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.