Sunday, August 29, 2004

Guilty Pleasures Dept.: Kill Bill 1 and 2. What is one to make of this movie? (I use the singular, because it is one movie with two parts, not a movie and a sequel.) It is a pleasure to watch, it is fascinating. (Not that that justifies a Christian watching it - Satan can be fascinating and beautiful.) But what does one make of it - does it say anything?

I have read a couple of reviews. They talk about Tarantino's mastery of the medium, his homage to marital arts movies, and how one scene or another evokes scenes from movies past. Is that enough? Is mass market, guilty pleasure enough?

Certainly it is about revenge. In this case revenge will out. But Tarantino plays with us on that, when, at the end of the first half of the movie, he knocks out the moral justification for the particular revenge in question. We are left simply with an insatiate appetite for more violence against the bad guys.

And the irony of that, of course, is that our guy (our girl) is a bad guy, and I think easily the worst of the bunch. What makes her the "best" is that she is the most competent at her craft of killing and the most beautiful.

But what of her attempt to get out of her old life, doesn't she deserve some credit there? But Ben (Bill's brother) deserves more credit than she on that score. Where she confesses to Bill at the end that she would not have succeeded in her record-shop bid for rebirth, Ben succeeded in mapping out a path to some sort of redemption. Only B's re-entry into his life interrupted Ben's attempt at self-redemption.

Motherhood is big here. What an irony that it is. In a culture where abortion is one of the gateways to the good and stylish life, here an unborn baby killing supplies the moral cover for the first half of the movie and the mothering urge supplies the rest.

But if mother and daughter are unified at the end of the movie, at the beginning we have a murder where we are treated to a definite end to a mother-daughter relationship. Of all the murders in the film, in retrospect the first one becomes the most disturbing and gives the lie to any pretense that Tarantino has something positive to say even about motherhood.

Finally, there is the relationship between B and Bill. One last chance here, don't you think? At the end of the movie B has one last chance to look at herself as she is (she is full of truth serum), to make a decision not to kill, to take the risk that Bill is simply setting her up to murder her, to take the risk that he would turn her daughter into . . . someone just like her. No way.

I think the absence of grace in that movie (which the chief protagonist mentions from time to time) is, finally, what the movie is all about. I don't know if that was intentional, but at least we see what a world without it, a world at its most stylish, can look like.

PS Was Bill really such a bad shot? Was there grace at that point? It also seemed to be there at the hospital. If so, we know what Bill got for his attempt at grace and forgiveness.

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