Some supposed real estate wisdom holds that when putting your house on the market, you should take down any pictures of your family to help prospective buyers envision themselves within the space. Thomas Kinkade’s paintings operate by this principle, for most of the landscapes he paints are human-free. The absence of people is how Kinkade sells what he paints—the lack of others permitting a frictionless imaginative exercise that the locales in his paintings are yours.
Even after his death Kinkade functions as a preferred punching bag of the faith and arts conversation, and rightly so. Kinkade used light to re-create creation. In his own words: “I love to create beautiful worlds where light dances and peace reigns. I like to portray a world without the Fall.” Light imposes his Edenic edits upon the world. The soft glows, the pastel sunsets, the sun softly kissing thatched roofs and moderately unkempt forests; light is his means of sentimentality. Through light Kinkade censors the world, the brush strokes forming an unearthly creation and inviting the viewer to forget the Fall. For all of this criticism and mockery Kinkade is our Dante, providing an innovative picture of what hell looks like—empty cottages by the sea.
However, the faith and art conversation doesn’t need another Kinkade–bash. Instead, I want to turn from the Painter of Light to the Director of Blood, Quentin Tarantino.
At present Tarantino is two films into his “rewritten history” trilogy. The first, Inglourious Basterds, turns Hitler into a bullet-riddled pile of putty. His corpse is then blown up and burned, enacting what has been called a “counter-Holocaust.” In Django Unchained slave-owners are shot through the heart; slave traders get their heads blown to bits; armies of plantation goons are cut down.
The reasons for this violent re-writing of history? Tarantino said in an interview with NPR:
“I do think it’s a cultural catharsis, and it’s a cinematic catharsis. Even — it can even be good for the soul, actually. I mean, not to sound like a brute, but one of the things though that I actually think can be a drag for a whole lot of people about watching a movie about, either dealing with slavery or dealing with the Holocaust, is just, it’s just going to be pain, pain and more pain. And at some point, all those Holocaust TV movies — it’s like, ‘God, I just can’t watch another one of these.’ But to actually take an action story and put it in that kind of backdrop where slavery or the pain of World War II is the backdrop of an exciting adventure story — that can be something else. And then in my adventure story, I can have the people who are historically portrayed as the victims be the victors and the avengers.”
Do viewers of the Shoah yawn? Or maybe a reader of Night by Elie Wiesel intersperses the story with viewings of online cat videos? It’s troubling that the horrors of the past might be boring, in need of an injection of action to maintain our attention. Tarantino’s understanding of his revenge fantasies sounds similar to Psalm 137, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks”—a cathartic prayer of vengeance expressing the Jewish communal anger over the injustice of the Babylonian exile. Echoes aside, there are deep differences between Tarantino’s films and this Jewish prayer. Psalm 137 has a purpose to its catharsis. Instead of being consumed by or acting on the anger, this psalm believes it is better to give your thirst for vengeance and violence to God. Instead of waging war against their oppressors in the physical streets of Babylon, the Jewish community met them on the battlefield of prayer.
Tarantino’s films are more like Memento, Christopher Nolan’s film about an amnesiac, Leonard, who seeks revenge on a man named John G. for the murder of his wife. Because of his memory problems, Leonard forgets that he has already killed John G. So Leonard is always on the search for the next John G., the next body to enact his revenge upon. The process of revenge, not its satisfaction, is what Leonard lives for. This is Tarantino’s filmic career. Pull it all away: the great scenes and the poorly executed stories, the solipsism of filmic self-reference, the excellent actors, the one liners—all you have is the feeling of revenge, an endless loop of spilt blood and broken bone. Like Leonard, these films live for the kinetic feeling of revenge, not for the resolution of horrific memories.
For films containing wars worth of violence and bloodshed, there is an odd rarity of corpses in Tarantino films. His films are awash with the dying yet scarcely show the dead. At first it seems that the heroes don’t have time to deal with the corpses—they’re always on their way to the next killing—but this dearth of the dead gets even odder in Django, given that the title character and Dr. Schultz are bounty hunters who supposedly transport the bodies of their victims back to the court for a reward. In this long blood-fest we never once see them handling or transporting a corpse. Even the famous “Oh man, I just shot Marvin in the face” scene from Pulp Fiction, an almost 17-minute scene about disposing a body, only contains a brief one-second shot of the corpse. These films are comfortable with violence but not with death. When it comes to dealing with death, these films are prudish. They live according to the Memento principle: revenge is an infinite dish, best served again and again and again.
In Tarantino’s films every human is an ocean of red, the skin a thin dam waiting to burst, to spray, to gush, to spout and cover the world in its brilliant color. Tarantino’s blood functions like Kinkade’s light. This is how the world is re-born and re-recreated—censored through light and blood. The paintings of Kinkade hate the world as it is and the films of Tarantino hate the world they have inherited. Through farcical violence the rough draft of the past is re-written; history is taken by the throat and throttled until it retells its tale.
Ultimately though, while Django and Basterds are mindful of the history of film it’s a mistake to think these films are mindful of history. Violence is fun and history provides bodies for the cinematic meat grinder. No one mourns slaughtered Nazis and slave-owners.
Through comedic bloodshed Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds forget the tragic dimensions of history—watching them feels like viewing a production of King Lear where the only voice you can hear is that of the fool, with the pain and the tragedy fading into the background. Tarantino and his films use blood to sentimentalize rage and, by extension, the activities of revenge. The Holocaust and slavery provide an opportunity for humor-laced rage, for emotions without a telos, killing without bodies, indulgent revenge without any self-wounding. The comedic violence rejects the difficulty of the past, making it safe again by overlaying the cries of memory with a laugh track. There is no truth to this remembering because these films do not want to remember at all, for: “A man who makes a religion out of the comic is unable to face suffering.” If blood is Tarantino’s cathartic laugh track, then it is the laugh track of our forgetting, a euphoric communal lobotomy. It is possible that stories without hope, pure nihilistic tragedy, are better, truer than the hope of Django and Basterds. These films are animated by warped hopes and failures of memory—hoping to balance the debts of the past by denying their existence. Sort of like painting a world without the Fall.
In their own way, the works of Kinkade and Tarantino long for the redemption of the past. Instead of inviting grief or confession, they hope to undo the broken reality of what was and what is. But we cannot ban tragedy, and neither can we forget it. The past is not ours to redeem; it is ours to remember.
 Rowan Williams, Lost Icons.
 “The Kinkade Crusade,” Christianity Today.
 W.H. Auden