W. Morris (2003, October 10). “Kill Bill: Tarantino’s violence is stinging yet seductive.” Boston Globe. p. C1, C8.
L. Ogunnaike (2003, October 13). “Gory Kill Bill tops weekend box office.” New York Times. p. B1, B5.
The movie “Kill Bill,” released in the fall of 2003, is described as “93 minutes of some of the most luscious violence and spellbinding storytelling you’re likely to see this year” (Morris). Writer and director Quentin Tarantino recklessly flaunts his formal skills in regards to creating “high-concept violence.” He designed this “pulse-quickening martial-arts magnum opus” with the intention of leaving the audience thirsting for more (Morris).
The movie is disturbingly violent from the very beginning in that actress Uma Thurman is attacked by a team of assassins on her wedding day, while pregnant, and left for dead with a bullet in her head. Somehow, she wakes up from a coma four years later with her baby dead and sets out to take revenge on her assailants, writing a “to kill” list with their names on it.
“Kill Bill” has been called “one of the most violent films in American cinema” (Ogunnaike), but that did not stop people from flocking to the theaters. One man in his early 20s came to watch the film expressly for its much discussed brutality. “I like violence,” he said matter-of-factly, “That’s why I wanted to see it. And I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed of” (Ogunnaike).
It is said that the film’s first weekend at the box office brought an impressive profit for an R-rated movie that is “very genre specific and violent” and described as “a vivid collage of dismembered body parts, menacing samurai swords and more blood than a convoy of Red Cross trucks” (Ogunnaike). All of this gore seemed to suit many youth and young adults. One college freshman said smiling, “The opening scene makes you want to cringe, but that is what you expect from Tarantino, and he doesn’t let you down” (Ogunnaike).
However, the gore of “Kill Bill” did bother some. One teenage girl admitted, “I put my sweatshirt over my mouth during some parts” (Ogunnaike). Some viewers found the violence so over-the-top that it was comical, though they did not go into the movie expecting to crack a smile. One woman went to see it with her whole family, including her 13-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter. While she affirmed, “I can’t stand gore, and I can’t stand violence,” she was still in line purchasing tickets, all for the sake of her children’s wishes (Ogunnaike). She explained further that she planned to sit next to her younger child and cover his eyes during the film’s “particularly gruesome” scenes (which in reality is most of it) (Ogunnaike).
Morris writes, “It is hard to think of another sequence that combines suspense, dread, comedy, surrealism, violence, and swollen faces with as much stupefying zest.” Hong Kong action pictures are renowned for these sorts of absurd violent scenarios, but this movie pushed the absurd to the brink of horror by having it operate according to recognizable moral boundaries: “no stabbing in front of the kids.” Yet in spite of those guidelines, children play a consciously disturbing role in the picture, subjected to adult violence, always without warning, and also taking part in it.
It may be said, in Tarantino’s defense, that his violence is fundamentally cartoonish; and it is true that one animated scene, depicting an 11-year-old killer, is the most graphic and bloody in the film. However, Tarantino undermines this argument with sequences that “cross the line between jolting and sickening” (Morris), including “the Bride” killing a man by chewing off part of his face.
It has also been said of Tarantino that he, better, than nearly any American director, “deploys the history of screen violence—from slapstick foolery to utter doom—to enthrall” (Morris). His brand of violence has “the uncanny ability to seduce” (Morris). Overall, it seems that “Kill Bill” succeeded at the box office, despite the hurtling incoherence of the story line, because of the sensation it offers—sensation that is overwhelmingly and pervasively violent.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Why are our children/youth so captivated by violence in movies like “Kill Bill”? What is the value of stimulation and shock to them, as seen through the vehicle of violence?
- To what degree is it true that youth have become desensitized to violence? What kind of emotional and psychological responses should human beings express when they witness violence, considering both fiction and reality? How, if at all, is this altered in youth through the viewing of violence in movies, such as “Kill Bill”?
- In regards to those who enjoy violent movies, how is it feeding them? Why is it that people, particularly youth, keep going back for more?
- To what extent does living in a thriving country, one that is in some sense removed from much of the world’s violence, further the disconnect between our experience of violence and our response to it? How, if at all, have violent movies contributed to this?
- Violence in-and-of-itself is often what makes movies like “Kill Bill” entertaining. Do you see the danger in this? Parents and youth workers must be aware of this as they seek to nurture and protect young people, especially those who are at risk in their moral and social development.
- The director of “Kill Bill,” as well as many other directors, immerse themselves and their characters in a highly artificial world, “a looking-glass universe” that reflects their own cinematic obsessions. It is their intent to immerse the audience in this world as well. If our youth, or even we ourselves, enjoy these types of movies, then we must step back and ask why? We must consider if, and to what extent, we share the obsessions of the director—how much of a taste we have for such violence.
- We must be aware of the strategies for those whose first priority is to market movies, rather than bettering society and protecting the future generations. For example, marketers in the past have consistently targeted youth under the age of 17 for R-rated movies. We must be aware of these motivations, consider how they are affecting our young people, and take action to prevent it when necessary.
- We must be careful not to be too simplistic in our evaluations regarding violence in movies and its influence on today’s youth. We must also carefully consider the other surrounding factors, both internal (such as psychological and emotional health) and external (such as the home environment and bullying at school). One is better able to address the problem, including what kind of help to seek, after one determines all that is involved.
- To learn more about the effects of screen violence on youth and to consider this issue further, read this CYS review on Dr. James Garbarino’s Lost Boys.
Christopher Kilbert© 2017 CYS