“Hell Hath No Fury”
My name is Ryan and I am guest-posting for Mighty Damsels. I hope you enjoy.
As far as Tarantino’s heroines go, my heart belongs to Melanie Laurent but Shoshanna Dreyfuss and her revenge seeking ways owe a lot to the Bride, both in general ruthlessness coupled with understandable motivation for revenge. “Kill Bill” strikes out as a homage to the kung fu of Bruce Lee, the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and the samurai epics of Kurasawa. I enjoy these films immensely, just as I love Tarantino Frankenstein-ing the hell out of them. But as amazing and culturally significant as these films are, they remain masculine to their very depths. Tarantino and Uma Thurman did something outstanding by taking the understood gender role of women, namely as “brides” and mothers and then poured 450 gallons of fake blood on top of them; blood that was drawn by a woman scorned. The Bride’s mission of revenge feels justified because all of the correct motivations are there: Murder, betrayal, rash actions, blind obedience to your superiors. All of these pushed the DiVAS to move against the Bride and it is the thought of overcoming this intense victimization during the film’s prologue that keeps her heart beating (Though Bill’s failing eyesight may have played a factor…because he’s old…and can’t see well enough to shoot straight…? Never mind). It can be easy to forget these motivations and gender role subversions amidst the shout outs to other films, hyper violence and graceful swordplay but I see this as one of Kill Bill’s main advantages. One need only reconsider Thurman’s title as “The Bride” and her motivations for executing the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad to observe her as the ideal maternal warrior.
In the opening minutes of “Kill Bill Vol 1”, Uma Thurman’s character, the aptly named Bride, is introduced in the most brutal of ways. Battered, bloody and completely at the mercy of her former boss, this scene stands in stark contrast to the Bride’s ability and actions throughout the rest of the film. With a puzzling title like “Kill Bill”, you may not see where the film is going in terms of plot and antagonist. We find out from the off that Bill is the man behind the beating yet he approaches the Bride with tender benevolence and a gentle voice. Interestingly, we later find out that his apparent paternal attitude Bill seems to carry for the Bride is actually a twisted reaction to losing his girlfriend. Yes, my friends. The man who orchestrated her savage beating, a point blank gunshot to the head and supposed murder of her unborn child is probably the closest thing these films have to an actual “love interest”. These are understandably difficult obstacles to overcome but the moment the Bride is suddenly shot during a plea for her daughter’s life, we glimpse the birth of the passion that drives her. Pure, ruthless, unadulterated revenge.
The first kill on the Bride’s Death List is Vernita Green, a former compatriot, now married and with a daughter of her own. While Green was the second of the Bride’s kills chronologically, the Bride’s first bloody act of revenge is robbing a little girl of her mother. Why did Tarantino start here? Well, I see two reasons. The first is that Green is living the Bride’s life. Had the Deadly Vipers not blown open the doors and mowed down the Bride and her fiancée, it stands to reason that the Bride could very well be happily living life in suburbia just like Green. Despite knowing what Green did, it’s still a shocking scene. But it also tells us all we need to know about what we’re watching. The Bride came to town like a tidal wave and washed away Green’s family in fell swoop. This image of women in the home is brutally destroyed by the Bride, the first of many gender role subversions. The second reason this scene is put at the beginning, I believe, is that it lets us in on who the Bride is as a character. Of the five people who wronged her, one would think that the reformed mother would be granted mercy but she is shown being taken out first. The only mercy granted is that the Bride did not kill Green in front of her child…but she comes pretty darn close.
The Bride owes a lot to Ellen Ripley’s legacy of the strong character who, rather than avoid victimhood altogether, sucks it up and carries on. Sigourney Weaver’s characterization and performance has become the thing of legend but the Bride was written with Thurman in mind. “Kill Bill” wasn’t a random assigning of gender neutral names (Ripley was meant to be a man in the first draft of “Alien”). It is one thing to make a last minute casting decision but is quite another to send a woman into genres that have been strictly understood as “guy movies”. Thurman is a fine looking woman. There is no doubt about it and plenty of men throughout “Kill Bill” make a point of referencing how good she looks.
By the time she reaches O-Ren Ishii (another amazing character), the Bride is tired, bloody but still ready to get what she came for. This being said, the final act of “Vol 1” remains one of the most incredible cinematic fight sequences I’ve ever had the good fortune to witness. The Bride’s overall appearance throughout this fight is notable when compared to many female action heroes pitted against deadly enemies. Whether it be armor with superfluous breast indentations, impossibly tight jeans or clothes being conveniently cut to show off some skin, feminine fight scenes sometimes lack a certain dignity that can take away from the overall effort. The Bride’s bike suit may hug her figure a little bit but by the end of the fight, all I saw was a tired lady covered in blood, forced to cut off the scalp of an old friend of hers. Seriously. No one the Bride fights is distracted by the sexy or hesitates because she is a woman. They’re all too busy having their limbs chopped off or worrying that O-Ren will behead them if they show mercy. I could go into symbolic analysis of the Bride spanking the little yakuza over the ass with her Hanzo sword. “This is what you get for fucking around with Yakuza. GO home to your mother!” But I think it would take away from the overall hilarity and mood whiplash of the scene. Some things are best left as they are.
“Volume 2” is staggering. I loved it more than “Volume 1” and I loved “Volume 1”. This is owed to slightly to Bill’s presence. As awful a fucking person as Bill is, he has this way about him that makes him so trusting, charismatic and downright badass.
Carradine is the man. That’s even his explanation about how he was able to find the Bride after she went missing. You knew Bill was a twisted man in Volume 1 and you knew that he set all of these events in motion (With an overreaction to the Bride leaving him. His words, not mine). But Bill’s intro, where we see the sadness and age, we aren’t making the acquaintance of a monster. We see a jilted lover, plain and simple. At least, until he blows the wedding away. Just with “Volume 1”, Tarantino’s non-linear style gives him the opportunity to make artistic and pragmatic decisions regarding “Kill Bill’s” events. And Q, in traditional mood whiplash style, opens Volume 2 once again with the Bride beaten to a pulp and Bill shooting her in the head.
She’s considered the best by her former comrades and there is a damn good reason for this. It is revealed that it was in fact Bill who introduced her to Pei Mei, the mentor that made her into the unstoppable force she was. After being unceremoniously buried alive by Budd, the Bride dwells on her journey under the careful tutelage of Pai Mei. To call Mr. Mei a sociopath would be an understatement. Even amongst Kill Bill’s wide range of brutal murderers, Pai Mei gives the strict impression that if you cross him, man or woman, he will kill you. “Snap your neck like a twig”, Bill says as he stoically hands his lover over to his former teacher. The Bride is pushed to her limit as she is beaten, bruised and psychologically tortured by her teacher. He holds no quarter and she follows his instructions to the letter. As time goes on, the Bride’s physical beauty is inevitably tarnished but her resolve never breaks. These scenes are important because they show the Bride’s character before she became the near perfect assassin we saw in “Volume 1”. She expected no favoured treatment and never once begged for mercy. We do not see the resolve of a woman taking on what a man is capable of (This isn’t a “GI Jane” scenario.) This is all about the test of what a human being is capable of withstanding.
After emerging from her less-than-final resting place and dispatching Elle Driver in the most karmic way imaginable, the Bride greets her former boss and lover for the showdown we’ve been waiting for. Confronting Bill and meeting her daughter for the first time, we finally get to witness the mother and warrior of the Bride’s character come together. And she doesn’t compromise on either count. After meeting her daughter and engaging in play acting with her by, you guessed it, playing dead, the Bride finally gets her sit down with the man who so royally screwed up her life. Bill’s reasons are simple and quite frankly, really disturbing. His “overreaction” was, according to him, perfectly in character and that she shouldn’t have been surprised. While Bill’s death rang slightly anti-climactic, it was really the only way it could sum up the Bride’s maternal and warrior-like character. Her use of the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique showcased the ferocity the Bride felt toward her ex-lover as well as her wish for the father of her child to die with dignity. This also allowed Bill to walk out of sight with an unblemished external appearance, this spared BB the displeasure of seeing her primary caregiver die violently in a pool of blood.
And in one amazing last quote that ended the film and sums up the Bride’s character once more.
“The Lioness has rejoined her cub and all is well in the jungle.”
Find Ryan’s blog at Redshirt Reporter