Journey Through Kill Bill: Part 1 & 2
Steve P’s Journey Through Kill Bill was originally written for and published on Genrebusters. Part 1 and 2 are reposted on Playtime by permission of the author.
Part 1 – Opening and Chapter 1
I am not a Quentin Tarantino fan. Unlike some of my friends, I haven’t watched much of his work. Oh sure, I’ve seen enough of “Reservoir Dogs” to get the reference from an episode of the BBC comedy “Coupling”. And I’ve seen parts of “Pulp Fiction,” though I prefer Kevin Rubio’s parody of the “Big Mac Conversation” in “Force Fiction” to the original. In short, his work has just never quite clicked with me until I watched this film. Kill Bill isn’t about paying homage to the violence and gore of the grindhouse or about how witty and hip Tarantino’s dialogue is. True, Kill Bill does feature those things, but that’s not the sole focus of the film. No, this film is all about The Bride’s quest and all of the dangers that she must overcome to reach her ultimate goal1; bringing together so many classic cinema plot elements, characters, and aesthetics, while paying homage to some amazing filmmakers, it’s difficult to not be impressed with what Tarantino has accomplished with this magnum opus of action cinema.
In this review and subsequent parts, I will examine this film and the myriad of elements (both thematic and aesthetic) that the film dealt with. I may succeed, or I may fail, but it should be a fun ride either way. Any questions?
The film commences on a somewhat mysterious note as we see the Bride (Uma Thurman) bloody and barely alive. The titular character of Bill addresses her. We never see his face, which adds a touch of ambiguity (even though some might recognize David Carradine’s voice). In a perfectly calm tone, he tells the Bride that this is “me at my most masochistic”. He then shoots her just as she’s confessing the truth about her baby’s parentage. And with that, the opening credits begin to roll to the tune “Bang, Bang” as performed by Nancy Sinatra. It’s absolutely apropos for this moment in the story and captures the tragic mood of the Bride’s betrayal by her former boss and lover.
As the credits end, the audience is shown a nice, quiet home in the suburbs of Pasadena, California. The Bride pulls up in her vehicle, walks up to the door and knocks. What follows is a savage, violent, and furious fist & knife fight between the Bride and her former associate, Copperhead, a.k.a. Vernita Green (played by Vivica A. Fox). Now, both of the performers absolutely sold me on this scene. Fox and Thurman came across as skilled assassins who knew how to handle a blade and weren’t in the least bit afraid of using it. But the thing that stuck out for me the most was the aesthetic of the scene. It’s colored and lit like a romantic comedy. It’s a bright sunny day with vivid colors in a family-friendly home environment. And yet, it is in the midst of all this that the Bride and Vernita are trying to kill each other. That juxtaposition of mismatched elements makes the scene all the more intriguing to watch.
Things get really interesting as the two combatants pause in the midst of their death match–presumably to catch their breaths and prepare for the next round. As they stand there, sweaty and battered, in Vernita’s living room, knives at the ready, a school bus pulls up and Vernita’s daughter Nikki gets out. And as Nikki approaches the front door, you see Vernita’s expression change from one of hatred and determination to one of supplication. Her silent plea that her daughter not learn about the violent part of Vernita’s life in this fashion does not fall on deaf ears and both combatants move to a neutral stance. Their knives hidden behind their backs so that the child won’t see them. From there, Vernita goes into “mom mode” and proceeds to do everything she can to get Nikki out of harm’s way without tipping her off to the truth.2
Once Nikki has gone to her room, Vernita switches modes–this time to reluctant hostess as she offers the Bride some coffee. Watching Fox switch between moods and characters as fast as she did while still making it seem realistic was simply amazing. In fact, watching her facial expression change as her character’s daughter approached was almost heartbreaking. I would liked to have seen more of Vernita than we did. But unfortunately, her part of the story is done once the Bride kills her (she doesn’t even get much material in the flashbacks).
Upon witnessing Vernita’s death, we are treated to a magnificent job of shot composition as the Bride rises from having killed Vernita and the audience sees Nikki standing in the doorway behind her. 3 And the Bride’s words to Nikki in that scene set things up for “Kill Bill Volume 3″ in a few years (which will hopefully feature more of Vivica A. Fox).
At that point, the Bride leaves Nikki’s house and gets in her truck as a narrator (who sounds like Sonny Chiba) speaks to the audience in Japanese about the nature of warriors in combat. It’s a very important speech because it helps to illuminate The Bride’s thought process during this last battle. However, as she prepares to drive away, you see a look of regret and concern flash across her face. And then we learn that we’ve entered the story in the middle as the Bride crosses number two, Vernita Green, off her hit list (and we can clearly see that number one, O-Ren Ishii has already been crossed off). The Bride then drives off into the suburbs as the chapter ends.
I like that Tarantino used the encounter with Vernita as the first chapter. He gives us a strong opening that’s aesthetically pleasing and possibly shows the Bride (and the audience) what her life could have been like had the she not been betrayed by those close to her. And what better way to bring you into a story and make you root for someone than to make them a tragic hero? Well played, Tarantino.
Part 2 – Chapter 2: The Blood-Splattered Bride
Like many albums, the first song hooks you with its fast pace and catchy sound and then the second track slows things down 4. Such was also the case with Kill Bill. After the first chapter’s battle with Copperhead, Tarantino slowed things down and gave the audience some back-story on the Bride.
Unfortunately this chapter is, without a doubt, my least favorite part of the entire KB saga. Not because I don’t like flashbacks, and not because I didn’t care how the Bride went from being comatose to being the executioner of those who wronged her. No, I didn’t care for this chapter because I didn’t want to know about the atrocities that occurred at the hospital. I understand why Tarantino chose to put them in there, but I personally didn’t care for them.
The chapter begins four years ago, with the sheriff of El Paso, Texas arriving at the scene of the wedding massacre that put the Bride in a coma. His deputy and son (presumably his first born) gives him the low-down on the crime scene. And once they discover that the bride is alive, we cut to the Bride lying comatose in a hospital bed.
As she lays there, a former colleague of hers, Elle Driver (a.k.a. California Mountain Snake) enters the hospital, puts on a nurse disguise and sneaks into the Bride’s room with the intention of killing her in her sleep. (As Elle enters, she begins whistling Bernard Herrmann’s “Twisted Nerve” which gives the scene, a serene yet eerie feeling.) All the while, there’s a split-screen showing the Bride on one side and Elle on the other. Never once did the Bride move in any conscious way, but we got to see Elle prepare her equipment. I’m slightly confused as to why Tarantino chose to frame the scene that way–was he just showing the audience in the most convincing way that the Bride was truly in a coma or was there some other reasoning for this?
Bill then calls up Elle at the last moment (literally) and gives the Bride a reprieve. He explains his reason for the reprieve is that it would lower the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad to behave like “filthy rats”. And he doesn’t want to sink to that level. I find it interesting that Tarantino chose to make Bill have a code of honor. Much like watching Bruce Timm & Paul Dini’s take on Mr. Freeze in “Batman: The Animated Series,” we are given a villain who isn’t purely evil. Sure, he’s bad, but he’s not diabolical. And there’s a method to his madness. I applaud Tarantino for that one bit of dialogue, because it really intrigued me about the film’s titular character.
Bill instructs Elle to come home and she acts like a giddy school girl with a crush on her teacher. Then as soon as she hangs up the phone, she switches modes and gives the bride a classic schoolyard bully-style threat before leaving. One thing that I did find interesting about the entire scene with Elle and the (comatose) Bride was the way that Elle spoke to the Bride. It was like a woman talking to the ex-girlfriend of her boyfriend. And the way she talks to Bill on the phone definitely lends credence to that thought. Perhaps Bill found comfort in Elle’s arms after the Bride disappeared. Maybe Tarantino will expound upon this in Volume 3 (when and if it comes to pass). Either way, I found it to be an interesting tidbit.
From there, we cut to four years later when the Bride is woken up from her coma by a mosquito biting her. As soon as she wakes up, she has a moment of mourning, wailing and flailing before beginning an inventory check of her body to see what she has and what is and isn’t functioning. But just then, an orderly and a “client” arrive at her room. She feints being asleep as they walk inside. Then, as the orderly explains the rules to this guy it becomes abundantly clear that he’s running a brothel for necrophiliacs and other people with twisted sexual fantasies (and the coma patients are his unknowing prostitutes).
After the orderly leaves, the bride makes short work of the john and when the Orderly returns, he finds the room in a messed up state. But before he can do anything, the Bride takes him down and tortures him for information (even though she’s lacking any motor control in her lower half). She learns that he knows nothing about Bill, but once she realizes what he’s been doing to her in her comatose state, his life comes to an abrupt end. And rightly so. Buck, the orderly, wasn’t a character that we should care about. No, he was a one-dimensional seedy, greedy wannabe pimp and he deserved to die.
She then steals his scrubs and car keys, wheeling herself out to the parking garage in a wheelchair as her legs still aren’t working (presumably from the lack of use and/or the injuries she sustained). In an amusing moment, she finds a vehicle emblazoned with a sexually suggestive name that matches the design of Buck’s key chain.
The Bride then opens the car door and climbs inside using only her upper-body. I was truly impressed with Thurman’s performance as she used her arms (and only her arms) to hoist her semi-lifeless body into Buck’s vehicle. She completely sold me on the Bride’s physical impairment.
From there, she immediately commences her physical therapy by trying to wiggle her big toe and simultaneously contemplates her revenge. She resumes her narration of this tale by discussing how she was able to find O-Ren Ishii (a.k.a Cottonmouth), the first person on her death list. Thus segueing right into Chapter Three.
As I said earlier, this wasn’t my favorite chapter, but this chapter wasn’t without merit. It sets up the next chapter which fills in the back story of O-Ren Ishii (which is important) and it showed us what happened to the Bride after she was shot and explained why her former teammates didn’t kill her in her sleep (also very important). It just wasn’t my favorite chapter.
continute Steve P’s journey…
Edited by Tracy McCusker.
- It’s very much like Joseph Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey. ↩
- I also particularly enjoyed the Bride’s introductory conversation with Nikki. You could clearly see her driving home the point of her visit to Vernita through her choice of words. ↩
- It’s best if you see the scene for yourself because that reveal is priceless. ↩
- Usually for a power ballad, but not always ↩