There’s a startling moral symmetry in the new Quentin Tarantino movie about Nazis. In “Inglourious Basterds,” a group of Nazi-era Germans cheers the brutal deaths of Allied soldiers as they get gunned down one by one. As a viewer, you think, “I hate Nazis.”
But the film also includes scenes where Allieds gun down Nazis one by one. As a viewer, you want to cheer Nazi deaths, because Nazi Germany performed evil. But if you applaud the intense killing of people, even Nazis, does that make you similarly bloodthirsty by proxy?
Tarantino clearly is asking you that question, and I think about that question whenever I gleefully kill 60 Nazis per hour in the new World War II game “Wolfenstein,” which plays as a sort of unofficial and unrelated companion piece to the movie.
You play as B.J. Blazkowicz, an Allied soldier. Your mission is to kill in two methods. First, in a “Call of Duty”-esque manner, you shoot Nazis with machine guns, sniper rifles and hand grenades.
Second, you push a button on a magical medallion to slip into a fourth dimension to see Nazis better and vaporize them with plasma-type guns.
The magic you wield is called Black Sun. The Nazis are trying to harness that magical Black Sun to rule the world. Can you stop them?
As a shooting game, “Wolfenstein” is very good, featuring great guns that fire in excellently mapped-out alleys, buildings and caves of a fictional European town of Isenstadt. The story is good enough. Online, you play eight battle maps in team death match, team objective, and speed-team objective.
But here are two other parallels between “Inglourious Basterds” and “Wolfenstein.”
1) Both the game and the movie exist in alternative history. In “Basterds,” a group of Jewish soldiers plus a Jewish woman set out to destroy Nazis all by themselves in major, consequential differences from actual history. In “Wolfenstein,” the war swings on your efforts to stop supernatural Nazis.
2) Both the game and the movie seem to put the power of resistance in the hands of fictional Jewish characters, a thread that weaves a fantasy revenge dreamscape in which Jews are superheroes who save themselves and are poised to end the war by themselves.
Here’s where I point out “Wolfenstein’s” hero, B.J. Blazkowicz, is Polish and isn’t explicitly described as Jewish, but it’s feasibly assumed. The game’s last name ends in “stein,” and the Web site JewOrNotJew.com ponders his background positively, concluding of B.J., “Verdict: Barely a Jew.”
These aren’t by any means the first fictional forays characterizing supernatural Nazis and Jewish World War II heroes. For one thing, consider “Raiders of the Lost Arc,” with its vaporized Nazis who went looking for Jesus’ drinking cup — a movie directed by Jewish Steven Spielberg.
Games such as “Wolfenstein” don’t pose the same moral question Tarantino does. We are meant to kill inglorious Nazis without equivocation.
I believe Tarantino’s point is to get us to think deeper about such interactions with violent art. He wants us to view ourselves objectively, as if we were on the outside looking inward, because even virtual killings of Nazis should not stir in a vacuum devoid of moral or emotional self-realization.
(“Wolfenstein” by Activision retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $50 for PC — Plays quite fun. Looks very good. Rated “M” for blood, gore, intense violence and language. Three and one-half stars out of four.)
Contact Doug Elfman at 383-0391 or e-mail him at email@example.com. He also blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.