How Quentin Tarantino Creates Suspense in His Favorite Scene, the Tension-Filled Opening Moments of Inglourious Basterds

We all have a favorite Quentin Taran­ti­no scene, but the direc­tor of Pulp Fic­tionKill BillThe Hate­ful Eight, and oth­er movies that can seem made out of noth­ing but mem­o­rable scenes also has one of his own. “My favorite thing I think I’ve ever writ­ten is the scene at the French farm­house at the begin­ning of Inglou­ri­ous Bas­ter­ds,” Busi­ness Insid­er quotes him as say­ing in a pan­el at San Diego Com­ic-Con. “The scene Taran­ti­no refers to is the very first one of his bru­tal World War II epic” where­in “SS Colonel Hans Lan­da (Christoph Waltz) arrives at a remote dairy farm in France that is sus­pect­ed of hid­ing Jew­ish peo­ple. Lan­da sits down with the farmer (Denis Meno­chet) and ques­tions him about the where­abouts of the Drey­fus fam­i­ly.” A “tense and sneaky psy­cho­log­i­cal mind game” ensues.

You can learn exact­ly what makes those open­ing twen­ty min­utes such a minia­ture mas­ter­piece in the Lessons from the Screen­play video above. Draw­ing from psy­cho­log­i­cal research on the nature of ten­sion and sus­pense, series cre­ator Michael Tuck­er high­lights cer­tain “key com­po­nents of ten­sion expe­ri­ences,” includ­ing uncer­tain­ty, insta­bil­i­ty, and a lack of con­trol, and shows how Taran­ti­no uses them to height­en the ten­sion as much as pos­si­ble through­out these sev­en­teen min­utes.

“It’s like the sus­pense is a rub­ber band,” Taran­ti­no says in a Char­lie Rose inter­view clip includ­ed in the video, “and I’m just stretch­ing it and stretch­ing it and stretch­ing it to see how far it can stretch.”

Taran­ti­no also uses a suite of tech­niques that movie­go­ers have come to asso­ciate specif­i­cal­ly with him, such as long stretch­es of dia­logue that go off on extend­ed tan­gents (“Part of my plan,” he says in anoth­er inter­view clip, “is to bury it in so much minu­tia about noth­ing that you don’t real­ize you’re being told an impor­tant plot point until it becomes impor­tant”), the charged con­sump­tion of food and drink, and the poten­tial for car­nage at any moment. “The fact that the audi­ence is aware they’re watch­ing a Taran­ti­no film adds to the sus­pense,” says Tuck­er. “We know there will be con­se­quences, and that Taran­ti­no has no qualms about show­ing vio­lence.” And after the tour de force of its open­ing, the movie still has well over two hours of pure Taran­tin­ian cin­e­ma to go.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Films of Quentin Taran­ti­no: Watch Video Essays on Pulp Fic­tion, Reser­voir Dogs, Kill Bill & More

Watch 34 of Quentin Tarantino’s Visu­al Ref­er­ences to Cit­i­zen Kane, Blade Run­ner, 8 1/2 & Oth­er Great Films

The Pow­er of Food in Quentin Tarantino’s Films

Decod­ing the Screen­plays of The Shin­ing, Moon­rise King­dom & The Dark Knight: Watch Lessons from the Screen­play

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Bill says:

    The prob­lem is once you have become famil­iar with Taran­ti­no’s meth­ods, all his scenes are drained of any sus­pense or ten­sion. You already know the polite dia­logue is mere­ly a pre­tense, a pre­lude to what he’s real­ly inter­est­ed in: the ensu­ing graph­ic car­nage. Taran­ti­no used to be an inter­est­ing direc­tor but now he’s become mired in the sala­cious blood­bath. I can still remem­ber, sit­ting in one of his movies, when the walls were sud­den­ly, explo­sive­ly spat­tered with blood and gore. The teenage boy, two rows in front of me, said “cool!” A future school shoot­er? God save us from the social­ly blind Taran­ti­no’s of this world.

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