Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.” So wrote William Blake in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” In “Kill Bill,” Quentin Tarantino gives us a violent and heartfelt evocation of this maxim.
“Kill Bill” is based around an extremely simple revenge fantasy. Uma Thurman plays “The Bride,” a former assassin who is in turn hunted down and nearly killed by her erstwhile teammates. She lies comatose for four years, and then begins hunting down her attackers. In this, volume one of a brace of movies, Thurman goes after two of the five names on her death list.
That’s all that needs to be said about the plot. It’s a story as old as mythology, stripped down by Tarantino to its barest essentials, so he may lade the film with his trademark blend of homage, rip-off, reference and appropriation.
Thurman’s furious avenger moves through a world that William Blake would have found quite alien, and yet it lives up to his pronouncement on the folly of delayed gratification. Every character in “Kill Bill” sees their opportunities and takes them. No one dithers or hesitates, whether the decision at hand is about who to screw, who to kill or who to save. When Thurman wakes up from her coma, she efficiently dispatches two rapists within a few minutes of their entry onto the scene.
This refusal to doubt the correctness of one’s actions leads to an obvious question. If Thurman’s character was a member of an assassination squad, and she herself became the target of an assassination attempt, what moral grounds does she have for her campaign of destruction? She tells the child of one of her victims, “Your mama had it coming.” And yet there’s nothing in this film to suggest that any of her fellows are any more despicable than she herself.
Other filmmakers might allow a question like this to gnaw away at the heart of a film. Not so Tarantino. Since the primary purpose of “Kill Bill” is not to create a meaningful story, but rather to evoke the films Tarantino loves, this potential flaw becomes insignificant.
Here we get to the meat of “Kill Bill,” Tarantino’s well-publicized enthusiasm for the martial arts films of the 1960s and 1970s. “Kill Bill” represents something more than an homage, something deeper. The film is almost polemical in its slavish devotion to reproducing the look, the feel and the spirit of films by the Shaw Brothers, Bruce Lee and Cheh Chang. From bird’s-eye view camera angles to riotously silly special effects, Tarantino has imbued this film with an idiosyncratic technical form that perfectly announces his love for the films of his childhood.
“Kill Bill” then, is Tarantino at his most Tarantinoesque – the director as viewer, the author as spectator, the creator as fan. Every time an arm is lopped off, and a dozen 1,000 pounds-per-square-inch jets of fake blood inundate the set, we see deeply into Tarantino’s soul. He is a filmmaker who believes as strongly as any film theorist since the medium was invented that the cinema is fundamentally about movement and action. Why bother with catchy dialogue or elaborate plotting? A simple setup is all that is required for an elaborate set piece, and in “Kill Bill” that is what you’re going to get.
Every desire is realized in “Kill Bill,” including the director’s yearning to canonize his favorite filmmakers. Whether audiences respond to Tarantino’s hectoring is probably immaterial. With “Kill Bill,” Tarantino has realized every fanboy’s dream, and that is undoubtedly enough for him.