Quentin Tarantino is all over the news recently. Whether because of the release of his new film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, or the discourse surrounding the problematic nature of some of his work, the viewing public can simply not escape the vast ecoregion that is Tarantino’s forehead. Whatever you think of his movies or his liberal use of Samuel L Jackson, this article is not meant to be a referendum on the flounder-turned-man-turned-child-turned-director but rather a personal investigation of Reservoir Dogs and how a movie about a diamond heist changed the fortune of a lost fourteen year old boy, i.e. me.
To begin, I should tell you that I come from a long line of narcs. Famously, my great-great-grandfather got the fast track to American citizenship when at Ellis he turned in a fellow Italian immigrant for smuggling fancy hats into the country (an oft-forgotten embargo of the prohibition era). Living in New York City, my great-great-grandfather met and fell in love with a nosy Irish woman. Together they ratted out nearly half the borough of Brooklyn, turning the lace-curtain Irish into the closed-curtain Irish. They believed that if you wanted to get ahead in life, you best talk to the cops.
This family wisdom was passed down from generation to generation, and both the men and women in my family took to snitching. My grandfather was known as the Irish Elvis because he would sing to the cops about anything, and my mother famously provided a tip to the police that led them to the guy whose cousin once fucked the Unabomber. It didn’t lead to his arrest, of course, but my mom said the cops were still very impressed. Even my dad caught the bug and is attempting to create a snitching app that uses algorithms to pair informants with cops based on their astrological profiles.
For the longest time, I was fine with all of this. If anything, I was proud of my family for snitching. However, I was eventually confronted with the awful truth: the world doesn’t like snitches. Informant-bias is rampant in this country, and it is impossible to find a portrayal of snitches in media that doesn’t traffic in vulgar stereotypes about this noble profession. At best, a snitch is an oblivious gossip and at worse a greedy coward. As I became aware of this sentiment, I grew increasingly anxious and withdrawn. I started not to tell my teachers the answers to the questions they asked in class for fear I was betraying the book I had read. It got so bad that at one point that I wouldn’t even snitch on our neighbor's dog for shitting on our lawn. Through snot and tears, I told my parents that it was me who dropped that deuce.
But that’s when I saw it, a heavily censored, midday showing of Reservoir Dogs on basic cable. The version I watched was roughly 45 minutes shorter than the theatrical cut and did not contain the infamous Mr. Blonde torture sequence or any of Tarantino’s expletive-laden dialogue. What it did have, though, was a lesson about informants that changed my life.
At its core, Reservoir Dogs is a film about the almost familial relationship between informer and informed on. Like a father questioning his son’s paternity, the parental bond drives the tension of the movie, pushing the viewer to root for some characters over others while also amplifying the mistrust between the central criminals. Both the characters and audience are uncertain of who the rat is, and the final reveal represents a gut-wrenching denouement between informant and informed on. A normal reading of the film sees in this moment a disintegration of the father-son bond, but not me. In that moment, sitting far too close to and old, grainy CRT TV, I saw the apotheosis of the rat. The confession of the snitch and his ultimate death was a gesture of love and self-sacrifice. I realized that without snitches there would be far fewer interesting stories to tell.
After seeing Reservoir Dogs, my whole outlook changed. I started snitching again and found myself awash in all the glamorous perks of the trade: extra hall passes, $5 lunch vouchers, and as many glue sticks as I could shake a stick at. Sure, all the students hated me, but that didn’t matter. For the first time in years, I felt comfortable in my own skin, which was odd because I’d never been more covered in spit balls in my entire life.
Was that the lesson I was meant to glean from this film? Was this Tarantino’s intent? Just to be sure, I emailed him and asked him what he thought of my read on the film. He called me an idiot, but he never explicitly said I was wrong.