June 01, 2010
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.