June 01, 2010

Violence in Movies: Kill Bill Vol. 1

Kill Bill Vol. 1

Kill Bill Vol. 1 was on TV last night. (Kill Bill Vol. 3 is slated for 2014, I don't know how seriously.) And so, oddly, for the second time in a week I found myself defending it, despite disliking strongly when I saw it in the theater years ago. Aside from its pervasive violence, it is adolescent, pornographic, fetishistic, pointless, and often dull, and yet it is great movie—by which I mean I think it's worth watching.

It is a loving homage to several genres now—or perhaps always—largely disdained by movie audiences (rape revenge, kung-fu, etc.) and an exercise in form. It is an unapologetic B-movie. I don't think it's the case that if Tarantino hadn't made it, someone else would have. No one else would have made this movie.

My defending it to friends this week is partly contrariness and a knee-jerk objection to sanctimoniousness. if that many people I respect hate something so much, surely there must be something to it. There is a lot to criticize: The roles are stereotyped, the dialogue is silly, you know how it's going to end… but the reason my friends were so upset by it was because of the violence.

It is very violent. Every scene is extremely violent. Worse, it is a cartoonish kind of violence where limbs are lopped off and fountains of blood spray across the screen. (I haven't seen the SAW movies or the new kind of ultra-violent hour film like Hostel, but I imagine they're similar. For that matter I haven't played any first-person-shooter games, so I can't speak on that either.)

Anna Karenina's main plot revolves around adultery, but the book is not a celebration of adultery. Kill Bill does not exactly celebrate violence, but it takes some childish delight in it. The violence, while cartoonish, is not without consequence—people are hurt, and people die. Does a movie need to condemn violence in order to feature it? No Country for Old Men takes a great deal of pleasure in its fight scenes and dripping blood, but [SPOILER ALERT] the main character dies at the end. Does that make the violence that precedes it ok? It's actually a more cynical view of the universe.

I don't think violence in movies de-sensitizes or habituates people, especially children, to violence. I don't think violence on screen causes violence any more than sex on screen causes sex. Kill Bill takes place in a particular universe that none of us live in, You can dislike Kill Bill for a lot of reasons, or choose not to watch it, but the fact that it is incredibly violent and every scene contains gushing blood isn't enough reason to dismiss it out of hand as immoral, amoral, or unworthy of an intelligent person's attention.

What's my point? It annoys me when people get sniffy and high and mighty and start talking right and wrong about things like movies. Keep your ethics out of my art.

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Enigma » Blog Archive » Enigma Cinema – How to Watch and Enj's picture

[...] Tricycle » Violence in Movies: Kill Bill Vol. 1 [...]

Philip Ryan's picture

Thanks for all your comments! Interesting article about violence in the movies here.

BlindRob's picture

I confess that after seeing KB #1 I remember saying that it might be a saluatory experience for Mr Tarantino if he was to violently lose a limb or two. But OTOH I was also aware of the Zen and Taoist things going on.... And to misquote Dr J, there is nothing like a koi pond full of blood and intestines to wonderfully focus the mind.

Bill's picture

I don't want to sound harsh, but art is created by people with delusions for people with delusions. I'm deluded so I need to stay away from things that affect my mind negatively. Thich Nhat Hahn also expresses the same view.

I think it's naive to say that what you consume doesn't affect you as all our actions produce effects. Do you really believe that spending hours playing violent computer games or rejoicing in the kind of suffering and sadism shown in the SAW movies isn't going to affect you? How do you think that serial killers develop the tendencies to kill people violently for their own pleasure? They become de-sensitized to the suffering of others and de-sensitized to violence. There's the potential for all of us to become serial killers, given the right conditions, just as there is the potential for us all to become Buddhas. Who in their right mind would feed their desire for gratuitous violence instead of their heartfelt compassion for all living beings? What spiritual meaning is there in the depiction of violence?

Our mind is changed for the worse by wallowing in violence just as our mind is changed for the better - into compassion - by immersing ourself in the awareness of others' suffering with a mind of love. Please don't underestimate the negative effect of violent computer games and movies on our minds.

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[...] Tricycle » Violence in Movies: Kill Bill Vol. 1 tricycle.com/blog/?p=1830 – view page – cached Kill Bill Vol. 1 was on TV last night. (Kill Bill Vol. 3 is slated for 2014, I don’t know how seriously.) And so, oddly, for the second time in a week I found myself defending it, despite disliking strongly when I saw it in the theater years ago. Aside from its pervasive violence, it is adolescent, pornographic, fetishistic, pointless, and often dull, and yet it is great movie—by which I mean... Read moreKill Bill Vol. 1 was on TV last night. (Kill Bill Vol. 3 is slated for 2014, I don’t know how seriously.) And so, oddly, for the second time in a week I found myself defending it, despite disliking strongly when I saw it in the theater years ago. Aside from its pervasive violence, it is adolescent, pornographic, fetishistic, pointless, and often dull, and yet it is great movie—by which I mean I think it’s worth watching. View page Tweets about this link Topsy.Data.Twitter.User['revdannyfisher'] = {"photo":"http://a1.twimg.com/profile_images/795701038/twitterProfilePhoto_normal.jpg","url":"http://twitter.com/revdannyfisher","nick":"revdannyfisher"}; revdannyfisher: “RT @tricyclemag: Violence and the movies (Kill Bill Vol. 1 belatedly considered) http://is.gd/cynnb ” 3 hours ago retweet Topsy.Data.Twitter.User['tricyclemag'] = {"photo":"http://a1.twimg.com/profile_images/314841142/big_t_normal.jpg","url":"http://twitter.com/tricyclemag","nick":"tricyclemag"}; tricyclemagHighly Influential: “Violence and the movies (Kill Bill Vol. 1 belatedly considered) http://is.gd/cynnb ” 12 hours ago retweet Filter tweets [...]

Joseph Duemer's picture

Seems to me that's right -- all art that's any good involves some kind of transgression; what we want, though, is for an artist to transgress necessarily, to have struggled with the moral issues raised by his or her art. I don't find much of that struggle in Tarantino's movies.

Philip Ryan's picture

Thanks, Monica, good points. Once you let ethics in (yours, mine, our shared ethics as a society, etc.) you're limiting art and artists. ALL works of art violate SOMEONE's moral code, yet we would be poorer without them. And yet we can't turn from say that therefore EVERYTHING in art is allowable. Can we?

Monica's picture

It seems to me an odd statement to be told to keep ethics out of anything. If you want to quibble with the ethics, quibble with the ethics, but is it not the very purpose of a moral code to guide all aspects of our lives? Is not a moral code (be it right or wrong in itself) foundational? In that sense, one can NOT keep ethics out of art. Perhaps you don't want someone ELSE to apply THEIR ethics to YOUR art, as the final sentence implies, but that just inhabits a realm of moral reletavism, a viewpoint broadly questioned and discredited. Besides, what makes Kill Bill any more "yours" than "mine" seeing as neither of us had a hand in making the movie?

Just playing devil's advocate here. I don't particularly enjoy Quentin Tarintino's (sp?) films, or the ultra-violent genre in general, but I wouldn't waste my breath moralizing about them either.

Philip Ryan's picture

Thanks, Danny. Since you're the more or less resident Buddhist movie critic online, I intended a nod in your direction in this post, and I'm sorry I left it out. Thanks for the link!

Rev. Danny Fisher's picture

I did a write-up about Buddhism and "Kill Bill" a few years back and revisited it not too long ago...

http://dannyfisher.org/2009/05/03/kill-bill-and-other-admonishments-cour...