Narratives of rupture: Tarantino’s counterfactual histories and the American historical imaginary

This article examines the way in which alternate history narratives have the potential to teach a different kind of historical consciousness. The author argues that the way in which films such as Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained rupture from widely accepted narratives of the past can create the potential for challenges to the historical imaginary, shape new ways of relating to the past, and make visible contemporary viewers’ role as historical subjects. The historical imaginary is a culturally shared popular understanding of the past created by discourses of entertainment, politics, and education, and its narratives are highly resistant to challenges from traditional methods of history. The author examines the way each of Quentin Tarantino’s alternate history films uses form, aesthetic, and plot to challenge widely accepted narratives of World War II and the history of slavery in the United States. Both films serve as examinations of the role of collaborators or passive bystanders in enabling atrocities of the past, and potentially create space for audiences to consider their own culpability in contemporary state violence. Finally, this article argues that works of alternate history have the potential to foment a new kind of historical consciousness.