Kill Bill is a feminist masterpiece (long with lots of spoilers)

I just got back from watching Kill Bill. Wow.

I’ve never been a big Tarantino fan. I thought Pulp Fiction was unbearably chatty. And lord knows it was hard wading through the endless “men who carry absurd guns and cuss a lot while wearing suits” imitations he spawned.

I guess you could call me a Tarantino fan now. What follows is a rought first impressions analysis from a feminist film theory perspective.

Kill Bill opens with a woman’s bloodied face (the Bride)- bloodier than any we’d see in the genres that grainy black and white imitates. An unseen man (metaphorically the camera) talks about how she might think he is being sadistic, but he isn’t.

We don’t believe that for a moment. The films Tarantino is referencing in this scene are sadistic. The viewer’s main appeal is watching women suffer. And the Bride isn’t about to let this sadistic bastard get off scot free.

This is made more explicit when the policeman leers at her body- which he assumes to be dead, and starts describing her as a bloodied angel. She spits in his face for that one.

Then we go to the living room fight scene. The stylized action looks strange in the domestic setting. If this were two men fighting in their den, we’d never question it. But this is something new. This is some crazy new world where women lead secret lives and are formidable enemies to each other (and their husband’s likely don’t have a clue). And the audience, by being startled and then accepting of this, has to question their own assumptions.

And having a kid is no excuse for the Bride’s adversary. Retreating into domesticity (and to go out on a limb, the “woman’s picture”, which the Bride’s adversary is desperatly trying to turn this film into) won’t work. The Bride does tell her adversaries daughter that she is free to seek revenge when she grows up. This isn’t a world without rules- there seems to be a pretty strict code of honor among these women.

Next, a couple men get killed for their acts of rape. These acts of rape are paralleled by the film audience’s scopophilic (sorry, it’s hard to write about these things without using that word) viewing of the female. You have to admit were all at the edge of our seats with some kind of excitment when the man was about to climb up on the Bride’s unconscious form. the Bride once again decides she’s not okay with being raped and she’s not okay with the audience leering at her helplessness, either.

O-Ren’s animated story is once again about looking. This time she passively watches her family’s death. It ends with her mother’s death on a bed, with blood spreading and then dripping through the mattress. Although the mother wasn’t raped, all the symbolism was there for it. O-Ren has also had enough of looking, and becomes an assasin.

In this world, O-Ren, a woman with an all female entourage, is the head of the Yakuza. When all the fighting starts happening and the blood spills in earnest, it is the women who are formidable foes. They are the ones with personality. The men are expendable clones. It only takes a minute to get used to it and accept this as the new order of things.

There are a couple scenes that really cement it though. One is a flashback to when Go Go, O-Ren’s 17 year old schoolgirl bodygaurd (who is described as “crazy” when it comes to killing) asks a drunken man he wants to screw. When he replies “yes”, she stabs him brutally, and says something along the lines of “You wanted to penetrate me, now I have penetrated you”. This is almost direct address to the audience. It also questions the many scenes in other movies where a man is depicted as “crazy” in an admirable way for killing a prostitute for no reason. In this scene, we are left with no doubts about what is going on. But if those doubts linger, the Brides declaration to the dozens of mostly-men she just wreaked great carnage opon fthat they can keep their lives but their severed limbs are hers cements it. We’re talking about castration here. Specifically, symbolic casteration to give women control of the camera.

There are some mysteries left. We never hear the Bride’s name (in fact, it is actively bleeped out- a move one reviewer dismisses as whimsy, but nothing in movies is an accident). And we never see Bill (a convention of the lethal female genre, but I suspect in the second part something surprising will happen with all this).

I’m really excited about this film. Oddly, only a few reviewers mentioned any of the gender implications of this film. Even if you are not some kind of over analytical film theorist like me, it’s hard not to see that this film adressed gender in a complicated way (and anything that questions portrayals of gender is on it’s way to being feminist). I’m puzzled why the reviews saw all the action, but didn’t see the persistant subtext that they spell out for you time and time again.

Don’t forget Bill, though. He is a male and also “the boss” of these women. Look at how he treated Daryl Hanna when he called her on her cellphone and called off the assassination of The Bride. He told her what to do and didn’t want to hear her argue about it.

I’m not disagreeing with you, and I assume vol.2 will include The Bride defeating and humiliating this powerful man. Rather than elevating females to a new level of cinematic empowerment, I think the real reason this movie uses women in the ways you point out is more simple and cynical. Hot chicks kicking ass sells tickets, and the goal of any modern movie maker is not to question social mores and gender roles, but rather to make money and lots of it.

I appreciate your analysis, but I disagree with it. So I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m dismissing it out of hand, because that’s not my intention.

But I think that calling Kill Bill “feminist” is kind of like the scene in This is Spinal Tap when the band tries to defend the cover of “Smell the Glove” by pointing out that it’s the woman who has the glove and is making the man smell it. Even though almost all of the characters in Kill Bill are women, it’s an astoundingly male movie. As I see it, the conept is simple: take every single thing that would make a 16-year-old suburban boy say “RADICAL!” and put it into one movie.

One of the things that is guaranteed to make a 16-year-old suburban boy say “RADICAL” above all else, is a hot woman. Therefore, take your samurai/spaghetti western/anime/Hong Kong yakuza action-drama with big trucks and motorcycles and swordfights and gun battles. Take every part that would traditionally be played by a big unshaven hairy guy, and replace it with a hot woman. Profit.

The reason The Bride’s name is bleeped out is simply because the hero of these genre movies is frequently nameless. “Sanjuro” (presumably not his real name) from Yojimbo and Sanjuro. The Man With No Name from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti-western remakes. The idea is to turn the lead character from a character into an archetype. It’s not exactly “whimsical,” but the way that it’s handled (which I thought was extremely clever, btw) is typical of the whole movie – style above all.

That’s not to say that the movie is absolutely shallow, but I strongly believe that the intent was very definitely to look cool first, and then mean something later if there’s enough time and energy left over. All of the stuff you point out is definitely there, of course, and of course it’s no accident that the heroine drives around in a big truck called the “Pussy Wagon.” But I’m not ready to agree that it “addresses gender in a complicated way;” I think it just takes male roles and substitutes women in their place.

IANAW, but I don’t see it as particularly “empowering,” either. It’s like mud-wrestling, or the ads for that videogame “Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball” (“We like it because the girls kick really high.”); guys dig chicks who can kick ass, and guys like to look at catfights. It’s not a message of “Look at these powerful women in control of their own lives,” it’s “Look at these women.” I could very well be misunderstanding the meaning of the term “feminism,” but I thought that it meant a positive and realistic portrayal of women as women.

And I don’t see any of this as a criticism of the movie; I just think that it wasn’t trying to be anything other than cool. And I think it did that and then some.

Nothing new here: like everything else in Kill Bill it’s (intentionally) recycled from 70s genre films, e.g. that feminist masterpiece I Spit On Your Grave.

I agree that Kill Bill has intentionally feminist overtones, but not because she’s seeking vengenance against a man, but because she’s a woman seeking vengeance against other women.

This is a post-feminist movie. She wanted to have a traditional feminine role, as a wife and mother, but she was deprived of that by Bill and his posse of strong, independent women (shades of housewives being mocked by feminists?). Deprived of that, she becomes a perfect killer. Rape doesn’t victimize women in this movie, so much as piss them off and inspire them to even greater acts of violence.

Interesting note. Bill, the only major male in the film, is also the only character throughout the film that shows any compassion at all. I beleived his (or at least believed that he believed) his “this is the most masochitic thing I’ve ever done” speech. Note his saving of the Bride (btw, I think we commanded Ellie through mutual respect and love, not in a patriarchial sense), as well as his treatment towards Sophie. I look forward to knowing him better in Vol. II. These women are strong, but utterly devoid of everything good we associate with women. Emancipated from males (the racist Yakuza Boss), they turn on their sisters (all of them on the Bride, the Bride on Copperhead). They’re tough. Tougher than the men, but at what price?

This is Fight Club for girls.

I also disagree that Tarantino’s choice to use a predominantly female cast was just because chicks with swords are cool. If that was it, we’d see alot more skin.

“Rape doesn’t victimize women in this movie, so much as piss them off and inspire them to even greater acts of violence” is the pretty much the plot synopsis for I Spit On Your Grave.

I think the power that women have in this movie is pretty cool. All the main villains are women (except for Bill, of course). All the dangerous characters are women.

The OP didn’t mention the scene where Uma spanks a young Yakuza with the flat of her sword and yells at him to go home to his mommy. That’s a real, authoritative, maternal, female power there.

There’s also the irony that the character who has the most cliched “sexy” look, the teenage body guard in the schoolgirl uniform, is also the one who will kill a lech at the drop of a hat. Tarantino is too smart not to do that kind of thing on purpose. I think he’s really trying to do a classic martial arts revenge film in which women play the traditional male characters.

Exploitation films have always been complicated. They often give their subjects unprecedented screen time and great power, but they…well…exploit them. Slasher films, for example, revel in watching women run around in fear and get cut up into chuncks. But they are also the only genre consistantly told from a woman’s perspective, and always end with the woman hunting down and killing the male killer. It’s not exactly feminist- but it is complicated.

Tarantino knows this. It is part of his facination with exploitation films. We’re seeing a lot more than nostalgia though. He has feminist aspirations, and sought to express them in Jackie Brown. In Kill Bill he finished what he began. He took an exploitative genre, highlighted the ways that it deals with gender (by, for example, staging a stylized fight scene in a sunny domestic setting) and then plunders it, tweaks it, and subverts it in a way that can be called a solid win for the women.

If Tarantino was out for pure exploitation, he would have been getting a lot better reviews than he is. And, as it’s been pointed out, we would have been seeing these women naked. Nothing in movies is an accident. All the conventions from the genres he references are there for a reason, and it means something when Tarantino plucks them out and uses them his films.

Another thing to notice- there are a few occasions when the camera get really close, making the subject look downright ugly (like the toes, also a few face shots). Surely that is a comment on the act of looking at people on screen…

The fact that the Bride is fighting other women is interesting- It’d be great to see some female friendship happen. But remember all the women she is fighting are under Bill’s control (although sometimes they get pissed off at Bill’s patronizing power- like when Daryl Hanna whines when she can’t kill the Bride- in a real 70s film Hanah would not have even questioned Bill). The Bride apparently rebelled against Bill at some point, and now she’s gonna take that whole darn system down.

I am intrigued about what happens in the next half. Could we see the Daryl Hanna character turn against Bill? I’m sure we will see Sophie again. And hopefully when we learn what Bill’s deal is, I am sure it will be pretty surprising. I expect to see him unmasked and exposed- which the 1970s films never did. Tarantino has already proven himself as a master storyteller, and I’m excited to see how the pieces all fit together in the end.

Bill is the linchpin for this whole thing. We need to know more about him. How does he hold sway over these women? Through fear, intimidation, and coercion? Or through respect, mutual affection, patronage (not patronising, he did help O-Ren in her bid for Yakuza supremacy) and their acknowledgement of his leadership skills. is he a liar and/or hipocrit, or a compassionate, ethical criminal (an oxymoron in the real world but not necesarily so in film) who is sometimes driven to brutality by the situation?

Exactly why did he turn on the Bride?

And am I the only one that thought Budd (Mr. Blonde) sounded repentent (as opposed to Ellie) in his short reaction speech at the end of the film?

I don’t think so. The implication is clearly that she already was a perfect killer back when she was allied with all these people (“I should’ve been the Black Mamba!”), but had decided to leave this to have a more traditional life. There’s no sense of this betrayal turning her into a killer; the second she wakes up, she starts killing people.

Gotta disagree with this one as well. Hattori Honzo (sp?) is the other major male character, and he shows sympathy and compassion for The Bride’s quest. And I’m not sure what this indicates: I kept expecting some kind of betrayal or reversal to happen, but the scene just played out as any other scene with a samurai visiting a sensei/master craftsman for help in his quest. It would’ve been really interesting if the master swordsman had been a woman; that would’ve been the most convincing argument that there’s more going on in the movie than just a simple role-reversal. (Because it would’ve shown an independent woman who’d gained respect purely on the basis of her own merits and skill.)

I think it’s a lot more telling than the story of every female character in the movie is told in terms of its being influenced by a man. Men drive the story. When Vivica Fox’s character is introduced, The Bride’s narration describes her life with her husband (who is never seen). The key points in O-ren’s story are driven by men – the men who killed her parents, the man she killed for revenge, the man (Bill) who made it even possible for her to get into a position of power. Daryl Hannah’s character isn’t allowed to have an entire scene of her “doing her job,” it’s key that she’s shown taking orders from a man (and I disagree that her conversation with Bill is a collaborative one; he’s patronizing her). The Bride isn’t known by her own name, but as her role in relationship to a man. She’s betrayed by a man, found by a man, driven to free herself from the hospital by a man, given a car by a man, given a sword by a man.

The only two female characters who come close to having independent stories and back-stories are Sophie the lawyer, and Gogo the bodyguard. Sophie’s role is undermined by the scenes at the end with Bill “nurturing” her in the hospital. And Gogo is described as just being insane.

I just think that showing a lot more skin would’ve been too obvious. They’re substituting women in male roles, but they’re still following the same rules – male action heroes usually keep their clothes on, and when they come off it’s usually to show how powerful they are, not to be sexy.

I suspect the real reason you’re not seeing skin is that it would have pushed the movie to NC-17, given the MPAA’s bizarre insistence that a nipple is far more offensive than a disemboweling.

Well, it’s symbolic y’know. Obviously she was already an accomplished killer. But they won’t let her be anything else, to become a traditional woman (wife and mother). She would have retired, but they usurped her “woman’s” role and forced her to resume killing.

I did neglect Hanso (mostly because I think he was just an excuse to sneak Sonny Chiba into the thing) ;). I think Bill and (especially) Hanso represent an older, more honorable warrior archetype. They have a much stricter code and sense of what’s right and wrong. The ladies are newer on the killer scene, and while they’re just as competent, they’re more dangerous because they’ve largely rejected the warrior’s code along with traditional female roles. They are mad-dog killers who would kill a girl in a coma. Bill wouldn’t deprive her of a chance for revenge.

Sure. In the same way that men “created” feminism through their oppression of women. It’s how the women react, and what it makes them that’s the focus. They don’t just get revenge, they become remorseless machines.

That’s to set up Copperhead as having achieved what the Bride wanted in the first place, domestic tranquility, a traditional woman’s place. In her own way, the Bride has become just as bad as her attackers. The focus of the scene isn’t on the husband, it’s on the daughter. Will she continue the cycle? The Bride invites her to do so.

I think here we just have to agree to disagree.



That explains why there’s no actual nudity, but he didn’t even try to be provocative. I mean, the final fight could have been between the Bride in a Sports Bra and O-Ren in a skintight catsuit.

I don’t agree with this. The code of the warrior is carried throughout here, by most of the women, and the depiction here is pretty typical of many samurai/martial arts movies. You have the noble fighters who respect each other and battle with honor (The Bride, O-ren); the deceptive ones who claim to fight with honor, but do something underhanded at a key point (Vivica Fox’s character whose name I keep forgetting); and then the insane ones who have no honor (Daryl Hannah’s character, and Gogo).

When O-ren apologizes for insulting The Bride’s technique, that’s straight out of any one of a million samurai movies. When The Bride & Fox’s character stop fighting for the sake of the child, that’s the same concept. As somebody pointed out in a different thread, that scene is very similar to a scene in a John Woo film. I will concede, though, that there is a feminist twist to that scene and in fact that whole segment.

I did neglect Hanso (mostly because I think he was just an excuse to sneak Sonny Chiba into the thing)[/quorte]

You also forgot Budd, who should have a bigger role in the next film.

Chiba has been known to handle the katana very well (“He hit them with the blunt end”–Roddy Piper), and Mifune is dead, so what better homage to Sonny for helping to bring chambara to the states than have him be the katana maker? Tarrantino does not waste appearances.

even sven: I’m a hardcore film junkie (see any film-theory thread in CS) and unapologetic leftist (ditto GD), and I think you’re over-reading the film.

Now, I’d never say that you aren’t seeing what you’re seeing. The magic of film as an art form is that it’s subjective, and that different people respond in different ways. One viewer’s masterpiece is another viewer’s masturbatory indulgence. If you read it as a feminist manifesto, great. A friend of mine feels the same about the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, the one that came before the TV show and doesn’t work nearly as well as what came after.

Where you’re getting in trouble, I think, is trying to argue that all of this was intentional on the part of the filmmaker, that this was the deliberate design of Tarantino & Co. When a film impacts a viewer strongly, there’s always a temptation to give credit to the filmmakers; you yourself say, and I quote, that “nothing in movies is an accident.” As somebody who has been immersed in film and filmmaking for many years, I can say with absolute authority that accidents are rampant in movies. And, in fact, that experienced moviemakers live for them: They’ll often set up the way a scene is shot or let a take run long or whatever in the hopes that something unexpected and wonderful happens. Robert Altman, to name just one example, has made a career out of it.

You’ve also misread one scene, to wit:

“Direct address” means the actor is speaking into the camera. In the scene in question, the two performers are in profile on opposite sides of the screen, about as far from direct address as you get. If you want to see direct address in action, check out the interrogation scenes between Lecter and Starling in Silence of the Lambs; director Jonathan Demme has his actors look and speak straight into the lens. That’s not true for the scene you’ve highlighted above. You can perhaps make the case that the line is intended to be perceived as such by the audience, but the way it’s shot doesn’t really give that impression, and it certainly isn’t “direct address.” Maybe you meant something else.

Again, let me clarify: I’m not trying to take this interpretation away from you. I just want you to be careful to distinguish between arguing that the movie can be interpreted this way and arguing that the movie must be interpreted this way.


Remember folks, even sven says she’s viewing the picture through the lens of feminist film theory. Saying that she’s reading to much into the film is really missing the point unless you are also viewing the movie through feminist film theory lens.


Seeing as we’re not viewing the picture through the same lens I’m not sure you’re aware of the audience’s assumptions. Considering the type of movie it was I found nothing odd about two women duking it out in such a domestic setting. I find nothing new or innovative about a world with women leading secret lives and kicking ass.

Movies and television are rife with women kicking ass in a variety of settings. Xena, Witchblade, and Buffy are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Heck, if we want to go back to the 70’s we’ve got those 'sploitation movies with Pam Grier which probably influenced Tarantino.


Sorry nothing! You made me look up a word in the dictionary. I must have my vengeance!!!


Because it isn’t anything new. We’re used to seeing it.


What does it say though? “I’ve got a phallus that’s even better then yours and I’ll destroy you with it!” Or something else?


Which scenes are those and in what movies? I can’t recall ever seeing a movie where the murderer of prostutitues was admired by anybody but a bad guy.

I didn’t really see it. It really didn’t look any deeper then most other action films though it was at least well made. On the other hand I don’t think Vorheoven is a genius so what do I know?


No, but you’re probably the only who thinks they might be the only one to have noticed it.

I mean sheesh, the guy comes right out and says, “That woman deserves her revenge and we deserve to die.”

Though of course, that might not be indicative for repentance for what he took part in so much as a simple acknowledgement of the fact that they’ve earned whatever the Bride plans to do to them, something the Bride’s other targets are unwilling and perhaps even unable to acknowledge. I doubt it means Budd’ll just stand there and let her cut him down when his turn comes, just that he recognizes that he’s earned his death at her hands.

I didn’t like Kill Bill. None of the women got punished for their usurpation of the man’s role, and they weren’t redeemed through submission to a male hero figure with a big penis. Me no understand!

Just kidding. I didn’t see Kill Bill. I probably won’t either. Not a big action fan. I just think this thread’s a neat example of how anybody can watch any movie and see anything they want to see, or not see as the case may be.

But, dude! Showgirls, man! Showgirls! Hey, I bet that one looks pretty funky under even sven’s feminist theory lens too. It’s a lot more than just boobs, disturbing violence and bad acting… if you want it to be.

Showgirls is a misunderstood masterpiece, and my face is as straight as a Montana highway when I say that.