Cold as Ice: Daisy Domergue in Tarantino’s Hateful Eight

JENNIFER JASON LEIGH stars in THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Photo: Andrew Cooper, SMPSP © 2015 The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved.

by Kathleen Morrison

When I first heard about The Hateful Eight, it was being canceled. With the script partially leaked, Quentin Tarantino decided to pull the plug on it and do something else. The cast was supposed to include Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, and Kurt Russell. The Old West was involved. Naturally, I laid down on the carpet and wept for a few months, until he changed his mind and decided to make the film anyway. For this, I’m eternally thankful, especially since he just announced his plans to retire a few weeks ago. Sure, he’s promised two more films first, but it’s just another indication that 2016 is the Year From Hell.

But, I digress. My favorite thing about Tarantino films has always been the women in them. It’s nice to see an angry woman taken seriously, it’s nice to see her wearing reasonable clothes, and dammit, it’s nice to see her win sometimes. I love the vengeful rage of The Bride, of Shoshona in Inglorious Basterds, of Zoë Bell and her friends in Death Proof. I love watching Jackie Brown realize that her best option in life is to screw over both the FBI and an international gun-runner. Hell, my biggest disappointment with Django Unchained was that Kerry Washington never picked up a gun. Tarantino doesn’t write women well per se, but he usually writes them more fun than that.

Thankfully, the fun came back, as bloody as ever. Some time after the Civil War, accused murderess Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) is being brought in to justice by bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell). Tearing through the Wyoming countryside, trying to make it to shelter before a winter storm catches them, they encounter fellow bounty hunter Maj. Marquess Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and former Confederate raider and possible future sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). Coming to a local trail house, they find the owner gone and a Mexican named Bob (Demain Birchir) in charge. Also inside are a cowboy (Michael Madsen), the local hangman (Tim Roth), and a Confederate general (Bruce Dern). Within a few hours of all eight meeting, bodies start dropping and ridiculous amounts of blood start spilling as a plan to free Daisy goes into motion.

The whole thing is an homage to The Thing, which means that Daisy has two legacies to live up to: On the one hand, she must be a stone-cold Tarantino bitch. On the other, she’s The Thing. Just like The Thing, she makes Kurt Russell paranoid and drives men to murder, and just like in The Thing, none of the protagonists know who in the cabin is on her team. And thankfully, Jennifer Jason-Leigh delivered on both counts. I’ve seen this movie six times, and I’ve only been able to take my eyes off her to watch what the rest of the cast were doing during the last two viewings.

Unlike a lot of the women I admired in my youthful screenings, Daisy is not sympathetic. She wants to live, which is relatable, but she’s also accused of murder, the circumstances of which are unknown. Her first line contains a racial epithet. Her hatred of John Ruth is justifiable, but the rest of her wagon-mates haven’t wronged her and she’s still ready to watch them die. Her personal sense of honor is lacking, even compared to her predecessors. What makes Daisy great is not her motivation, or her devotion to family or to a cause, but how fast she thinks. Daisy is twitchy, and she takes a lot of cheap shots at Ruth when she can get them, knowing full well there’s a solid chance he’ll smack her in the face for it. But she’s also incredibly patient, cunning, and she’s one hell of a negotiator.

Even traumatized and covered in blood, Daisy is able to pull herself together and run her silver tongue until you want her to get away, pile of bodies be damned. She is violent and vindictive, but even after experiencing a horrific loss, she starts explaining how it’s possible for everyone (or almost everyone) to walk away from their encounter on the mountain if they just do as she says. As if she doesn’t have two guns to her head and a blizzard to deal with. But she sells it. She’s as bewitching to watch as any of the monsters from The Thing, and just as deadly. Most importantly, she’s fun. It’s a little hard not to be enchanted by a woman who winks after taking a punch to the nose. Her anger might not be entirely righteous, but it is entirely entertaining.

In the sisterhood of Tarantino’s female characters, Daisy is most like Elle Driver. Both had incredible tempers and both could be devastatingly cool when committing violence against others. But Daisy also has the smooth-talking delivery of Jackie Brown. It’s a powerful combination. So clear your schedule, get a very warm blanket, and watch some awful people be awful to each other in the snow. Enjoy it; apparently we’re only getting two more of these.

Kathleen Morrison is employed in retail. Her top two moments of 2016 have been seeing The Hateful Eight and when she skipped a whole weekend of work to go to an art show of Kurt Russell fan art in San Francisco.

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