Instead, we’ve gone chronologically, starting with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs and ending with 2015’s The Hateful Eight. It’s a chance to sit back and reflect: Not only on why these individual lines are killer, but how they frame the individual movies they appear in and where they sit within Tarantino’s career on the whole.
All right ramblers, let’s get rambling.
Mr. Pink: I don’t tip because society says I have to. All right, if someone deserves a tip, if they really put forth an effort, I’ll give them a little something extra. But this tipping automatically, it’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just doing their job.
Good dialogue reveals characters through conversation, not exposition. While this line from Mr. Pink in the film’s opening scene technically counts as the latter, it’s most definitely a sterling example of the former. And in its roundabout way, it also sets the tone for the scenes to follow. Even with something as easy as a tip, these men can’t help but bicker. As the pressure rises in the wake of a job gone totally wrong, of course they’re going to crack. “They’re just doing their job,” says Mr. Pink, and so is the undercover cop in their midst.
Mr. White: [laughs] Shit … You shoot me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize.
Quentin Tarantino is not a badass, but he’s got a knack for writing them. Add Harvey Keitel to the mix, and the threat that Mr. White levels in this line is very real. The guy might have a soft spot for his fellow robbers — especially ones who get shot in the gut — but he is not a man to mess with. Do yourself a favor and apologize. Just to be safe.
Mr. Pink: Yeah, that’s easy for your to say, you’re Mr. White. You have a cool-sounding name. Alright look, if it’s no big deal to be Mr. Pink, do you wanna trade?
Tarantino’s films have always balanced on the knife’s edge of elevating pulpy genre fair and completely tearing it down. This line from Reservoir Dogs is the latter. The bad, bad men that make up this film’s cast may seem cool with their black-and-white suits and their fancy shades — but they still care about “seeming” cool, too. Murderous gangsters: They’re just like the rest of us. Especially when they’re played by Steve Buscemi.
Mr. Brown: Let me tell you what “Like a Virgin” is about. It’s all about a girl who digs a guy with a big dick. The entire song. It’s a metaphor for big dicks.
The Q-man knows how to make a first impression. This line, and the ensuing explanation, happen in the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino’s debut film. Hell, he even delivers the lines himself, playing the doomed robber Mr. Brown. Tarantino cares way more about pop culture than pretty much anyone else on the planet, and he knows how to unleash a conspiratorial sidewinder with the best of ‘em. Like, he might legitimately be the best of them. Add in a dash of vulgarity, and Tarantino most definitely had the film world’s attention.
Nice Guy Eddie: Alright, first things fuckin’ last!
Great lines don’t always need to be surprising, but it helps. And a great way to surprise is to take a common turn of phrase like “first things first” and turn it on it’s head. The line is delivered in the midst of heated moment, as well, as Nice Guy Eddie tries to sort out the absolute clustercuss that was the Reservoir Dogs robbery. Even when Tarantino’s characters are up against the wall, they’re still doing linguistic loop-de-loops.
Joe: So, you guys like to tell jokes and giggle and kid around, huh? Gigglin’ like a bunch of young broads in a schoolyard. Well, let me tell a joke. Five guys, sittin’ in a bullpen, in San Quentin. Wondering how the fuck they got there. “What did we do wrong? What shoulda we done? What didn’t we do? It’s your fault, my fault, his fault.” All that bullshit.
Finally, someone comes up with the idea, “Wait a minute. While we were planning this caper, all we did was sit around telling fuckin’ jokes! Got the message? Fellas, I don’t mean to holler at ya. When this caper’s over — and I’m sure it’s gonna be a successful one — hell, we’ll get down to the Hawaiian Islands, I’ll roll and laugh with all of you. You’ll find me a different character down there. Right now, it’s a matter of business.
This is the first of many lines on this list that aren’t really “lines” so much as entire monologues. This one is delivered by Joe at the first meet-up of the Reservoir Dogs gang, the one where they are assigned their code names and Steve Buscemi starts trying to barter for a cooler name. As Mr. Orange states later on in the flick, Joe looks exactly like “The Thing.” And this monologue crystallizes just how tough he is on the inside, as well. An entire character distilled down into one hacky, menacing joke.
Mia: Don’t you hate that?
Mia: Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable?
Vincent: I don’t know. That’s a good question.
Mia: That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special. When you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.
Vincent and Mia’s meandering date-that-isn’t-a-date is a masterclass in chemistry. Mia flirts with Vincent as he tries desperately not to flirt back, lest he ended up getting chucked out of a window by her husband, Marsellus Wallace. Mia might have a bit of a coke problem, but she’s a smart cookie and enjoys toying with her meal. Why else would someone yak on about how great it is when people can sit in silence together and not feel the need to yak?
Vincent: What does Marsellus Wallace look like? … Does he look like a bitch? … Then why you trying to fuck him like a bitch?
Another instance of a predator toying with their prey before getting down to business. After a meandering car ride with Vincent filled with discourse over the Parisian name for a Quarter Pounder and the surprising intimacy of foot massages, Jules gets down to business. And his business is killing a bunch of dumbasses — but not before he scares the hell of out of them. The version of the line included here elides a fair amount of the back-and-forth that happens in this exchange — which is too bad, because it’s electric. It might not surprise you to learn that Samuel L. Jackson appears many times on this list.
Vincent: And you know what they call a… a… a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
Jules: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with cheese?
Vincent: No man, they got the metric system. They wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.
Jules: Then what do they call it?
Vincent: They call it a Royale with cheese.
Tarantino’s dialogue renders his characters and the worlds they move through with astounding detail and verve. And no line better encapsulates that fact than this iconic exchange from Pulp Fiction.
Jules: I’m not giving you that money. I’m buying something from you. Wanna know what I’m buyin’ Ringo?, … Your life. I’m givin’ you that money so I don’t have to kill your ass. You read the Bible? … There’s a passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.
And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon you.” Now… I been sayin’ that shit for years. And if you ever heard it, that meant your ass. You’d be dead right now. I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was a cold-blooded thing to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this mornin’ made me think twice.
See, now I’m thinking: maybe it means you’re the evil man. And I’m the righteous man. And Mr. 9mm here… he’s the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. And I’d like that. But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be the shepherd.
The multitudinous plot threads of Pulp Fiction all eventually arrive at the same place: Redemption. And with Jules’ speech to the diner robbers in the film’s closing moments, that theme is finally laid bare. He deconstructs his own use of the Ezekiel 25:17 passage — which he admits he uses mostly as a “cold-blooded thing to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass” — and ruminates on the kind of man he wants to be. Jules knows that he represents the tyranny of evil men, but he’s trying — “trying” being the operative word — to be something better. This is the scene that raises Pulp Fiction from a great flick to an all-timer.
Butch: Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.
A superb punchline to an absolutely harrowing series of events. After saving his mortal enemy from being — wowzers — raped in the basement of a pawn shop, Butch finally has the clean slate he’s been so desperately grasping for. As Butch and his girlfriend, Fabienne, ride off into the sunset on Zed’s chopper, Butch offers this iconic capper. Rhyming is never cool — except for the times when it most certainly is. It stands to note that when Butch delivers this line, Zed is definitely still alive. But by the time Marsellus Wallace’s men get done with him, death will be a gift — one that he in no way deserves.
Jules: I want you to go in that bag, and find my wallet. … It’s the one that says Bad Motherfucker.
In the same way that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, sometimes a cool line is just … cool.
Vincent: Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face.
Understatement is not always Tarantino’s thing, but here he uses it to hilarious effect. Vincent is correct: He did indeed shoot Marvin in the face. And yet his annoyed, peevish delivery of those words doesn’t quite capture the immense world of shit that he and Jules have just entered –driving around Los Angeles in broad daylight with a back windshield spattered in brain and bright-red blood. Yet another sterling example of Tarantino taking genre tropes and turning them on their heads.
The Wolf: Get it straight buster — I’m not here to say please. I’m here to tell you what to do and if self-preservation is an instinct you possess, you’d better fucking do it and do it quick. I’m here to help — if my help’s not appreciated then lotsa luck, gentlemen. … If I’m curt with you, it’s because time is a factor. I think fast, I talk fast, and I need you guys to act fast if you wanna get out of this. So, pretty please … with sugar on top. Clean the fucking car.
Harvey Keitel’s turn as Winston Wolf is the kind of thing that would walk away with any other movie. It takes a movie like Pulp Fiction to make him blend into the crowd. A bona fide fixer sent by Marsellus Wallace to clean up Vincent and Jules’ mess, The Wolf exhibits a kind of no nonsense professionalism that, frankly, the rest of us can all aspire to. Maybe we would put it to better use than helping career criminals cover up a murder, but still. What a legend.
Captain Koons: The way your dad looked at it, this watch was your birthright. He’d be damned if any slope’s gonna put their greasy, yellow hands on his boy’s birthright, so he hid it, in the one place he knew he could hide something: his ass. Five long years, he wore this watch up his ass. Then when he died of dysentery, he gave me the watch. I hid this uncomfortable piece of metal up my ass for two years. Then, after seven years, I was sent home to my family. And now, little man, I give the watch to you.
The best part of this line is the simplest bit: The part where he offs the kid’s dad with an off-hand “then when he died of dysentery” so that he can get back to the real matter at hand: Just how much time this watch has spent up people’s asses. The line is great, but Christoper Walken’s deliver (unsurprisingly) launches it into the stratosphere.
Butch: So we cool?
Marsellus: Yeah, we cool. Two things. Don’t tell nobody about this. This shit is between me, you, and Mr. Soon-to-Be-Living-the-Rest-of-His-Short-Ass-Life-in-Agonizing-Pain Rapist here. It ain’t nobody else’s business. Two: you leave town tonight, right now. And when you’re gone, you stay gone, or you be gone. You lost all your L.A. privileges. Deal?
Marsellus: Get your ass out of here.
Honor among thieves is a running theme throughout Tarantino’s work, with Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, and The Hateful Eight standing as brightest touchstones. But in this one little mini-logue, Marsellus Wallace sums up that theme as well as any feature-length film. In Ving Rhames delivery, the words “Yeah, we cool” carry the weight of a thousand suns. After Butch has saved his life, there’s nothing else Marsellus can do except set a few reasonable restrictions on the man’s LA privileges. Even if those aren’t “the rules,” per say … them’s still the rules.
Mia: Don’t you just love it when you come back from the bathroom and find your food waiting for you?
Genuine question: Is this something that people actually love, and that’s why Quentin Tarantino wrote a line about it? Or is that something that people have come to love because Tarantino pointed it out to them. Either way: The dude’s right.
Vincent: That’s a pretty fucking good milkshake. I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars, but it’s pretty fucking good.
Word, Vincent. Word.
Ordell Robbie: AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes.
Tarantino has a musicality to his best dialogue, and Samuel L. Jackson has an unparalleled ability to bring that music out. He doesn’t just say Tarantino’s lines; he sings them. And in his hands, this line from Jackie Brown is practically the Hallelujah Chorus. Savor it.
Ordell Robbie: You can’t trust Melanie, but you can trust Melanie to be Melanie.
We all have friends like this. And if you don’t, then you’re the friend.
Jackie Brown: Well, I’ve flown seven million miles. And I’ve been waiting on people almost 20 years. The best job I could get after my bust was Cabo Air, which is the worst job you can get in this industry. I make about 16,000, with retirement benefits that ain’t worth a damn. And now with this arrest hanging over my head, I’m scared. If I lose my job, I gotta start all over again, but I got nothing to start over with. I’ll be stuck with whatever I can get. And that shit is scarier than Ordell.
Jackie Brown’s economic anxiety is the only acceptable economic anxiety. Next quote.
Ordell Robbie: Now that there is the Tec-9, a crappy spray gun from South Miami. This gun is advertised as the most popular gun in American crime. Do you believe that shit? It actually says that in the little book that comes with it: the most popular gun in American crime. Like they’re actually proud of that shit.
Sadly, Ordell, yes. We believe it.
Max Cherry: Now you want me to speculate on what you do. My guess is you’re in the drug business, except the money’s moving the wrong way. Whatever you’re into, you seem to be getting away with it, so more power to you.
In one line, Max Cherry adroitly sums up Ordell’s predicament and then offers a sprig of the weary cynicism that makes him such a fascinating character. Robert Forster knocks this performance out of the park and into the next county, but that spot-on combo of Tarantino and Elmore Leonard means that the pitch was just begging to be crushed.
Jackie Brown: …the money won’t convict him, guns will.
Max Cherry: You’re rationalizing.
Jackie Brown: Well that’s what you do to go through with the shit you start, you rationalize.
Jackie Brown is a low-key survivalist epic, with Pam Grier’s Brown marshaling every ounce of wit and determination to ensure she doesn’t get sent down river. This line perfectly captures that dynamic: The shit’s been started; now it’s all about getting through to the other side. It’s Tarantino’s version of Shawshank Redemption’s “crawled through 500 yards of shit and came out clean the other end,” only this line offers the view from 250 yards in.
The Bride: It was not my intention to do this in front of you. For that I’m sorry. But you can take my word for it; your mother had it comin’. When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.
The most interesting thing in Kill Bill isn’t all the ultraviolence, it’s the odd codes of honor that pass between the many mortal enemies as duel to end each other’s lives. This line sums that up pretty much perfectly. The Bride did what she had to do. She doesn’t regret that. And if the girl grows up and feels a similar way to her, The Bride accepts that. She’ll defend herself, of course, but what she won’t do is hold any grudges against her for it.
The Bride: No, no, no, no, no. No, to get even, even-Steven … I would have to kill you … go up to Nikki’s room, kill her … then wait for your husband, the good Dr. Bell, to come home and kill him. That would be even, Vernita. That’d be about square.
The Bride is not to be fucked with. That’s what Kill Bill is basically about. They fucked with her and — to quote another feisty film heroine — that was a big mistake. Huge.
Hattori Hanzo: [in Japanese; subtitled] I am finished doing what I swore an oath to God 28 years ago to never do again. I’ve created “something that kills people.” And in that purpose, I was a success. I’ve done this because, philosophically, I am sympathetic to your aim. I can tell you with no ego, this is my finest sword. If on your journey, you should encounter God, God will be cut.
“If on your journey, you should encounter God, God will be cut.” That is one of the most badass things that has ever been captured on celluloid. Try peppering that line into your daily rounds and see how people react. Depending on how you use it, they will either be extremely motivated or extremely freaked out. Choose wisely.
O-Ren Ishii: So you all will know the seriousness of my warning, I shall say this in English. [in English] As your leader, I encourage you from time to time, and always in a respectful manner, to question my logic. If you’re unconvinced that a particular plan of action I’ve decided is the wisest, tell me so, but allow me to convince you and I promise you right here and now, no subject will ever be taboo. Except, of course, the subject that was just under discussion. The price you pay for bringing up either my Chinese or American heritage as a negative is … I collect your fucking head. Just like this fucker here. Now, if any of you sons of bitches got anything else to say, now’s the fucking time! [pause] I didn’t think so.[calmly, in Japanese] Gentlemen, this meeting is adjourned.
Kill Bill might be a revenge story, but it doesn’t deny sympathy or affection for The Bride’s victims. With the exception of Bill, O-Ren Ishii is The Bride’s most fully-realized target, a woman with her traumas, goals, and moral codes. Her Anime-style origin story is its own short film dropped into the middle of this two-part epic. If that story were expanded to encompass its own film, this would be her big 9 to 5 moment — albeit one that revolves around an impromptu decapitation. Here, it’s just one exquisite square in a much larger, equally violent tapestry.
Bill: Y’all beat the hell out of that woman, but you didn’t kill her. And I put a bullet in her head, but her heart just kept on beatin’. Now, you saw that yourself with your own beautiful blue eye, did you not? We’ve done a lot of things to this lady. And if she ever wakes up, we’ll do a whole lot more. But one thing we won’t do is sneak into her room in the night like a filthy rat and kill her in her sleep. And the reason we won’t do that thing is because … that thing would lower us. Don’t you agree, Miss Driver?
Honor among thieves raises its head again. Slicing people’s heads off is one thing, but killing them in their sleep would “lower” them. The rules and rationalizations that bad, violent people make for themselves is a fascinating theme — one that’s exploded in popularity with the TV antihero boom. But before Walter White, there was Quentin Tarantino.
The Bride: [in Japanese] Those of you lucky enough to have your lives, take them with you. However, leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now. [in English] Except you, Sofie! You stay right where you are!
“Leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now.” This is another phrase that you should try working into your daily routine. To the victor go the spoils … and the severed arms.
Budd: That woman, deserves her revenge and … we deserve to die. But then again, so does she. So, I guess we’ll just see. Won’t we?
Michael Madsen is far from the greatest actor in the Tarantino repertory company, but he’s got a knack for delivering — and usually underplaying — lines like this one. The moral landscape of the Kill Bill universe in a single sentence.
Bill: I suppose the traditional way to conclude this is we cross Hanzo swords. Well, it just so happens, this hacienda comes with its very own private beach. And this private beach just so happens to look particularly beautiful bathed in moonlight. And there just so happens to be a full moon out tonight. So, swordfighter, if you want to sword fight, that’s where I suggest. But if you wanna be old school about it — and you know I’m all about old school — then we can wait till dawn and slice each other up at sunrise, like a couple real-life, honest-to-goodness samurais.
Tarantino characters are always aware of the genres they inhabit. They know the tropes, and they usually aspire to live up to them. After all, if you’re living in a kung-fu flick, what else are you going to do? Bill gives The Bride the option of how they’re going to bring this movie to a climax. What he doesn’t know, of course, is there’s a third option. One that breaks from narrative convention. He who sees the plot twist coming last, dies first.
Stuntman Mike: Well, Pam… Which way you going, left or right?
Stuntman Mike: Oh, that’s too bad…
Stuntman Mike: Because it was a 50-50 shot on whether you’d be going left or right. You see we’re both going left. You could have just as easily been going left, too. And if that was the case … It would have been a while before you started getting scared. But since you’re going the other way, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to start getting scared … immediately!
To quote the great Jules Winnfield, that’s a cold-blooded thing to say to a motherfucker. Death Proof is a minor Tarantino film — it was presented as part of the Grindhouse double bill with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror — but it’s all the stronger for having low-key aspirations. Stuntman Mike is a great villain, and this is the line where he turns on the evil. There’s nothing less funny than explaining a joke, but somehow explaining why someone should be scared can make things a hell of a lot scarier.
Jungle Julia: [to Arlene] What about “kinda cute, kinda hot, kinda sexy, hysterically funny, but not funny-looking guy who you could fuck” did you not understand?
Should Quentin Tarantino make a rom-com? This line from Death Proof presupposes … maybe he should?
Col. Hans Landa: The feature that makes me such an effective hunter of the Jews is, as opposed to most German soldiers, I can think like a Jew, where they can only think like a German … more precisely, German soldier. Now, if one were to determine what attribute the German people share with a beast, it would be the cunning and the predatory instinct of a hawk. But if one were to determine what attributes the Jews share with a beast, it would be that of the rat. The Führer and Goebbels’ propaganda have said pretty much the same thing, but where our conclusions differ is I don’t consider the comparison an insult.
Christoph Waltz’s performance as the dastardly, brilliant Nazi Jew Hunter, Colonel Hans Landa, introduced a brand-new quality to the Tarantino-verse. The man had written many a brilliant thinker and oodles of type-on badass mofos, but none of them had the breezy, aristocratic air that Waltz so devilishly embodied. Pulp Fiction is the canonized choice for Tarantino’s best film, but Inglorious Basterd’s reputation seems to grow with every passing year. The movie is filled with utterly exquisite scenes like this one, in which Landa slowly unravels the mind of the French farmer hiding Shosanna and his family beneath his floorboards. Tarantino’s always had the gift of (writing) gab, but in Inglourious Basterds, he took his skills as a dramatist to the next level.
Lt. Aldo Raine: But I got a word of warning for all you would-be warriors. When you join my command, you take on debit. A debit you owe me personally. Each and every man under my command owes me 100 Nazi scalps. And I want my scalps. And all y’all will git me 100 Nazi scalps, taken from the heads of 100 dead Nazis. Or you will die tryin’.
Inglourious Basterds kicked off the latter-day phase of Tarantino’s directorial career. After three Los Angeles-set crime stories, Tarantino had followed his love for schlock genre fare down the rabbit hole and emerged with a two-part, kung-fu epic. So what was next? The answer, in retrospect, seems obvious. Tarantino loves film and film history, so diving into the films and historical events of yesteryear makes for a perfect match. His next three movies: Basterds, Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight concern WWII, slavery, and the Civil War, respectively — albeit, each does so in violent, foul-mouthed fashion. Tarantino has never been one to tread lightly, and the phrase “100 Nazi scalps” captures his intentions here perfectly.
Lt. Aldo Raine: Yeah, in a basement. You know, fightin’ in a basement offers a lot of difficulties. Number one being, you’re fightin’ in a basement!
Just a perfectly executed piece of sass. Brad Pitt has always been at his best when operating in full character actor mode — see 12 Monkeys and Burn After Reading — and Lt. Aldo Raine gives him the chance to deploy his considerable comedic skill set towards a leading man-type part. His later delivery of the line “Grazi” might be the single funniest joke in any Tarantino film.
Lt. Aldo Raine: Actually, Werner, we’re all tickled to hear you say that. Quite frankly, watchin’ Donny beat Nazis to death is the closest we ever get to goin’ to the movies. Donny! We got a German here who wants to die for his country! Oblige him!
Tarantino is not here for any of your “The Greatest Generation” pap. The WWII of Inglourious Basterds is the same as any other war: A bunch of blood-thirsty men (and women) on both sides trying to kill as many enemies as they can — all while having a damn-fine time of it. Tarantino loves going to the movies, so for Aldo Raine to levy that comparison, you know he must be enjoying it. Dying for your country doesn’t mean a damn thing, here. It’s just sport.
Lt. Archie Hicox: [In English] Well, if this is it, old boy, I hope you don’t mind if I go out speaking the King’s.
Major Dieter Hellstrom: [In English] By all means, Captain.
Lt. Archie Hicox: [picks up his glass of scotch] There’s a special rung in hell reserved for people who waste good scotch. Seeing as how I may be rapping on the door momentarily … [drinks his scotch] I must say, damn good stuff, Sir.
If you walked out of Inglourious Basterds wondering who the hell that hot British guy was, then Congratulations: You were one of the millions of people who had just discovered Michael Fassbender. But aside from Fassbender’s performance as Lt. Archie Hicox — which is stellar — this line marks the near-culmination of a pretty much perfect scene.
As Hicox and co. wait for the contact in a cramped basement bar and try to evade notice by an unexpected group of German soldiers, Tarantino takes his knack for chatter and weaponizes it into a ticking time bomb of dread. Once the jig is up, Hicox doesn’t flinch. He’s all stiff upper lip. And these closing lines give him the fitting send-off that he deserves.
Col. Hans Landa: Oooh, that’s a bingo! Is that the way you say it? “That’s a bingo?”
Christoph Waltz won an Oscar for his performance as Hans Landa (and a second Oscar for Django Unchained), and the way he delivers lines like this is the reason why. His giddy delight at being able to employ this turn of phrase — in the midst of betraying the Nazi party and negotiating a swift end to the war — is both chilling and quite funny.
Col. Hans Landa: You’ll be shot for this!
Lt. Aldo Raine: Nah, I don’t think so. More like chewed out. I’ve been chewed out before.
This line is delivered with the utter confidence of someone who has been chewed out many times before — and who has never once given it a second thought.
Django: [to Big John Brittle] I like the way you die, boy.
Ladies and gentlemen, Django Unchained. Tarantino mashes up revenge plots, westerns, blaxploitation, and the history of US slavery into this brutal, witty, wildly un-PC take of Django (Jaime Foxx), a freed slave trying to free his wife from the clutches of Leonardo DiCaprio’s demonic Calvin Candie. Django was released in 2012 and became Tarantino’s highest-grossing film with a $425 million global haul.
For a movie this violent and this willing to stew in the vicissitudes of American racism, that’s pretty wild. From the perspective of 2019 — with non-franchise films scrapping over an increasingly meager slice of the box office pie — it seems almost impossible. But it happened. The joy that both Tarantino and Foxx take in painting Django’s vengeance in bold, red strokes across the screen can be boiled down to this single line.
Dr. King Schultz: Mister Candie, normally I would say, “Auf wiedersehen,” but since what “auf wiedersehen” actually means is “’till I see you again,” and since I never wish to see you again, to you, sir, I say goodbye!
Waltz won his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar for portraying Django’s owner, a German dentist-turned bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz. He’s the man who frees Django and teaches him the bounty hunting trade, accompanying him to Candie’s hellish plantation in order to “purchase” Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).
Schultz is the complete inversion of Hans Landa: Just as witty, just as capable, just as eerily polite, but deploying his talents on the side of the angels. This line summarizes Schultz’s relationship with pretty much every other white character he encounters. He knows he’s better than them, and he’s not afraid to let them know that he knows — a quality that eventually proves his undoing.
Django: [after destroying the Candie plantation, approaches Broomhilda] Hey, little troublemaker.
Broomhilda: Hey, big troublemaker.
Once again: I have no idea know what a Tarantino romantic comedy would actually look like, but lines like this make me think we should roll the dice.
John ”The Hangman” Ruth: You only need to hang mean bastards, but mean bastards you need to hang!
The Hateful Eight is a hard film. It takes all of Tarantino’s more hard-edged qualities — the excessive violence, the prolific cussing, the easy use of racial slurs, and the cynical motivations — and distills them down to a single, effluent nugget of inhumanity. It’s a masterful piece of cinema — from the script, the performances, cinematography, production design, and pretty much any other element you can think of — but it’s not a pleasant watch. And it’s that way on purpose. Tarantino uses the story of eight strangers holed up in a remote, snowbound tavern to explore the uglier parts of the American soul.
Several of the characters are veterans of the Civil War — veterans of both sides — and the conflict looms large over the proceedings. Even the film’s optimistic ending is framed in the least optimistic terms possible. It’s The Thing but without any aliens to blame. Tarantino even cast Kurt Russell as John “The Hangman” Ruth to make the parallels even clearer. The word that stands out in Ruth’s motto is “need.” In this world, hanging mean bastards isn’t an option. It’s a necessity.
John ”The Hangman” Ruth: [after hitting Daisy in the stagecoach] Now, Daisy, I want us to work out a signal system of communication. When I elbow you real hard in the face, that means “shut up!”
The only thing that makes this moment not entirely cringe worthy is the absolutely unhinged performance that Jennifer Jason Leigh gives as Ruth’s charge, Daisy Domergue. Of all the mean bastards in the film, she’s by far the meanest. Ruth’s line is funny, no doubt, but him elbowing her in the face still doesn’t sit easy, which is just as Tarantino intends it. The elegance of this line and gray-area morality it evokes is The Hateful Eight, through and through.
John ”The Hangman” Ruth: Yeah, Warren, that’s the problem with old men. You can kick ’em down the stairs and say it’s a accident, but you can’t just shoot ’em.
In the context of The Hateful Eight, this line is very funny.
Major Marquis Warren: I’m supposed to apologize for killin’ Johnny Reb? You joined the war to keep niggers in chains. I joined the war to kill white Southern crackers. And that means killing ’em in any way I can! Shoot ’em, stab ’em, drown ’em, burn ’em, throw a big ‘ol rock on their heads! Whatever it took to keep white Southern crackers in the ground, that’s what I joined the war to do and that’s what I did!
Major Marquis Warren is the culmination of a two-decade-long partnership between Tarantino and Jackson. He’s the moral center of an immoral film, the closest thing there is to a hero in a world populated entirely with villains. He’s wily, ornery, and one hell of a badass. And if there’s one thing that Major Marquis Warren loves above all else, it’s killing racist sons of bitches. It’s a hobby that goes far beyond the War, as evidenced by the clever coup-de-grace he inflicts on Bruce Dern’s Confederate General Sandy Smithers as the climax of the film’s first act. For such an innocuous group of words, Jackson lands “and that’s what I did” with all the weight of The Gettysburg Address.
Oswaldo Mobray: John Ruth wants to take you back to Red Rock to stand trial for murder. And, if … you’re found guilty, the people of Red Rock will hang you in the town square. And as the hangman, I will perform the execution. And if all those things end up taking place, that’s what civilized society calls “justice.” However, 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 drug you out in the snow and hung you up by the neck, that, we would be frontier justice.
Now the good part about frontier justice is it’s very thirst quenching. The bad part is it’s apt to wrong as right! But ultimately what’s the real difference between the two? The real difference is me, the hangman. To me, it doesn’t matter what you did. When I hang you, I will get no satisfaction from your death; it’s my job! I hang you in Red Rock, I move on to the next town, I hang someone else there. The man who pulls the lever that breaks your neck will be a dispassionate man. And that dispassion is the very essence of justice. For justice delivered without dispassion is always in danger of not being justice.
The Wild West isn’t all that dissimilar from the criminal underworlds that populate Tarantino’s earlier films. In the absence of true law, citizens and vagabonds alike must create their own codes of honor to live by. As Mobray lays out in this speech, there is something crucial to the administration of real justice as opposed to simple revenge. The ends may be the same, but the means of dispatch make all the difference.
Sheriff Chris Mannix: Hey. Can I see that Lincoln letter?
[Warren reaches in his pocket and takes out a bloodied piece of paper; he hands it over to Mannix]
Sheriff Chris Mannix: “Dear Marquis, I hope this letter finds you in good health and stead. I’m doing fine, although I wish there were more hours in the day. It’s just so much to do. Time is changing slowly but surely and it’s men like you will make a difference. Your military success is a credit not only to you but to your race as well.
I’m very proud every time I hear news of you. We still have a long way to go but hand in hand, I know we’ll get there. I just want to let you know you’re in my thoughts. Hopefully our paths will cross in the future. Until then I remain your friend. ‘Ole Mary Todd is calling, so I guess it must be time for bed. Respectfully, Abraham Lincoln…”
Sheriff Chris Mannix: “‘Ole Mary Todd…”
Sheriff Chris Mannix: That’s a nice touch.
Major Marquis Warren: [chuckles] Thanks.
The only relationship in The Hateful Eight that’s genuinely affectionate is between Daisy and her brother, Jody (Channing Tatum). Everyone else is some degree of respectful colleague, uneasy ally, or total enemy. As Civil War veterans from opposing sides of the conflict, Major Marquis Warren and Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) fall into the latter. But once Warren determines that Mannix is — funnily enough — the only person in the cabin who he knows isn’t in league with Domergue, the two have each other’s backs.
It doesn’t work out great for them, but it works out much worse for everyone else. As the two men lie dying, Mannix asks that Warren read his fake letter from Abraham Lincoln, the one that Warren uses to put white people at ease and that Mannix threw out of their wagon in disgust earlier in the film. As Mannix reads the letter aloud, the two share a final moment of fleeting but hard-won camaraderie. It’s not honor among thieves, but it’s something a little deeper. It’s a kind of love. Tarantino, that mean bastard, has done it again.