Meet my friends. No, for real. This lot, and a bunch of others like them, aren’t just movie characters; they’re the touchstones of coolth. They’re life coaches, spoken-word poets, goofy icons of swagger and beacons of great (if not happy) endings.
Words meet paper, which meets film, which eventually gives us characters; but this lot, from the brain of Quentin Tarantino, are greater than the sum total of their parts. Tarantino had once said something to the effect of, if there’s a list of films better than those that have won Best Picture at Cannes, it’s a list of those that haven’t.
Quite similarly, if there’s a list of characters greater than a list of best Tarantino characters, it’s those that don’t make it to the list.
For imagine leaving out Shosanna, Vincent Vega, Bill, Aldo Raine, Django, Calvin Candie and the likes, in order to accommodate others. What’s great about the writing of Tarantino is that even tiny characters burn bright - like the child artist who teaches Leo’s Rick Dalton a thing or two about ‘acting’, or even the German soldier who dies a stoic death at the hands of the Bear Jew and the Basterds.
I won’t lie: I often lean on these people often for advice or for sanity. But honestly, you can just watch them in their respective films and leave it at that. Here, then, are my seven favourite Tarantino characters to date.
Number Seven: Larry aka Mr White (Reservoir Dogs)
“You shoot me in a dream, you better wake up and apologise…”
Every time I watch Reservoir Dogs, I’m amazed at what a stand-up guy Larry is. Sure, they’re in the middle of an unscrupulous activity, and the overall slide down south is the point of the film in the first place; but in the middle of it all, Larry still has… honour. The moniker Mr White isn’t that hard to explain. The other colours don’t have a patch on him.
In a crisis situation, who wouldn’t want to be the guy who slicks his hair back and takes a minute to breathe and gather his wits? Or the one to drop a movie reference even as he loses his shit at somebody else’s maniacal incompetence?
He’s a self-confessed Lee Marvin fan, Larry. You know, Lee Marvin of The Dirty Dozen. You know, that film where an American soldier leads a bunch of trigger-happy men to kill Nazis in Occupied France. Any bets on whether Larry would love a certain film that has, among others, a certain Lt. Aldo ‘The Apache’ Raine?
Number Six: Cliff Booth (Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood)
I must confess, I’ve only watched Tarantino’s ninth film twice, so putting Cliff Booth right up there among my favourite Quentin characters of all time may or may not be a matter of haste. But then, even in the Tarantino oeuvre, it would be hard to find a character that illustrates such unabashed cool; the kind that wouldn’t seem out of place in Arctic. (Yes, he’s that cool.)
Sure, he may or may not have intentionally murdered his wife, but over the course of the film, I think you can piece together what may or may not have happened on that boat with that harpoon.
Who wouldn’t want a solid, there-for-you sidekick like Cliff (even though he’s so handsome, you’d wonder who’s the star and who’s the sidekick.) What an irony that the ruggedly, effortlessly handsome Booth is but a body double, and he’s just nonchalantly okay with it. Why would he want it any other way when he can kick Bruce Lee’s ass when he wants, and has a dog that can carve up your nether regions at his slightest word?
You can’t quite tell if he’s preening or merely existing in those summery clothes and cool shades, but if you were, I don’t know, putting together a team, Booth is one guy you’d surely want in your corner.
Number Five: Colonel Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds)
“Facts can be so misleading, where rumours, true or false, are often revealing.”
Is there a character entry sequence in the Quentin Tarantino Cinematic Universe greater than the first chapter of Inglourious Basterds, when Col. Hans Landa drinks milk, smokes a pipe the size of his ego, and proceeds to slaughter innocent Jews like his paycheck and reputation depended on it? Go on, take your time. I’ll wait.
Hans Landa is the only outright evil person on this list, and even in a satirical take on history, glorifying a Nazi isn’t exactly the wisest move to make. But the thing about Hans Landa is that he does everything with elegant glee. Be it cutting into a strudel or into a person’s soul, or even when he’s trying to speak American, Landa is all about bringing a certain gravitas and wit to his acts, dastardly or not.
Being a follower of the Nazi ideology is bad enough; but it takes a special kind of twisted brain to actually be in it just for kicks, happy enough to drop the biggest, baddest losing side of all time like a hot potato for one’s own personal gain. It’s possible that in Tarantino-verse, Landa had the potential to be crueler than Hitler. Thankfully, Hans Landa gets his just deserts at the hands of Aldo The Apache; and thank god he’s fictional, because a more wicked man perhaps never existed.
Number Four: Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction)
“I was just sitting here, eating my muffin, drinking my coffee, when I had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity.”
Friend, philosopher, guide. Slam poet, burger enthusiast, destiny’s child. How exactly does one describe Jules Winnfield? Describe him like the inscription on his own wallet, perhaps? That Jules is a bad motherf$#%*@ is hardly a secret through the film, but it all makes sense when he asks for his wallet back from the gun-toting robbers Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. I mean, it was obviously going to be the one with ‘Bad Motherf$#%*@’ on it.
Truly, Jules speaking what’s on his mind is sheer performance art. Be it his biblical monologue of death, his Sprite-slurping verbal foreplay before getting down to business, or the way in which he ponders life and its meaning, Jules is the only other character on this list whose coolth is greater than or equal to that of Cliff Booth.
My favourite Jules Winnfield moment, though, is an unusual one: it’s when he realises that he’s in deep shit, and only The Wolf can save him. Jules knows when he is the boss and when he isn’t; and knowing enough to make that distinction is probably what would hold him in good stead after he quit being a bad you-know-what and walked the earth.
Number Three: Jackie Brown (Eponymous)
“Shut your raggedy-ass up, and sit the fuck down!”
Jackie Brown was a post-MeToo character in a pre-MeToo world. There’s enough evidence in contemporary culture to suggest that women of colour are perhaps the most oppressed group of people in America, in so many spheres of life. Why, even John Oliver’s episode on biases in medicine reveals that Black women are the least likely to get the appropriate medical treatment for their ailments than anyone else.
Jackie Brown would be an icon in any kind of world, but in *that* kind of world, and one in which she’s a broke, middle-aged Black woman who has nothing but her wits to save herself from the relentless trespass of masculine entitlement from all quarters; yes, she’s a veritable yet vulnerable superhero. Jackie Brown is the only character in this list that isn’t entirely a product of Tarantino’s brain - the film is based on an Elmore Leonard book - but that doesn’t make her any less smashing or iconic.
Number Two: Beatrix “The Bride” Kiddo (Kill Bill, Volumes 1 & 2)
“When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I'll be waiting.”
The Bride gets two whole films to make an impact, and an impact she makes. Yet, my single favourite Bride moment across both volumes of this quintessential Tarantino masterwork is when she conveys to little four-year-old Nikki, daughter of Vernita Green, who the Bride has just killed, that she understands if the little one may some day turn up to seek revenge for her mother’s death. It doesn’t just make the story transcend the runtime of the films, but it also speaks to the visceral power that vengeance has as an emotion. Everything makes sense, but nothing does. An eye for an eye may make the whole world blind, but then revenge is a dish best served cold.
No other Tarantino character sees the gamut of emotions that Beatrix Kiddo does, and every other character in that universe ultimately exists in service of her own personal quest. Like when Hattori Hanzo comes out of retirement to create his greatest katana blade yet. Or the fact that Pai Mei taught her the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, but not Bill. The highlight of a Tarantino character is that moment or two where their purpose makes sense, but the Bride simply gets more of those per unit of movie runtime than anyone else.
Number One: Dr King Schultz (Django Unchained)
“You silver tongued devil, you!”
Ah, the good doctor Schultz. He may be an unusual choice to top a list of great Tarantino characters, but hear me out.
Here's a dentist-turned-bounty hunter, who is unusually un-racist for the time and place he exists in, a crack shot, a thorough professional, a dapper dresser, a charming wordsmith, an egalitarian employer, a beer connoisseur, and - perhaps my favourite trait of his - an unabashed romantic.
Django Unchained may not be everyone's favourite Tarantino film (for me, there’s no such thing; it’s all a part of one out-of-control universe) but that precise moment beside a crackling fire in the winter, when Dr King Schultz hears the name of his bounty-hunting mate’s wife — Broomhilda -— named after a character out of a German legend is when his true personality comes to the fore. He decides to help a good man seek out his love at great personal peril, only because he’s such a softie at heart.
Django Unchained is the closest Tarantino has come to making a love story, and Dr King Schultz is the catalyst in making that romance unfold.
Another one of the great layers in the film is watching Schultz’s mounting understanding and consequent discomfort with the racism around him. Never a racist himself, but aware of its practical and unavoidable existence, he slowly watches and internalises the horrific effects of oppression, ultimately giving up his own life because he couldn't take it anymore.
Personally, I’d like nothing more from my own life than to unite two lovers and ride off into the sunset with a Luiz Bacalov number playing in the background.
— Illustration by Satwik Gade for Firstpost