Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Kill Bill Vol.1 -- mini-review: violence and revenge

Director: Quentin Tarantino, 2003 (R)

The fourth movie from writer-director Tarantino is as bloody and violent as any before, perhaps more so. The plot-line is simple: the Bride (Uma Thurman) is shot in the head by Bill (David Carridine), her former lover and leader, and left for dead during her wedding rehearsal. She emerges after four years in a coma and wants revenge on all those who involved. But the movie is far from simple and Tarantino uses all the tools in his tool-box, even splitting the movie into two volumes to spin this gory yarn.

Blending spaghetti western, like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, with kung fu b-flicks, throwing in Japanese anime and monochrome chapters, Tarantino pays homage to the films of his youth, and even includes a scalping. His stylized violence is excessive but clearly unrealistic, with dismemberments and lost limbs too many to count. He refuses to tell the story in linear fashion, instead interweaving chapters asynchronously and thereby retaining viewer interest.

This first volume carries an overdose of stylized violence. The Bride, an assassin known also as "the Black Mamba", realizes she has lost the baby she was carrying during her altar-walk and that adds further fuel to her revenge-soaked fire. Each chapter of this film adds more violence than its predecessor. She goes from a mano-a-mano knife fight with Copperhead (another female assassin) to a samurai sword-fight against over fifty Japanese yakuzi mobsters. She has to beat these to "earn" her right to fight O-ren Ishi (Lucy Liu), another assassin known as Cottonmouth.

We get the point from the opening title card: "Revenge is a dish best served cold." The Bride is not after justice. After all, she dispensed death with the rest of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad Bill formed and led. No, she simply wants blood, the blood of those who left her for dead. She brings to mind the words of God in the Old Testament: "I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me" (Deut. 32:41). Like the Lord "(s)he will come with vengeance" (Isa. 35:4). But she clearly missed those Sunday School lessons from the New Testament, since the apostle Paul commented to the Romans: "Do not take revenge, my dear friends, bet leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord" (Rom. 12:19). It is not our place, nor the Bride's, to take justice into our own hands and seek to settle scores of revenge.

The Bride, though, tells us early what she is like: "It's mercy, compassion, and forgiveness I lack." Late in the film, she offers a bone of mercy to one enemy. But she does so with a motive: "I want him [Bill] to witness the extent of my mercy by witnessing your deformed body." In essence, this is not mercy, it is punishment and humiliation. She wants Bill, who is never really seen in this first film, to ponder what she will bring to him at the climax of volume 2.

Unlike the vengeance-seeking Bride, "The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (Jas. 5:11). He has told us through Moses in the Old Testament, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" (Exod. 33:19). He balances vengeance with compassion, on the fulcrum of forgiveness. He offers true forgiveness to all who seek it through Christ. We can become one of his followers, even part of his Bride (Eph. 5:25) through faith in Jesus (Jn. 1:12). The violence of his crucifixion paid the bloody price for our redemption. No further revenge needed.

Copyright ©2014, Martin Baggs

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