For those who have seen The Hateful Eight, either in its wide release or the very-much-worth-it roadshow presentation, the ending of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film may still be something they’re wrestling with. Though it’s a Western like the writer-director’s previous effort, Django Unchained, the murky moral depths of his new film is a long haul from the celebratory explosion of the Candie Plantation.
And as Walton Goggins tells it, that ambiguity is something the cast wrangled with during and after filming.
“The Haters [the cast’s affectionate name for themselves], we so enjoyed discussing the nuances of this movie and what something would mean if you did it this way or if you did it that way that we would literally get to work 30 minutes early, which never f—ing happens ever,” he says. “We called it The Haters Coffee Club. We’d all have a cup of coffee and sit in our chairs and discuss what might happen today. Some of those conversations still continue to this day. There is no right answer.”
Though much of the film is finely tuned to mess with audience allegiances and sympathies, the ending may be the sequence that requires the most unpacking.
An obvious SPOILER alert for those who haven’t seen the film yet.
In the final moments of the film, Goggins’ Chris Mannix, Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Warren, and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Daisy Domergue are the only ones who have survived her gang’s failed attempt to free her from captivity. Mannix, in his first and what may be his final act as the sheriff of Red Rock — which he may or may not be — sentences Domergue to death and helps Major Warren hang her.
The act is quite the turn for Mannix, who is introduced as the racist son of a Confederate war criminal, and Goggins sees the significance beyond the violence and on whom the violence is acted upon.
“It’s also justice, and it’s also moral and righteous,” he says. “It is delivering a sentence and a punishment that was around everywhere in our country at that time. Maybe it would have been a life sentence today. Regardless of the gender of the person that it was being done to, it was still following through with truth and justice — and not frontier justice as Tim Roth so eloquently makes a speech about in an earlier part of the movie. This is a person who has been tried and convicted by their standards.”
But does Mannix actually have the authority to sentence Domergue at all? For nearly every act that seems morally straightforward, there’s a detail that undercuts it. Take the Lincoln letter as another example. Warren has been charming white people for years by sharing the letter he claims he received from Abraham Lincoln during the war. Even after Warren admits he fabricated the supposed correspondence from his presidential pen pal, Mannix still asks to read it in what may be his dying moments. For Goggins, the sentiments of the letter — fraudulent or not — still speak volumes.
“For me, [Daisy’s hanging] transcends the moment and becomes something else, something much loftier than that,” he says. “The last image that you’re left with — before the very last image you’re left with — is two people on a bed who are exhausted. They have gone through what they have gone through to get to this point of understanding each other. And yet, as the letter says, we still have a long way to go. I see it as very uplifting, as very hopeful, and as a big step in the right direction, as a celebration, as a changing of one heart and one mind. That’s what we have control of, really.”
This is all part of the fun of The Hateful Eight. There are different meanings to derive from it depending on your perspective. Obviously, no one is closer to Mannix than Goggins, who sees the transformation his character makes and finds optimism in a pitch-black story. Does he have the dispassion that Oswaldo (Tim Roth) spoke about in his speech to properly dispense justice? Should we even put any stock in what the phony hangman has to say, considering that he’s really a murderer himself?
One can just as easily point out that Major Warren wrote those words of hope as a ruse, meant to do exactly what they do for Mannix, which is disarm him. But that would only push the conversation further down the road, because it’s like Goggins says:
“There are no right answers.”