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Kill More Kill Bill PSAs!

Sean Collins annoyed people this morning by saying that Kill Bill detractors should be ignored because they’re misunderstanding a great movie. I disagree with Sean that any of the characters renounce violence, except maybe the Tiny Yakuza who brings out Beatrix’s motherly side. And if they don’t renounce violence, are they all getting punished? Actually, I realize what he said was that “characters who refuse to renounce violence and deceit are inevitably punished for that refusal.” So maybe Beatrix escapes on a technicality for not managing to tell lies while dosed with truth serum, and limbless Sophie Fatale didn’t become headless too because she’s a coward who squealed. But that’s not what I’m focusing on here.

In an email, he clarified his thoughts on the aspect of sexual violence that had bothered Steven and me:

Anyway, I’d talk about the sexualized and exploitative violence–if, that is, I thought there was any, which I didn’t. Not all violence against women is sexualized, and I didn’t think any of it in Kill Bill was. No fetishizing shots of breasts, nipples, legs, crothces, asses, or even hair, really, just by way of a for instance. At any rate, it’s tough to think of a stronger female character than the Bride, who’s easily the best action heroine ever (depending, I guess, on whether you like her better than Lt. Ellen Ripley).

So maybe it boils down a problem with definitions, what makes some violence sexual and some not. I didn’t mean the violence was problematic because it involved femmes fatales in boob socks, which seems to be Sean’s definition of sexual violence. Well, I say it’s spinach and I say to hell with it. Without talking about which “worked” for me as story elements and which didn’t, I’m going to make an incomplete list of categorically grouped sex-related violence from both my hazy memories of Kill Bill Vol. 1 and the more recent volume.

There’s some straight-up sexual violence. Buck has been accepting money to let men rape Beatrix while she’s comatose. I’d argue that the murders in response to this fall in the same general category. Beatrix has no reason to murder these two men except that she’s been their victim, so she’s trying to “right” the power balance because there’s nothing she can do about the sex part, which of course is the point. And Esteban slicing up the faces of his prostitutes, that seems like violence as payback for infractions related to sex and power, though we never learn the details.

Then there’s gender-based or sexist violence. When Gogo slices through the businessman who propositions her, she’s upsetting social norms and doing something unexpected for a woman. She’s penetrating and controlling someone who sought to do the same to her. O-Ren has to do the same thing, beat the men at their game of brutality to lead the Yakuza. If Bill is to believed, Pai Mei is a sexist who makes the women in his tutelage work harder and suffer more to prove their ability.

And there’s no lack of violence in/and romantic or just sexual relationships. Maybe Esteban’s role as a sometimes violent pimp fits better here. I don’t just mean standard intimate violence, but the way sex and violence are intertwined for the characters. Elle kills Budd so she can take credit for offing Beatrix, thinking it will endear her to Bill, not to mention knock out a rival for his affections. And when Elle and Beatrix finally fight, is the extra brutality payback for old hurts or the old girlfriend going after the rival who’s taken her place? Most obvious, though, is that Bill and Beatrix were obviously having sex, and Bill killed Beatrix after she left him. Whether or not it had to do with his jealousy that he was being replaced in her heart and womb, when you kill someone you’ve been sleeping with, it’s intimate violence and it’s not uncommon in our world either.

Objectification seems too subjective to catalogue and was something I didn’t find too problematic, perhaps because it’s what Tarantino understands best. I thought the parallel between the prostitutes in the brothel and Bill’s Assassin Squad was an insightful one that added depth to the story. And I haven’t quite figured out the mechanics, but I liked the way Budd didn’t objectify the strippers he worked with but did treat Beatrix as subhuman when burying her. He treats women who are nothing more than puppets in the movie as characters and belittles (and thus underestimates) the two fully realized women he deals with in the movie.

I’m sure if I spent time thinking about it I could come up with more than this, but there isn’t much of a point. These are issues that hit close to home with me, so I know I’ll be more strongly affected by them than most viewers, but I don’t know how anyone could ignore them all or be unaffected by them. I didn’t think the movie was necessarily exploitative in a porny way, making Uma Thurman some kind of fetish object, but the violence exploited the audience.

Sean also says he’s avoided analyzing Kill Bill Vol. 2 because he likes it too much to have critical distance. I hope he reconsiders, because I think I can see what aspects people would like, but I’d love to hear what they actually are. It’s usually easier to do negative reviews and it can be difficult and self-revealing to talk in any detail about what you like. One of my goals in writing here is to get more comfortable doing both sorts of reviews. I’m still working on that part, but apparently have no qualms about pressuring others to do what I don’t. And Mr. John Jakala, this means you! We who haven’t yet seen Dogville want to know why we should!


  1. John Jakala says:

    Damn, I’m called out on my recommending without defending!

    It’s hard for me to discuss Dogville if you haven’t seen it because I fear I’d color your perceptions of the movie with my impressions. I avoided reading any reviews or articles about Dogville until I’d seen it. I will say that I can see why people would come away thinking that the movie is misogynistic but I didn’t view it that way. I’m not sure that you or Steven would agree with me, though, since I think we’ve disagreed before on portrayals of violence against women (LoEG; Watchmen).

    Basically I’m trying to weasel out of writing a more detailed recommendation because I’m horrible at doing non-spoiler reviews. I always want to write about the stuff that shouldn’t be revealed to those who haven’t seen the film yet.

    I would be curious to read both your thoughts on Dogville. Is that enough of a reason/recommendation for you to see it? (And after I see Kill Bill Vol. 2 this weekend I’ll finally read your (and Sean’s) pieces on it. For the record, I did like Vol. 1.)

    — 23 April 2004 at 3:40 am (Permalink)

  2. Steven says:

    I personally wouldn’t mind a spoilery review at all, but I seem to have a nonstandard attitude about spoilers in that I don’t care. I already have a vague idea of the nature, if not the details, of the ending of Dogville anyway… It’s not anywhere near the top of my list of movies I want to see, but it’s not on my list of movies I must never see, either.

    — 23 April 2004 at 4:10 am (Permalink)

  3. Rose says:


    You only got called out because I couldn’t get your comments to load. I haven’t noticed Dogville playing around here (or have I? I don’t remember anymore) so it may have to wait for the DVD, but the spoiler issue is a tough one. I don’t really mind since the way I deal with violence and suspense in movies is to think one step ahead of the story so that I can’t easily be shocked by what comes next, so I’m not usually put off by knowing what happens later in a movie. It just means I know whether to bother getting my hopes up for things to turn out the way I’d like.

    I’m not offended by the presence of violence against women in a story, but it’s more a question of what the story does with it. When women are raped/killed/maimed so “their men” have an impetus to go out and kick ass, that automatically puts it on my bad list (unless the problems with this choice are somehow addressed within the story), but that’s the only given I can think of. I wish there were more movies that handled the issues well. And Steven’s just offended because it’s only 3 hours long and thus doesn’t have an intermission.

    — 23 April 2004 at 10:03 am (Permalink)

  4. Steven says:

    I don’t think every movie should have an intermission…

    — 23 April 2004 at 3:21 pm (Permalink)

  5. John Jakala says:

    Rose -

    I will say that Dogville doesn’t suffer from the particular problem you mentioned (although neither does Kill Bill, come to think of it, so that’s still no guarantee you won’t find Dogville objectionable). And, yes, the movie is three hours long. It didn’t feel like it to me, though (although I will admit I thought the first half-hour or so was slow, until I got caught up in the characters and their interactions).

    — 23 April 2004 at 9:04 pm (Permalink)

  6. F????bio Moon says:

    Not only did I posted comments there, but I also just did it here. Now it’s your turn to pay me a visit. Maybe you’ll like what I wrote today. Maybe you’ll at least like the images.

    — 23 April 2004 at 9:43 pm (Permalink)

  7. Rose says:

    OK, ok! John and Fabio win and I’ll be going to see Dogville after it opens next week, which was my plan all along. I imagine I’ll have mixed feelings, which is by no means a bad thing, but I’ll let you know what they are when they’re available.

    — 23 April 2004 at 10:27 pm (Permalink)