Inglourious Basterds was a massive turning point in director Quentin Tarantino’s career. It launched his revisionist history trilogy, which flipped the script on World War II, American slavery, and the murder of actress Sharon Tate at the hands of Charles Manson’s cult members. 

Tarantino is known for unforgettable dialogue in which ordinary conversations become extraordinary and tensions subtly rise to a climax with words alone. Inglourious Basterds has some of the most intense and powerful stretches of dialogue in cinema and we can transform future screenplays for the better by analyzing its example. Let’s continue the conversation… 

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Quentin Tarantino Directing Style - Headshot

WHO WROTE Inglourious Basterds SCRIPT?

Written by Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Jerome Tarantino was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1963. His love for cinema began in childhood. One of his earliest memories is of his grandmother taking him to see a John Wayne movie. He began his Hollywood career in 1992 with the film Reservoir Dogs, which he both wrote and directed. Two years later, he achieved commercial and critical success with his Oscar-winning second film, Pulp Fiction. After his 1970s-inspired Martial Arts revenge film duo, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 (2003/04), Tarantino established a clear legacy—hitting Hollywood home run just about every time he sat in the director’s chair. He created his own niche genre with his aptitude for non-linear storytelling, fabulous ensemble casts, memorable soundtracks, pop culture homages, mesmerizing dialogue, and fetishized violence. 

STORY BREAKDOWN

STRUCTURE OF Inglourious Basterds SCREENPLAY

Here is the story structure for Inglourious Basterds screenplay:

Exposition

We open on a deceptively idyllic farm scene in the French countryside. A farmer and his daughters are going about their work when a train of Nazi vehicles approaches their home. The superimposition, “Once Upon a Time… in Nazi-occupied France,” is all we need to know. 

Inciting Incident

Col. Hans Landa, leading the train of Nazis, sits down with Farmer LaPadite. They have an intense conversation, which reveals that LaPadite has been sheltering Jews in his home. Col. Landa opens fire on the floorboards of the farmers kitchen and kills an entire family, except for one person, 16 year-old Shoshanna. 

Plot Point One

We are introduced to Lt. Aldo Raine and his team of American soldiers on a mission to kill every Nazi they find...and scalp them as well. We intercut between Hitler hearing of this gang from a German soldier they allowed to live—but not before carving a swastika in his forehead. With this foreboding news delivered, Hitler knows this unorthodox gang is coming for him. 

Rising Action

Shoshanna is now older and masquerading as French cinema owner. When she is approached by one of Germany’s biggest propaganda film stars, she also catches the attention of Germany’s most infamous filmmaker, Joseph Goebbels. They screen a film at her cinema and decide to have a German film night there. This presents Shoshanna with an opportunity for revenge served on a silver platter. She decides to burn down the cinema on “Nazi night.” 

Midpoint

We are presented with “Operation Kino.” Shoshanna’s movie night unknowingly will be crashed by Aldo and his gang and a British Lieutenant, Hicox. They have the same goal as Shoshannah, but don’t know it. Hicox meets with Churchill to discuss meeting Bridget Von Hammersmark—Germany’s famous actress who has been working with the Allies for some time and came up with the operation to take down Germany’s most powerful inside the cinema. 

Plot Point Two

The night of the rendezvous arrives. However, the plan to meet in a place with no Germans fails—the place is full of them! The cover for Lt. Hicox and his team members is blown, losing everyone but Bridget in a shootout. 

Build Up

Bridget, Aldo, and what’s left of his meager gang, break into a veterinarian office to take care of her gunshot wound. From there, they concoct an alternative plan to revive Operation Kino and fulfill the mission. 

Climax

Within minutes of arriving at the premiere, Hans Landa reveals he knows Bridget’s treachery and strangles her to death in Shoshanna’s office. Aldo and his man, Utivich, are taken by Hans into a truck and away from the premiere. Hans plays an unexpected hand when he offers to surrender (with promises of immunity and American comforts) and devises a story in which he was helping Operation Kino all along.

Finale

Shoshanna’s plan is almost thwarted by Frederick Zoller, the star smitten with her. They have a tussle and Frederick shoots her several times. With her last available action, she sends her message to Germany and Marcel burns the theater down. Aldo’s remaining men add their own explosives to the mix and everyone, including Hitler himself, perishes. 

Inglourious Basterds Script Takeaway #1

Inglourious Basterds Quotes

Tarantino’s most powerful skill is his aptitude for dialogue. It can either be a simple conversation that seems to have nothing to do with the scene, yet is full of subtext (Pulp Fiction is full of such scenes), or it can be lengthy interchanges and speeches that absolutely bleed with poetry and wit and build tremendous tension. The exchange between Farmer LaPadite and Hans Landa in the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds keeps viewers in their seats, digging nails into the arm rests, from the very first moments of the film. We brought the Inglourious Basterds script into StudioBinder's screenwriting software so we could take a closer look at this scene...

Hans Landa Introduction  •  Read Full Scene

Prior to this page, Hans Landa has brought himself into the farmer’s home, drank one glass of milk and asked for a second, and asked that they switch their conversation to English. By doing these things, both the farmer and the audience are put on edge. It is very similar to a colonization—entering without giving much choice, enjoying the resources of the land, and encouraging the people to speak a language that the colonizer is comfortable with. 

Additionally, the conversation itself puts the farmer in the hot seat. Hans Landa asks questions and holds onto them until he has an answer, but he does so in such a cool and dry demeanor that one wouldn’t even know that they’ve been had until the conversation is over. In the farmer’s case, Hans Landa got him to do everything he wanted to do just by saying the right words in the right way. By the time the farmer realized what was going to happen next, the fate was inescapable. 

Inglourious Basterds  Script Takeaway #2

The Characters of Inglourious Basterds

There is a large, brilliant cast in Inglourious Basterds. While having too many characters is often subject to the judgement of not developing them enough or having a messy plot, it is truly all in the power of the writer. 

This film loses almost all of its characters by the end. It has an unforgettable villain (Hans Landa) and of course Brad Pitt lends some star power. All the characters in this film are interesting, despite most of them not having much in the way of screentime. In the span of a few pages at a time, Tarantino has a way of making the audience intrigued by every single character. He superbly demonstrates his ability to do this in the basement tavern scene, where we meet some people for the first and last time. 

Tavern Scene  •  Read Full Scene

This scene is so claustrophobic that there is no choice but to watch and listen to everyone therein. As the audience does so, they become immersed, as if they themselves are in disguise trying to execute this terrifying plan. The only way to survive, is to make light of the situation on the surface. Tarantino’s repeated “Chuckle. . . chuckle.” command in the action portions of the script helps both the reader and the cast perceive and execute the awkward tension. 

Inglourious Basterds tavern scene

This scene simmers before coming to a sudden boil. It is clear even before the moment Operation Kino blows their cover that no escape from this basement is impossible. Each character in the operation (apart from Bridget, of course) dies bravely, defending the operation to the last. 

Inglourious Basterds Script Takeaway #3

Inglourious Basterds - The Ending

The entirety of this film is pretty bleak, though dressed with dark humour throughout. The ending is sad for a couple of reasons. The first being that almost every character we were following is dead, and killed just at the moment that we, the audience, really wanted to get to know them more. It subverts our expectations, which is inventive storytelling, but it also leaves us in a somber state. 

The second reason is that we all know this is not how it happened. As satisfying as it may be to see revenge enacted upon Hitler and his inner circle by a Jewish woman who used their own self-love and propaganda against them, we know it is not the truth. The lack of reality actually points us to reality and encourages us to think about it. 

However, this film also continues its thread of dark humour in the last moments—leaving the audience with a bit of a chuckle and some semblance of hope that the heinous events of World War II and its Holocaust would never be repeated again… 

Ending  •  Read Full Scene

Hans Landa is smart and sharp as a tack, while Lt. Aldo has been painted as not the brightest, but good at all the dirty work. This scene rotates the position of power between the characters by putting Landa in a vulnerable position—handcuffed and devoid of any and all supportive figures. 

Inglourious Basterds Ending and Credits

When Aldo carves an eternal swastika in Hans’ forehead, it actually makes him a prisoner for life.  Even if he is protected by the United States, he will never be able to run away from what he is and what he’s done. Aldo’s “masterpiece” is the beginning of justice. 

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