Kill Bill versus The Passion of the Christ
reviewed by Steve Sailer
The American Conservative, May 10, 2004
"I've got two words for you when it comes to violence: 'Kill Bill.'" -- Mel Gibson.
Few movies are more antithetical, yet more closely linked in the culture wars than Mel Gibson's epochal hit "The Passion of the Christ" and Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" gore-fest, "Vol. 2" of which is now out.
Last fall's "Vol. 1" earned only a fair-to-middling $70 million from the general public, but movie nerds revere Tarantino for showing them willowy blonde assassinatrix Uma Thurman slicing open Lucy Liu's skull with a samurai sword.
Tarantino represents the apotheosis of all the fanboys who devote their youths and young manhoods to watching hundreds of chop-socky movies. Of course, the reason film geeks have all that time on their hands is because girls weren't dying to go out with them. So, their catfight fetishes grows out of their anger at women, combined with their dreams of someday finding girlfriends cool enough to like slasher flicks too.
The New Republic's Gregg Easterbrook famously denounced this Disney-Miramax production for excessive violence, noting, "Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice."
Easterbrook was widely excoriated both for terminal unhipness and for supposedly resurrecting the myth that Jews control the media. Disney supremo Michael Eisner, however, did control Easterbrook's other employer, ESPN, which immediately fired him. Most commentators opined that Easterbrook had it coming.
All I can say is that if Walt Disney were alive today, he'd be spinning in his cryogenic preservation chamber.
In contrast, the elite press condemned "The Passion." Its disgusting violence, we were informed, would set off pogroms. No movie studio would do business with Gibson, ironically making him the sole owner of this vastly and deservedly popular film, a powerful retelling of vital events.
Most critics got the distinction between the violence in the two films exactly backward. The proper question is Lenin's old "Who? Whom?" In "Kill Bill," the heroine is a professional murderer and we're invited to exult in her butchery. In "The Passion," the hero is an innocent victim and we're invited to identify with His suffering. Not surprisingly, fifty million people have seen "The Passion" and, instead of anti-Semitic attacks, the most notable incidents have been repentant sinners confessing to previously unsolved crimes.
In "Kill Bill: Vol. 2," evil Bill (played by David Carradine of the old Seventies' TV show "Kung Fu") praises his ex-girlfriend as a "natural born killer." Tarantino is alluding to the 1994 film directed by Oliver Stone from a scenario by Tarantino. "Natural Born Killers" inspired a number of documented copycat murders in which trailer park trash couples watched the video repeatedly while drugged up and then committed random thrill-kills, just as Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis do in the film.
"The Passion" is also routinely lambasted for assuming that viewers enjoy a certain familiarity with the most influential episode in the history of Western Civilization. I overheard the following conversation in a screening room on Rodeo Drive:
Man: "'The Passion' really doesn't work as a movie. I mean, if you don't know who the characters are, you can't figure out what's going on. And why is he washing people's feet?"
Woman: "It's like Gibson expects you to know the story already."
Man: "And it's so historically inaccurate. The men didn't have long hair back then."
Woman: "Now, what I really like is The Da Vinci Code."
In contrast, Tarantino is constantly applauded for cramming "Kill Bill" with countless esoteric references to obscure Seventies rubbish. He has tapped into a deep vein of nostalgia for the crud that everybody watched as adolescents. Okay, I confess, I loved Carradine in "Kung Fu" when I was 13, too. But, then I grew up.
There's nothing wrong with Tarantino's brain, just with the junk he stuffs in it. Moreover, his talents, while broad, don't mesh well together. He should instead direct other's scripts, while reserving his own writing -- with its vivid but absurd monologues and grandstanding convolutions -- for the stage.
The stylish and witty but long and talky "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" offers less gratuitous violence than "Vol. 1," yet the whole movie seems ultimately gratuitous. If you don't adore Tarantino's characters -- gangsters with the souls of video store clerks -- as much as he adores them, you probably won't care to hear them soliloquize endlessly about pop culture.
Rated R for violence, language, and brief drug use.
ADDENDUM: From an LA Weekly interview with Quentin Tarantino: