Quentin Tarantino Spotlight
What’s in a name? What kind of power and reputation does it hold? If a new movie is announced and it’s a whodunit western set in a blizzard, it may not have a lot of clout, but the moment the name ‘Quentin Tarantino’ appears in the teaser, its premise ceases to be the driving force for viewership. His name alone can create a wave of attraction, as well as trust in the movie that amounts to a whole new level of respect. This is not simply a western; it’s a Tarantino Western. Tarantino uses the power of a name and reputation in The Hateful Eight to establish relationships and trust.
Everyone in The Hateful Eight is a mean bastard (except for poor old O.B., who suffers an undeserved fate), and after an epic blizzard landscape logically forces everyone into a closed environment, there’s no possible way to escape or engage in outward communication; there’s only the passage of time. John “The Hangman” Ruth is escorting Daisy Domergue, a fugitive, to the town of Red Rock to be hung dead, and the torrential Deus Ex Machina forces him to make a stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery. Along the lonely road he meets two unlikely guests at different points.
The first is Major Marquis Warren, a fellow bounty hunter and former Union soldier. Now, Ruth is a paranoid bastard, expecting anyone he meets to be after his bounty. After disarming Warren, they recognize one another, giving Ruth some comfort that his bounty is safe. However, there were ulterior motives for Ruth to bring Warren on the stagecoach. He heard that Warren supposedly once received a letter from President Lincoln himself, and the chance to play six degrees of separation is captivating enough to add to the pot. But, it’s with Ruth’s next passenger where the power of the name makes an important appearance.
Chris Mannix has also become a victim of the unrelenting blizzard’s tour de force. He lost his horse in the storm, and he also happens to be on his way to Red Rock. Ruth immediately lets his paranoia take over, as the coincidence of two separate people roaming the blizzard is too good to be true. When Mannix comes into view, Ruth recognizes him; he tells Warren he knows him “only by reputation.” His father is far more famous, as he was the leader of a renegade group of thugs and murderers called “The Mannix Marauders.” This notorious gang helped give Chris Mannix, the youngest son in the family, a reputation of his own.
Likewise, though Mannix doesn’t recognize Daisy either by name or face, as soon as he hears she’s being brought to the hangman, he immediately knows that he’s talking to John “The Hangman” Ruth. He then recognizes Marquis Warren, also known for his infamous actions during the war. After a brief look at the stagecoach and the bodies, he correctly assumes that they are bounties, and without prompting, declares that he is the next sheriff of Red Rock. He doesn’t have the proof on him, and says all of it can be confirmed in town. He reminds them that in order to get paid, they need the sheriff, and if they don’t bring him along, they not only will not be getting the reward, but they will be accused of murder when they leave a government official behind to freeze to death in the winter wasteland.
Mannix’s can’t prove this claim, and conveniently they can only know if he’s lying for certain when they reach the fabled destination. Ruth and Warren ultimately play it safe and bring him along, just in case. Throughout The Hateful Eight, the importance of reputation permeates the proceedings; even when they enter Minnie’s Haberdashery, Mannix boasts about his upcoming new title, and makes friends with most everyone. He encounters Oswaldo Mobray, and is told that he’s a future colleague. Mobray (lying through his teeth) says he is in fact the actual hangman in Red Rock, and has cards to prove it. Mannix simply assumes that Bob, a Mexican cowhand, is just a worker at Minnie’s, and doesn’t take anything of value from his unassuming name. The most interesting person in the room to him is General Sanford Smithers, a confederate general.
Mannix is in awe of General Sanford Smithers, a former confederate leader. The younger man takes his time to wait on his elder, bringing him drinks and blankets out of respect. After the introduction, Smithers confirms that he is Erskine Mannix’s boy, and they both acknowledge their victories (despite the confederacy’s defeat). Smithers, with fondness for the Mannix name and reputation, tells Chris “I never knew your father, son. But I always respected his resolve.”
Though both confederate soldiers have committed atrocious crimes, there is no reason for them to lie; their reputations have traveled, and if they don’t lay the cards on the table, the paranoid Ruth would most likely come for them. Mannix asks Smither’s where he’s heading, and learns that Smither’s is heading to Red Rock for his son. Not once during their intimate conversation, however, does Chris Mannix reveal his intentions, or his goal. To preserve a rebel reputation? One would assume that Sanford would be proud that a young, confederate captain would be the sheriff of the town. Perhaps they simply already know what they need to know about each other, simply from reputation, and in the world of The Hateful Eight, that’s enough to trust.
This is why the only person Mannix is wary of is Joe Gage, a seemingly unremarkable cowpuncher writing his memoir in the corner. Mannix immediately takes a disliking to him, and while it’s initially played for laughs, there’s an even deeper meaning to it.
Joe Gage is an unknown. He’s a stranger in this story, and despite being an odd fellow, he doesn’t seem to have a reputation. Even when he is forced to introduce himself, Ruth treats his name with a questionable and aggressive “who?” When tensions are at their highest due to the bloody, disgusting death of Ruth, Chris Mannix immediately assumes that Joe Gage was the one who poisoned the coffee. After all, it couldn’t have been Warren, Mobray, or Bob, who all are known and seem to have a purpose in the world. They are of value. Joe Gage’s reputation of an unknown points all fingers on him. Who else but the stranger could have done something so heinous? As it turns out, Gage did in fact poison the coffee, but the guilt is only partial; Bob, Mobray, and Gage are all conspiring with one another to save Daisy from her fate.
Even at the very end of The Hateful Eight, after all the bloodshed, fatal injuries, and racist slurs, there is still something quite odd about Mannix’s claim to be a sheriff. There is no one in the movie that can deny or prove it; it’s still all based on hearsay. Warren and Ruth are surprised that someone like him would be given such a responsibility; is he the sheriff of Red Rock, or is he simply a liar trying his hardest to save his own hide? There is a definite answer to that question, and Walton Goggins answers it in this interview:
Goggins recalls when he was given the script. Tarantino asked him what he thought, and Goggins had one question:
“I really only have one question for you. And that is, am I the sheriff of Red Rock or am I not the sheriff of Red Rock? And he said ‘I need for you to answer that question and I don’t want to know the answer you come up with to that question.’”
Goggins continues to not tell the interviewer what he comes up with because in many ways, the answer really doesn’t matter. What matters is that this claim allows Chris Mannix onto the stagecoach and into a fake safe haven. The Hateful Eight shows once and for all that a man’s name and reputation can establish a certain level of trust, even if his actions do not; being known lends more weight to one’s words than being a nobody. If Chris Mannix was a stranger, then there’s a good chance Red Rock would be without a sheriff. It just depends on whether you believe him.