Snakes, Swordfights, and Uma Thurman
I watched Kill Bill (parts 1 and 2) the other night with a few of my friends, and as impossible as I would have thought it, Quentin Tarantino’s movies have gotten more “out there” since Pulp Fiction. Granted, my experience with Tarantino films is only about as much as most (and not nearly as much as I’d like), but I imagine it doesn’t take too long to at least begin to grasp his particular film style. I’d wager that Tim Burton is the only director with a more distinctive stamp than Tarantino’s. The specifics are a little fuzzy, but I think if I were to draw a Venn Diagram with circles labeled “lack of color,” “Johnny Depp,” and “Helena Bonham Carter,” the intersections of two or more circles would get me pretty close.
For those of you unfamiliar with Tarantino, he directed such films as Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and the recent Inglourious Basterds, which I still haven’t seen but want to, if only because the last Indiana Jones movie left me in Nazi-bashing withdrawal. In general, Tarantino films are known for what could politely be called “edginess” and not-so-politely called “indulgently graphic violence.”
Pulp Fiction is notorious for the shot immediately preceding the sentence, “Oh, man, I just shot Marvin in the face,” which basically covers the only major instance of gore in the entire film. Kill Bill, on the other hand, has an almost constant flow of comically impossible geysers of blood and suspiciously survivable amputations.
Filmmaking that defies all expectations of reality is far from exclusive to specific directors or genres. When people got shot in old Westerns, they’d slump over dead where they stood.
Nowadays, depending on the film, a person who gets shot can either fall over, stagger around for a bit, deliver a two-minute plot-essential monologue, or fly ten feet backwards in an elegant, slow-motion swan dive with a twist and a half. While delivering a plot-essential monologue. For dramas and romances, what they lack in gunplay, they make up for in disproportionately high incidences of amnesiacs and rousing speeches that don’t end in mocking laughter. At least in Tarantino films, the audience isn’t asked to take the violence as remotely realistic or even logical.
For example, a typical human adult will die if they lose about four pints of blood — medical experts can correct me if I’m wrong — that figure was taken from an old Sherlock Holmes film. In Kill Bill, in contrast, hacking off an arm or head results in a macabre Kool-Aid fountain and several gallons of vampire food painting everything in a ten-foot radius and/or the walls and ceiling, depending on the size of the room. It doesn’t necessarily result in death. What this says to me is that in Tarantino-Land, not only are humans more resilient (and modular) than they are on Earth, but it is theoretically possible to lick your own elbow given enough tolerance for pain and a samurai sword.
Why do people enjoy the unusual and occasionally surreal style of Tarantino films? I’m guessing because it’s because they offer a complete, nothing-held-back moviegoing experience. (Or Samuel L. Jackson.) Why do they listen to the profanity, watch the violence, revel in the wanton and gratuitous? Same reason. Weirdly enough, I still find the idea of carrying a sword on to a commercial airliner seemingly without issue (it is Japan, after all) much more believable than the idea of reconstructing a fingerprint off of a fired bullet. (Christopher Nolan, I’m talking to you.) Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got movie watching to do. I may not have a samurai sword, but I do have a hacksaw, and I’m going to lick my elbow eventually, even if it kills me.