In any other time in the 20th century, they could have been in love. Except for that one time.
—Quentin Tarantino 3
Zoller and Shoshanna: WWII Star-Crossed Lovers
When someone chooses to watch the WWII movie Inglorious Basterds, the last plot line the viewer plans to enjoy is a love story similar to Romeo and Juliet. Shoshanna is a runaway Jew who has changed her name to Emmanuelle Mimieux. She was able to escape with her own life when Nazis murdered her family. During Tarantino’s film, she finds herself the owner of a cinema in Paris. Fredrick is a Nazi war hero who is interested in film and finds a liking to Shoshanna. In both Inglorious Basterds and Romeo and Juliet, these star-crossed lovers and characters can never be together because of their backgrounds, and when their lives are ending together, similar moments of grace occur.
Even from the initial meeting outside of Shoshanna’s theater, it was clear these WWII star-crossed lovers could never end up together. Shoshanna is changing out letters for the next film to be shown when Zoller appears below her feet. He tries his hardest to begin a conversation with this French woman on the ladder.
Zoller and Shoshanna briefly speak about cinema and directors while Shoshanna seems irritated talking to this Nazi. Fredrick picks up on the slight attitude and sets out to prove not all Germans are bad. He points out how Shoshanna displays German directors’ names above her theater. Without delay, Shoshanna fires back, “I’m French. We respect directors in our country. Even Germans.” 2 Fredrick Zoller is more than polite during the entire interaction and says, “Well, it has been a pleasure chatting with a fellow cinema lover.” 2
This initial interaction between German and Jew shows how Fredrick and Shoshanna share a common appreciation of filmmakers. If their lives were to intertwine at some other time and place, it seems quite possible these cinema lovers could happily discuss film together. Fredrick’s uniform is such a deterrent to Shoshanna that even the two’s similar interests cannot form a friendship. Besides the fact Shoshanna has no interest in a German Nazi, she also already has her own secret lover, Marcel. Marcel is the black man who works at the cinema with Shoshanna. He helps to change the projection reels and is loyal to Shoshanna with her plan to burn down the theater at the Nazi premier.
Even though Shoshanna has a rude interaction with Fredrick outside the cinema, Fredrick is thrilled to see Shoshanna eating inside a café. He knocks on the window to greet Shoshanna with a friendly gesture.
Immediately at the beginning of this encounter, Shoshanna states, “I want you to stop pestering me. I don’t want to be your friend.” 2 A few Germans excitedly greet Fredrick soon after these words. Through the words between Fredrick and the fellow Germans, Shoshanna learns he is a Nazi war hero known by many other soldiers. She bitterly replies, “Maybe they’ll make a film about your exploits.” 2 The information of Fredrick killing around 200 people only causes Shoshanna to dislike him more. His Nazi uniform continues to form a barrier between the two’s possible friendship. Shoshanna exists the café refusing to spend any more time with this Nazi soldier.
Despite Shoshanna rebuking Fredrick in every interaction with each other, he changes his film premier to occur at her cinema.
Romeo and Juliet could never be together just like Fredrick and Shoshanna. Romeo and Juliet belonged to the Montague and Capulet families, who had been feuding for years. This play was set during fragmented Italy when it was not rare to find noble families fighting. Inglorious Basterds is set during World War II when the Germans are murdering Jewish people living throughout Europe. Fredrick is a Private in the Nazi army performing the massive Holocaust against the Jews, and Shoshanna is one of those Jews. If the war had not been occurring at that time when Fredrick and Shoshanna met, it is quite possible they may have ended up together.
During the Holocaust, the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor had just recently been passed. This legislation was “to prohibit interracial marriage or sexual relations” between Jewish, Aryan and mixed, or “mongrel,” people. 4 Shoshanna, a Jew, and Fredrick, a German, could never be together because of their ethnicities and family backgrounds. Romeo and Juliet’s situation is identical because if they were born into the non-feuding families, they could have fallen in love also. While these star-crossed lovers are from different centuries, both their situations lead the lovers to ultimately “violent ends.”1
The climax of the love story between Shoshanna and Fredrick comes at the movie premier of Nation’s Pride. When Shoshanna already has the fourth and final movie on its reel, Fredrick comes to knock on the door. She cannot have him there when her film comes on or her plan will be ruined to burn all of the Nazis. Fredrick happily says, “I came to visit you.” 2
Shoshanna rudely replies, “No… you can’t be here! Now go away!” 2
When Shoshanna refuses, Zoller busts inside the door saying, “I’m not a man you say ‘go away’ to!” 2
Fredrick yells at Shoshanna, “You discredit me at your peril!” 2 She realizes what must be done to complete her mission at the theater; she must kill Zoller. Shoshanna tells Fredrick to “Lock the door,” 2 and he is shocked at her 180-degree turn. His back is faced towards her while he walks to the door; Shoshanna shoots his back three times.
Tarantino dramatizes this moment by having Shoshanna watch Fredrick’s film before Shoshanna walks to go see if Fredrick is dead.
When Shoshanna kneels to touch Fredrick, he shoots Shoshanna as she flies backward with his shots. The two are facing opposite directions with music playing as the camera shows viewers these dead characters for the last time.
Many moments in this final romance scene of Inglorious Basterds can explain the feelings Shoshanna harbors towards Fredrick. When Fredrick is trying to enter the projection room, Shoshanna shares, “This is your premier. You need to be out there with them.” 2 This comment shows her true thoughts about Fredrick. It does not matter how kind, friendly, or handsome Zoller may be; he will always be one of them who killed her family. Even when Fredrick shares that he doesn’t enjoy watching his military exploits, it does not soften Shoshanna’s heart. When he decides to leave watching the film from his box, it is apparent how much he does not enjoy the film.
As a viewer of Inglorious Basterds, the idea of Zoller not wanting to watch his film shows he is human. Fredrick is not a heartless man who enjoys killing people; he wants to be friends and have relationships with people such as Shoshanna.
Flannery O’Connor, a distinguished writer, shares “There is a moment in every great story in which the presence of grace can be felt as it waits to be accepted or rejected, even though the reader may not recognize this moment.” The moment of grace in this film begins once Shoshanna has shot Fredrick. Music begins to play on the movie to cue viewers to take notice. Shoshanna has just murdered one man in order to complete her destruction of the Nazis as a whole. Why does she feel the need to go check on this one man? Tarantino explains, “Because there was something about Zoller. He really liked her. Everything Zoller did that ended up fucking her up and putting her in this situation, he did with good intentions. His biggest crime was liking her. I think of that scene as a romantic scene. It’s Romeo and Juliet.” 3 Tarantino imagined these two characters as Romeo and Juliet, so it easy for viewers to see the similarities.
Romeo and Juliet’s ending is mirrored in the ending of Inglorious Basterds. Juliet fakes her death, and Romeo comes to find Juliet, who has drank the sleep serum to appear dead. Romeo kisses Juliet, drinks his poison, and kisses Juliet once more before dying. Juliet awakes to find Romeo dead, kisses him, and then stabs herself with a dagger. Moments of grace in the play Romeo and Juliet occur with Romeo’s kiss on Juliet and vice versa. Yes, Inglorious Basterds has the characters murdering one another and not kissing, but that is to show the two could never be together despite their similarities. The hatred from Shoshanna towards the Nazis ran too deep to even see possible love. When she realized Zoller was gone, she went to touch him knowing she had killed someone who never personally wronged her. The moment of grace in Inglorious Basterds is shown when Shoshanna leans to touch Zoller as an apology. In turn, as his last dying effort, Zoller shoots Shoshanna. Fredrick picks Shoshanna apart piece by piece with his gunfire, hitting her twice in the stomach and once in the thigh. The characters “in their triumph die, like fire and powder.” 1 Not only do Shoshanna and Fredrick complete their final goals of murdering one another, but these goals also occur with gunpowder set off by a spark of fire. As the famous Romeo and Juliet quote states, “These violent delights have violent ends… Which, as they kiss, consume.” 1 Tarantino specifically placed the gunfire instead of kisses in his film: “Those bullets? That’s them consummating their relationship.” 3
The most artistically brilliant frame in Inglorious Basterds is the camera view from above the two dead bodies. Tarantino has Shoshanna and Fredrick facing different directions; if one of their bodies is moved 180-degrees though, the WWII star-crossed lovers will be facing one another. This camera shot clearly illustrates Tarantino’s plan to have these characters resemble Romeo and Juliet.
An important fact to note is one major difference that exists in Tarantino’s final script and the actual production of the movie. When Zoller shoots Shoshanna, she does not die immediately in the script as seen in the film. Shoshanna must struggle to stand and perform a reel change on the projector to make sure her plan to murder all the Nazis is completed. Of course, this adds dramatic effect to the script, but it fails to have the moment of grace occur between the star-crossed lovers in the same way. The film has the characters murdering one right after the other to make viewers see their identical personal fates despite their differences.
The conclusions of these two love stories lead to similar fates for their surroundings. In Romeo and Juliet, the family feuding ends with the death of their children while similarly in Inglorious Basterds, the war is ended when the fire occurs and kills the Nazis. Tarantino brilliantly aligns the love story plot of Romeo and Juliet into his WWII movie of Inglorious Basterds surprising viewers with this intricate storyline.
1. Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Norton’s Anthology. Chicago: Hampton Publishers, 2004. 55-104. Print.
2. Inglorious Basterds. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. The Weinstein Company and Universal Studios, 2009. Film.
3. Guillen, Michael. “Inglorious Basterds—Q&A With Quentin Tarantino.” Twitch. 2009. Web. 17 Feb 2013. <http://twitchfilm.com/2009/08/inglourious-basterdsqa-with-quentin-tarantino.html>.
4. “Anti-Jewish Laws.” Alpha History. Web. 9 April 2013. <http://alphahistory.com/holocaust/anti-jewish-laws>.