This Has Spoilers: Its meant to be a review/analysis of the film as I did it in my English class last year. If you haven’t seen the film there is no point reading on
Kill Bill is a unique film yet it pays tribute to many thousands of films around the world. Many people fail to appreciate the strong points while focusing on the bad. To understand the movie and see it for its values you must understand how and why Quentin Tarantino wished to create this film.
Tarantino's current film(s) Kill Bill are a homage to exploitation and grindhouse cinema.
Grindhouse cinema is a reference to the movie houses of big cities that continually played the same movies and features around the clock with little gap or time between them; ie they ground together. The typical movies played in such venues included: blacksploitation, spaghetti (Italian) westerns, kung fu, slasher, etc. these were not films aimed at winning the ‘soul award’ for best dialogue and great storylines but rather they were all mass produced. They focused on stereotypes and a pre-used, overly predictable plot. And Tarantino himself has said Kill Bill “is my Yakuza movie, yes, this is my samurai movie, yes this is my bad arse chick movie, my spaghetti Western, my comic-book movie” all genres that could be claimed as ‘grindhouse’ on their own.
People who don’t like Kill Bill do not understand these principles and the history and references Tarantino employs and see Kill Bill as an overly violent film and do not understand the aesthetics and the value of this film. Critics who view this movie wish to hear dialogue as cutting as Pulp Fiction yet Kill Bill is very different:
Tarantino wanted a 180 from Pulp Fiction’s tone. I think he feinted high and then socked us in the gut. And it worked. Bold as hell, and he pulled it off. Now I’m sick to my stomach, but I respect the b******.
The movie Kill Bill by Quentin Tarantino uses many unique interpretations of old ideas and stereotypes to uncomfortably position the responder and cause a guarded and cautious response. The Bride is cast as a cold blooded ‘natural born killer’ antihero and although the movie is based on many stereotypically driven genres, Kill Bill is unique.
Kill Bill has been infamously split into two parts: Volume 1 and 2. It was originally one movie, and the splitting caused much public disapproval but it has proved to be one of the strongest features of the film – a four-hour emotional roller coaster is too much to take. The content of Volume 1 and 2 are also valid reasons for the split; Volume 1 is violent – no two ways about it. Volume 2 is in itself a contrast with the first film. It builds the characters and plot that was evidently lacking in the first episode. They are so different that they are another example of Tarantino’s brilliant capability of juxtaposing two things with perfect timing and intensity.
Tarantino has used many unique interpretations of old ideas in Kill Bill. In similar style to the groundbreaking directors of the past like Spielberg and Lucas, Tarantino has used ideas from the “the movies I used to watch as a kid… I have taken the bits I really liked and made them my own” . He used tools such as contrasting blood and excessive violence with dark humour and the absurd to play on human emotions. This leaves the audience feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable. Although the movie is a ‘revenge’ epic the story line is not what drives the movie; the plot is at times very fickle and shallow especially in Volume 1. In Volume 2 the characters and plot are developed and it answers the questions raised in Volume 1. Volume 1 is based on the emotional reactions created by contrasts. Volume 2 is based more on the characters. Kill Bill is not about what Tarantino aims to achieve in terms of drama but rather the experiences an audience gains from viewing it and the emotions and feelings they receive:
I love f***ing with your emotions. To me, that’s an audience having a f***ing good time. That’s not just images washing over you. Audiences in the 50’s wanted for the price of a ticket to feel every emotion under the sun. And that’s not a bad manifesto for a director.
In Kill Bill Tarantino sets out to achieve this by making the responder question their reaction to situations and stimuli, seeding doubts in the audience’s mind and creating ambivalent and uncomfortable situations. it’s not all about the destination; it’s all about the journey.
Kill Bill uses several key contrasts as a film technique throughout Volume 1 and in places in Volume 2. The opening scene quickly defines this to the viewer with the “do you find me sadistic?” speech by Bill; he explains to the bride who is dying on the floor that he is actually being masochistic and “there is nothing sadistic” in his actions as he unceremonially fires a bullet into The Bride’s head. But this is not before she can announce, “Bill, I’m pregnant. It’s your baby”. This sets up the most paradoxical situation of the film – Bill and The Bride are lovers yet they are out to kill each other. This highlights the insanity and crazed bloodletting as though a pure love is tainted by insanity and violence - the black and white recording used in this scene gives The Bride’s blood a surreal atmosphere and only heightens this observation, as she is the inversion of a typical bride. The situation is disturbing and immediately the responder is left with a feeling of disgust and nausea as they witness the blood splatter on the screen; and as the responder begins to wonder how people can be so cold – it cuts out into a film title and these thoughts are left to play on the viewer’s mind; further advancing the confusion and highlighting the absurd nature of the situation. This juxtaposing highlights emotions to the viewer and creates situations where the respondent cannot feel comfortable and they are forced to interpret the scene in an ambivalent frame of mind.
The use of juxtaposing to create humour is evident as The Bride assassinates Vivica A. Fox. The Bride and Fox’s fight scene is shot in an overtly cartoonish way with cheap sound effects recreating a typical seedy kung fu movie. Yet because they are fighting to the death the reader accepts this absurdity and passes it off as normal. The shock comes with the arrival of Fox’s child Nikkei – curtesy of a yellow school bus. The situation is only comical to the viewer as two deadly assassins hide weapons behind their backs and talk like normal (with sweet voices) to the child and they both then proceed to have coffee together. When The Bride kills Fox she turns to Nikkei:
It was not my intention to do this in front of you. For that I'm sorry. But you can take my word for it, your mother had it coming. When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I'll be waiting.
The coldness in which The Bride can deliver this speech to a child is appalling. The responder struggles to grip with this, as they believe Uma should be the hero not the anti-hero. Nevertheless they still find themselves in the situation where the audience feels sympathetic to The Bride, as she is obviously a human who has lost emotion and the ability to feel. She is a broken women shown because instead of enacting the normal ‘mothering’ instinct and soothing the child; she speaks about further death and revenge. These contrasts are weird and the responder once again fumbles to understand what is happening - they want to laugh at the absurd but feel guilty because Nikkei has lost her mother yet they try to justify the bride’s actions because Fox was an assassin. This is very similar to Catch-22 by Joseph Heller as they both can be interpreted as a tragedy or as a black comedy of the absurd.
"To call Kill Bill a violent film is at once stating the obvious and missing the point" Tarantino uses blood and excessive violence throughout Volume 1 to position the responder towards a certain perspective, through cleaver use of cinematography and direction. During the House of Blue Leaves fight the violence takes an artistic feel and becomes beautiful. The fight with the Crazy 88's it is evident that much of the fight is scripted and it seems like little effort was placed in making the fight natural or realistic. The thrusts parries and counterblows move with the music. So rather than the slaughter of countless men during this fight taking on a gruesome appearance it becomes a dance of intricate complexity. This causes the responder to question how they should react to the violence as it is obviously on face value gruesome and off-putting yet under the excessive blood is the hint of art work and subtle beauty. The cinematography and style of the movie changes constantly and this creates new affects and interpretations on any given take. Single long shots are used to follow the fight around the room - highlighting the violent dance as they interact with the surroundings and adding to the artistic nature. Black and white filming is used to lessen the carnage and help the responders to distance themselves as the blood is changed to a pitch-black liquid and its impact is lessened. This also helps the dark humour that is evident in the movie, as with each killing the blood sprayed from the dying appears to be ridiculous. The dancing link is further developed as the filming changes to silhouetted outlines as the reactions and movements of each character seems to be in time with the others. Tarantino has created a balance with the violence. At times it is extremely cold and brutal, and at times it is beautiful and artistic and this creates uncertainty as the audience wishes to interpret the violence in one way or the other and they are therefore left with in uncomfortable situation.
Tarantino understands that is necessary, that over saturated but unrealistic violence may become comic, but too much graphic violence creates revulsion. By making the violence extreme yet unrealistic he detaches the audience, and makes it possible to laugh in the middle of murder.
Volume 2 is much more traditional in terms of its plot. When compared to Volume 1 it lacks the killing mass violence and blood so evident in Volume 1. As when Volume 1 was made to be an eastern “kung-fu” movie; Volume 2 was made to be a “spaghetti western”. The Bride begins the movie detailing her rampage in Volume 1, as Tarantino once again removes the element of suspense from the plot, as we now know she will survive everything thrown at her until she reaches Bill. And although it lacks the constant comparisons and tributes, the final scene defines Volume 2. The Bride storms in to face Bill with her pistol in one hand and her Hanzo sword on her back, only to be confronted with her daughter holding a toy pistol as if they were perverted mirror images of each other, counter pointing each other and starkly outlining the innocence of a young girl with a broken jaded women.
This results in the responder fumbling for grounding as they most likely have forgotten that The Bride’s daughter is still alive. But perhaps the most confounding plot element is the interaction between The Bride and Bill. The entire build up of Kill Bill (both Volume 1 and 2) has been towards this moment the final confrontation and the movies namesake. Yet the audience is confronted with toy guns and ‘play’ deaths – this contrasts well as an anticlimax yet almost straight away the movie begins to build again and the responder knows it’s not ‘happily ever after’.
The confusion the responder is feeling is only heightened by the absurdity of the situation. Yet this bizarre twist of events and roles cannot be interpreted as comedy as in other parts of the movie. Bill begins to tell their daughter BB (Bill&Beautrix) about the situation, dealing in sweet tones that still convey seriousness. BB is disarmingly cute yet she seems less than human as she has a natural calm and ease when dealing with violence and death. For example when she deliberately killed her Goldfish by stepping on it. This seems to be a strange parody to Bill and The Bride’s situation. Bill quite deliberately set out to kill The Bride yet he still felt pain just like BB did when she killed the goldfish. The ease and calm shown by BB when dealing with the topic of death and Bill’s attempted assassination creates mixed reactions in the responder. The child should not have to deal with these emotions and stimuli let alone become so accustomed to them that she no longer flinches; then again she is the product of two “natural born killers”. This shows how unnatural their actions are as they are inversions of the natural order of love and death. BB amplifies this by wishing to watch a very violent movie: Shogun Assassin with her mother and the only objections are about its length (not violent content or rating) – although BB may look like a typical adorable young girl her personality is twisted and unnatural.
The feeling of wrongness and disorder of this passage is carried through after BB falls asleep. The Bride then returns to confront Bill and it is obvious that they still love each other. The responder is still uncomfortable and shaken by the confrontation between The Bride and BB and the lack of a fight scene so far between the two. As they converse and audience begins to really understand their love and how it was flawed by a natural instinct to kill people. The moral high ground that the responder enjoyed because The Bride was the ‘only’ one hard done by begins to dissolve and a feeling of tragedy replaces bloodlust and righteousness in the audience – Bill could only solve things with violence and malice and The Bride could never understand the human emotions of compassion and empathy properly. When the Bride kills Bill the audience is forced to comprehend the love and regret in their actions knowing that they had gone past the point of no return. The responder is also faced with a profound appreciation of bravery and virtue displayed by Bill as he takes the final steps towards his death.
Tarantino uses strong juxtapositions to create ambivalent situations in a responder’s mind and make the responders question their emotional and moral reaction to various stimuli through out the film. From film techniques in Volume 1 to dialogue and plot formation in Volume 2 Tarantino uses them to full effect and succeeds in creating a film that questions a person’s: moral beliefs, emotional reactions and preconceived stereotypes.
Texts quoted in my work:
1)Jan Geerinck (2004) Jahsonic.com, a vocabulary of culture. Self Published Available from: http://www.jahsonic.com/KillBill.html internet accessed 3/10/04
2)Tanantino Q (2004) Empire magazine: issue 32. 'Killing time' page 53 by Simon Braund.
3)Everything 2:'Walter' Kill Bill: Volume 1.
4)Tarantino Q (2004) The Making of Kill Bill vol. 1
5)Tarantino Q (2004) Empire magazine: Issue 32. 'Killing time' page 53 by Simon Braund.
6)Tarantino Q (2004) Empire magazine: issue 32. 'Killing time' page 53 by Simon Braund.
7)Everything 2:'Transitional Man' ( Kill Bill: Volume 1.
Texts read and researched
Kill Bill: Volume 2
'Matt' (2004) Monkey Forums: Kill Bill Volume 1. Monkeyfilter – The Metafilter spawn. Internet available from http://monkeyfilter.com./link.php/2086 (27/09/2004)
IMDB (2003)– the Internet Movie Database Inc. internet Available from http://www.imdb.com/ (28/09/2004)