The themes of revenge in Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and Volume 2 (2004) will be discussed and analyzed on how Quentin Tarantino uses violence in order to connect the audience to the protagonist through the fantasy of revenge, both conceptually and emotionally. I will explore how violence is purposefully used as a device to distance the audience to engage with the themes and how revenge plays a part in the resolution. Through analysis of I will explore how fiction allows the audience to entertain the fantasy of revenge at a distance, through a narrative that could never hope to be achieved in the real world.
A former assassin known as Beatrix Kiddo a.k.a The Bride a.k.a Black Mamba, wakes up from a coma. Four years prior, her ex-lover Bill learns that Beatrix, who left him and his elite assassination squad, is about to marry another man. At her wedding reception Bill arrives with the rest of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and brutally murders everyone in the church except for Beatrix who survives the incident. Before Bill shoots Beatrix, she tells him of his unborn child. It is too late by the time she ends her sentence as Bill pulls the trigger. Four years after the incident, she embarks on a journey to restore her honour and avenge the death of her unborn child by eliminating the remaining members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. After many trials and brutal fights, she reaches Bill only to find that her child is alive and living with her father, the entire time. Despite the fact her child was saved from death, she is bound by her honour as a warrior, and kills Bill. The film has a happy ending for Beatrix as she defeats her enemies and is rewarded with the life of her daughter.
The Massacre at Two Pines, which is one of many acts of revenge in the film, serves as a catalyst for Beatrix to perpetuate the cycle of violence associated with revenge. Beatrix, however, stands out from the other characters who take revenge, due to her moral code and honor. To understand this, it is necessary to explore another act of revenge portrayed in the movie. O’ren Ishii, one of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who was directly involved in the wedding rehearsal massacre took her own revenge. O’ren Ishii avenged her parents, after she watched them being murdered at the age of nine, by yakuza boss, Boss Matsumoto. O’ren Ishii turns into an assassin and then later becomes a yakuza boss herself. She fails to lead a better life than the man who killed her parents. While on the other hand Beatrix chose to lead a better life by running away from the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and restraining from further violence in her life. Bill is no better than O’ren Ishii, and takes it a step further by seeking vengeance against someone he loves. Beatrix through her own code of honor, tries to dismantle this. In the first major fight scene in Kill Bill Vol 1 Beatrix Kiddo defeats her first target, Vernita Green, who is one of the assassins that was directly involved in the Massacre at Two Pines. Beatrix avoids killing Vernita Green’s child, and even halts the fight to honor Vernita’s wishes to not fight in front of her child. When Vernita acknowledges the fact that Beatrix is getting even with her, she replies:
To get even, even-steven, I would have to kill you, go into Nikki’s room, kill her, then wait for your old man, Dr. Bell, to come home and kill him. That would be even Vernita. Thaťd be about square.
Unlike the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who murder everyone at the wedding rehearsal, Beatrix only directs her hate towards the people directly involved. She sets a code of honour placing herself on a moral high ground. This warrior code of honor is seen throughout the two films, she is not trying to be ‘even-steven’ but only kill those that caused her harm.
Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2 makes no attempt to represent reality but instead invests in its own fictional world. The movie entertains the fantasy of revenge to the fullest in its over-the-top portrayal of violence and, although brutal, avoids horrific realistic depictions found in other movies. To achieve this Tarantino uses an amalgamation of distancing devices so that “extreme acts of violence are aestheticized and performed with joyful relish.” These distancing devices include cartoonish characters, over-the-top reactions and comical dialogue, unrealistic blood spray and the unnatural strength of the main character Beatrix. Tarantino use these devices to distance the audience from the violence in order to allow them to fantasize and root for the main character Beatrix Kiddo. The violence portrayed in Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2 often seems unrealistic and absurd through bold stylistic choices. For example, in the Crazy 88 scene, heads are flying, blood spraying from decapitated bodies, character’s cartoonish and over-the-top reactions to their limbs being cut off
Specifically, in Kill Bill, the protagonist’s ability to win against the odds reverses the pattern by which the revenger dies as a consequence of her vendetta. Instead, Beatrix Kiddo’s successful revenge restores to her the daughter she believes to be dead, thus realizing a primary fantasy of vengeance.
By comparing Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2 with another film that uses brutal violence for a different purpose, these devices and their purposes become clearer concerning event and motif. Taking inspiration from Asian martial arts movies Quentin Tarantino achieves in his goal to use violence as a method of storytelling. Man-Fung Yip explains that in the mid-1960s,
Filmmakers tried to muster every shock tactic at their disposal and launched an unprecedented assault on the viewer’s senses and sensibilities. Eschewing stylized theatrical fighting and fantastic special effects in favor of visceral and graphical violent approach.
For example the film Saving Private Ryan (1998) is set in the historical context of World War II which was a stage of horrific violence and brutality. The opening scene of Saving Private Ryan depicts a violent and disorientating battle on Omaha Beach where the Americans fought the Germans. The soldiers in this opening scene are being blown to pieces and see their fellow soldiers searching for their limbs and set aflame, disorientated and distraught by the attack. The violence portrayed in these two movies have different goals. Saving Private Ryan acts as a depiction of reality to shock and appall its viewers whereas Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2 acts as a entirely fantastical world purposefully avoiding violence as it is in reality as a spectacle for its viewers. Another example is the use of anime during the brutal scene of O’ren Ishii’s story, where she witnesses her parents being murdered and then later kills Boss Matsumoto and gets her revenge. The choice of telling O’ren Ishii’s story through the incorporation of anime suits the style of the film with its focus on remaining fictional. “Tarantino has claimed that unlike his previous films, which enact the uneasy clash between conventions of genre and real life, Kill Bill exists solely in the realm of fiction.”
Beatrix’s character does not change throughout these two films. She is fixated on her vengeance and is not able to grow as a character due to her fixation on killing The Deadly Viper Squad. Tarantino makes use of events and storyline to convey his point rather than the character’s themselves. This is not however to the detriment of the film, but fits in with the types of stories he tells, and the themes he chooses. The viewer rarely knows anything about Tarantino’s characters, sometimes not even the character’s name. He rather focuses on the story that he wants to tell through dialogue and events that take place. It is more about how the character overcomes the obstacles that they face, rather than the lessons learned and the character changing or learning anything about themselves. Beatrix does not overcome her own flaws, but instead overcomes extraordinary circumstances through superhuman feats. She has to function as a superhuman in order to overcome the obstacles faced in pursuit of her revenge.
In the last moments of the film Beatrix is reunited with the child she thought she had lost, B.B. She sends her child to sleep before returning to Bill to kill him. The climax of the film occurs when Beatrix kills Bill, the last remaining character that played a part in the massacre. Sitting across from each other, outdoors in the moonlight Beatrix performs the “five point palm exploding heart technique” that stops Bill’s heart. Only moments earlier he told her that she had broken his heart when she left him, to this moment where she literally breaks his heart. Despite Beatrix being reunited with her long lost child she still kills Bill. She does not, and will never abandon her honor code that she followed from the start. “In the end, Beatrix’s revenge is achieved not by re-enacting the original crime, but rather by intensifying and literalizing Bill’s sense of loss”. Instead of using the conventional tragic ending that revenge usually leads to, Tarantino gives Beatrix Kiddo a happy ending, this romanticizes the act of violence she commits to fulfill the fantasy of a violent revenge. The film settles on a resolution when Beatrix is reunited with her daughter free from Bill and the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. She does not only reach her goal of revenge but she is also met with the surprise of her daughter that has been alive this entire time. The film turns the usual revenge narrative on its head by allowing revenge under certain circumstances to reach a satisfying conclusion.
Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2 entertains the fantasy of revenge and explicitly does so through the use of stylized violence and its different take on the revenge narrative. The main character, Beatrix Kiddo, although facing numerous obstacles, does not change the way she approaches revenge. Fiction allows the audience to entertain the fantasy of revenge at a distance, through a narrative that could never hope to be achieved in the real world. Although not quite the hero’s journey that one might expect, the characters do not face their flaws or shortcomings, the narrative and spectacle of Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2 is perhaps a different and less morally driven form of catharsis.
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