Ooops, I wrote this about a week ago but left it in draft format, and forgot to publish it. So now I am. Eeek!
Over on my other little side-project, New Sophists’ Almanac, in a post called Asthmatic Aesthetics, my blogmate Marvin brought up this Quentin Tarantino film that he was excited about, called Kill Bill Vol. 1. Knowing only that it was Tarantino (but thereb knowing a fair bit) I decided I’d see it, if only to have one more “aesthetic experience” to discuss with Marvin. (We’re discussing that sticky area of philosophy, aesthetics, these days… tying to brains and minds and cognition and so on…)
Anyway, it seems I am seeing a lot of movies in slightly delayed synch with Marvin: Master and Commander, for example, and now Kill Bill Volume I. Another (slightly surprising) trend is that I keep going to movies not knowing who is in them and finding Lucy Liu playing some big role in each one. I saw Cypher a few days ago, and Kill Bill tonight, and she was in both. Is she in every movie these days? Is she playing every Asian female role in Hollywood? Whatever happened to Sandra Oh? Good grief. Ah well… she was actually pretty good in Kill Bill, as was Uma Thurman.
The opening of the film was shocking. I like to think I am tough, but honestly it shocked the hell out of me. A person being shot in the head is horrible, but… in midsentence? That disregard for a human’s last moment, to extinguish them in midsentence. It’s something I’ve never seen in Hollywood, but it’s probably not uncommon in murders.
I don’t think movies create violence, I think violence is always part of the human spectrum. I think at least this is honest. It’s like the first five minutes of Saving Private Ryan, actually: if the rest of the movie had kept the relentlessness of that first five minutes, then we’d have a lot better idea of what a fucking hell World War II actually was, instead of the romanticized notions that float about in our minds, focused on the boys who made it through to the end. There’s so few of those left now, we’ve forgotten what war is, and the poets have long been out of the woodwork. They can, and will, rhapsodize as much as they want: violence in its true form is not balletic, not beautiful. It’s awful shit.
And sometimes it’s necessary.
That is one thing I appreciated in Kill Bill. It was balletic, but when it was, it was clearly romanticized, and honestly so. We are all so used to the idea of a hero in a story, someone touched by magic, so that when she leaps, she lands on her feet. Uma Thurman’s character manages to pull this off, with some beautiful stunts and wire-work.
The fights are long but in fact don’t feel so long. It’s like these pulses of action, with moments of dialogue interspersed so you can catch your breath: the storming of the beaches of Normandy time and time and time again, each time worse and more horrible.
The line in the Yo La Tengo song Tom Courtenay runs through my head: “… as the music swells, somehow struggle from adversity, and our hero finds inner peace…” Thurman’s character is that hero, no matter how nasty she is, no matter why the assassins tried to kill her: she’s seeking revenge, and she’s doing it with style, and somehow you can’t help but root for her.
And that’s interesting, if you think about it. We root for O-Rei Ishii (was that her name?) when she seeks revenge for the murder of her parents. And then we root for Thurman’s character when, in similarly seeking revenge, she slays Ishii. How does this make sense to us?
We’re apes. We have a sense of justice, and it overrides things like who is who, at least when they’re not people we really truly know. Our stories about blood and guts are really stories about order and anarchy, and how order always must be restored. It throws into question all kinds of things we hold dear about ourselves, that we are inherently moral creatures, that deep inside us we want mainly to do good. Perhaps we are more primally creatures whose gregarious evolutionary past has bred in us more deeply a sense of order than any kind of compassion except the personal kind.
When was the last time you felt real compassion for someone you didn’t know? It’s an unsettling question. Sometimes art has awakened it in me. After seeing a Korean movie (called Jiburo, or “Going Home”) about a little old lady who, once we see her life in great detail, goes to market to sell some vegetables. I have never looked at the grannies selling vegetables by the side of the road the same again… but in general, compassion for strangers is rare to us, and I’d say probably less pronounced than our sense that order and justice of some sort must prevail, in order for our social world to function.
That doesn’t mean cops: in Kill Bill it’s mainly gangsters. But I wonder if this explains part of the beauty of the movie. For, whether we like it or not, there is a strange beauty in all that horrible, bloody ugliness. If there weren’t, Tarantino would never have gotten money for a another movie… nobody would have gone to it, knowing what they do about what they’ll see in his films.
Hm. This begs more consideration. Later…