Friday, September 10, 2010

Wishy-Washy Thoughts on Tarantino

"Kill Bill -- Vol. 1" (Miramax), opens with the old proverb, "Revenge is a dish best served cold." After sitting through the flick's 90 minutes of unabated carnage, one would agree a more fitting maxim would have read, "This movie is a dish best not served."

So write the cinema reviewers for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.  To a great extent, I guess I agree with them.  The films of Quentin Tarantino are filled with gratuitous violence, crude language, and other very graphic imagery from time to time.  These are certainly not films for children, nor, perhaps, as the USCCB reviews suggest, for anyone else.  I think that those who write these reviews, however, sometimes miss the forest for the trees.

Both volumes of "Kill Bill" are graphically violent (decapitations, rape, blood-spurting limbs, etc . . .).  Some people watch the films because they find such violence entertaining.  Perhaps Tarantino himself finds such violence entertaining.  Nevertheless, to entirely dismiss the films as so much trash because of the violence is to overlook a deeply important allegory.  The film critics write in their review of the second volume, "Catholic viewers should not be blinded to the fact that, despite its hip veneer, the film's underlying theme of revenge is incompatible with the Christian understanding of justice and forgiveness."  I think they are dead wrong.  These two films, viewed as a whole, are demonstrative of what happens to the soul of a person who fails to forgive.  The main character of the films, in a desire for revenge, is willing to destroy almost anything that stands in her way.  The desire for revenge has so blinded her that she seems unable to see what she is destroying around her as she hacks, chops, and shoots her way toward her goal.  Yet, how often have each of us, in a desire for revenge, done similar things?  How often have we done serious damage to our relationships with others just to get one up on an opponent?  How often have we trampled the dignity of another to gain an advantage over another person?  It seems to me that Tarantino's violence gives a visual representation of what happens to us and to others when we refuse to forgive.  Don't get my wrong; Tarantino's "Kill Bill" films are sickeningly bloody.  Nevertheless, I suggest that we need to have a look at what our unwillingness to forgive does in our lives and the lives of others.  The result of our own spiritual violence is perhaps less visibly horrifying, but no less destructive, and no less sinful.

I am not sure that we should watch "Kill Bill."  As with St. Ignatius when he read his books about heroes and victories in war, these films left me feeling unsettled.  Likewise, they also made me a little more sensitive to people who confess a refusal to forgive.  Tarantino captures with incredibly graphic imagery, what I cannot accomplish with words alone.  Tarantino's films explore the utter ugliness of sin and the complete emptiness one experiences when one finally attains one's vengeance.  The reviewers of "Kill Bill" are wrong.  The films' treatment of revenge and the true consequences thereof are deeply consonant with the "Christian understanding of justice and forgiveness."

I am not saying that everyone should rush out and rent these films.  I am saying, though, that  when one decides to avoid "Kill Bill," one should do so because the graphic nature of the violence can be very disturbing.  One should be careful to conclude, however, that the films teach no Christian moral.


  1. Wow, Father. I own those two movies...and I attempted to get rid of them not long ago because I thought, "What redeeming value do they have?" -- and though I couldn't come up with an answer, still I feel there's something there -- something to them. Could be that I'm a fan of kung-fu, samurai, and spaghetti westerns, and these two films are Taratino's mash-up of those genres -- but then, why do I like those sorts of films?

    And now I read your post, and I remember the end of the second Kill Bill, and how it doesn't end icily or gloriously or bloodily, but in resignation and relief and not a little sorrow. And then I think of Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, "Kid, we all got it comin'."

  2. Some great points there! I was unable to make it through Kill Bill because the violence was just too disturbing, but I think there is a similar message in Inglourious Basterds, another Tarantino film. The movie is the same type of revenge theme on Nazi soliders, and you are left to grapple with conflicting feelings about the evils carried out by Nazis and the pleasure the characters take in gruesomely destroying the soliders. It makes you ask questions about justice, revenge, and violence. A movie I enjoyed, even if I had to close my eyes a few times.

  3. I was particularly fond of "Ingloriuous Basterds." For me, however, the redeeming message of that film was Tarantino's acknowledgment that we live in a world where Hollywood gets to write history however they want to. And people will believe it.


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