From Reservoir Dogs to Django Unchained, we link QT's world together.
by Ali Gray JANUARY 17, 2013
"From Reservoir Dogs to Django Unchained, via Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds, we link QT's world."
Some directors are so unique, you can flip to one of their films out of the blue and instinctively know who made it. Sometimes it's down to distinctive dialogue; other times it's visual flair you identify; and if Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are starring, there are no prizes for guessing you're watching a Tim Burton movie. Quentin Tarantino, however, has spent the 20 years between Reservoir Dogs and Django Unchained crafting an intricate, instantly recognisable movie universe – one which boasts a family tree of miscreants that overlap between movies in weird and wonderful ways.
These connections – however subtle they may be – bear little effect on the plots of Tarantino's movies. Instead, they're like Easter Eggs that reward observant onlookers: in-jokes that might mean nothing to us, but mean the world to their creator. They say a good tactic in screenwriting is to imagine a back story for everyone, including the incidental characters. You suspect Quentin Tarantino could easily write a two-part epic for even his most ancillary players.
Let's start with an obvious one. Did you know, for example, that Reservoir Dogs' Mr. Blonde and Pulp Fiction's Vincent Vega are related? True fact: Michael Madsen's ear-slicing psycho (real name: Vic) and John Travolta's ponytailed hitman are brothers. Tarantino had intended to write The Vega Brothers as a standalone prequel, until the actors' advancing years put paid to that (Vincent's death at the hands of an errant pop tart meant any further additions to his story would have to take place pre-Pulp Fiction, and sadly Travolta is no spring chicken these days).
Then there's the offhand admission in Reservoir Dogs that Mr White (Harvey Keitel) counted a chick named "Alabama" as a former partner – the same Alabama as played by Patricia Arquette in the Tarantino-scripted True Romance. It's also fairly safe to assume that the Detective Jack Scagnetti in Quentin's script for Natural Born Killers is related to the parole officer, Seymour Scagnetti, mentioned by Mr Blonde in Dogs. Even in his early work, Tarantino was building his own giant playground, in which not only his individual movies co-exist, but their characters' paths cross and intersect behind the scenes.
In fact, we should give Tarantino more credit than that: he's created two universes in one. Quentin has confirmed that From Dusk Till Dawn (which he co-wrote) and Kill Bill are "Movie movies" i.e. they're films that the characters from his /other/ films enjoy. For instance, in the little-seen, Tarantino-produced drama Curdled, a character is seen watching the Gecko brothers from FDTD on TV. This goes some way to explaining their cartoonish violence and supernatural elements; it's also why no one in Reservoir Dogs lives in fear of a vampire attack. The rest of Tarantino's films exist in the 'Realer Than Real' universe, which is marginally less ludicrous but nonetheless abides by the rules of our world. Brands like Red Apple Cigarettes and Big Kahuna Burger might exist in both universes, but characters can't cross between them.
This information leads you down all sorts of exciting paths. Is it feasible that, having watched Kill Bill and marvelled at The Bride's expert swordsmanship, Pulp Fiction's Butch Coolidge had his eye drawn to the samurai blade in that ill-fated pawn shop? Even more out there: can it be mere coincidence that Mia Wallace's description of her failed TV pilot, Fox Force Five, sounds so much like the plot of Kill Bill? Is it Uma Thurman playing The Bride, or Mia Wallace?
Hang on a minute. Maybe you noticed Michael Parks' lawman drawling his way through From Dusk Till Dawn, Kill Bill /and/ Death Proof? That's Sheriff Earl McGraw, and he's an exception to the rule. Tarantino considers him a crossover character, capable of existing in both the 'Movie Movie' universe and the 'Realer Than Real' universe. Why? Just to be difficult, we imagine. Tarantino also considers Harvey Keitel's fixer 'The Wolf' a crossover character (despite the fact his only appearance is in Pulp Fiction), so don't be surprised if he turns up as the villain in Kill Bill Vol. 3 in the year 2024. We're through the looking glass here, people.
Even Tarantino's period characters breathe the same oxygen as his modern heroes, thanks to some clever family connections. Eli Roth played the fearsome 'Bear Jew' in WWII romp Inglourious Basterds, but his character's real name, Donnie Donowitz, revealed him to be the eventual father of True Romance's coke-guzzling movie producer Lee Donowitz (Saul Rubinek) in the modern day gangster thriller.
You think that's cool? Hold onto your hats and let's dive down the rabbit hole.
There is a theory – unsubstantiated by Tarantino, we have to confess – relating to the finale of Inglourious Basterds that may well blow your mind. It posits that the film's alternative ending to World War II – in which Hitler is gunned down in a bloody massacre in a movie theatre – had a knock-on effect to every other resulting movie in Tarantino's oeuvre. Because The Fuhrer met his demise in a cinema, modern society embraced pop culture more willingly, lending it huge importance. Naturally, given Adolf's messy and public end, everyone slowly became completely desensitized to violence. And wouldn't it make sense that the son of the soldier who killed Hitler in a movie hall would become a prominent figure in Hollywood?
It's a stretch, we'll admit. But we reckon even if Tarantino didn't intend this interpretation, he'd be a fool not to pretend he did.
So, where does Django Unchained slot into the Tarantinoverse? There's no obvious connection, although the director admitted at least year's Comic-Con that a "minor character" has roots in the movie. (Internet chatter suggests that a guy who yells "Ain't nobody gonna kill Maynard!" could be a descendant of the Pulp Fiction pawn shop owner of the same name). However, in a break from his own universe, Tarantino also revealed that the surname of slave girl Broomhilda is 'Von Shaft', making legendary African-American badass John Shaft a direct descendent. Says the director: "They're the great, great, great grandparents of Shut Yo Mouth!"
You have to love the way the man's brain works.