Justifying Death for Amusement: Tarantino Getting Cheap
"Torture You? That's a Good Idea. I like that."
Death Wish Trailer
Revenge for Sale
The year was 1974 when a decent man's wife and daughter were raped and beaten in front of the world.
The man was Paul Kersey, played by the mustachioed and Smith & Wesson wielding Charles Bronson. Audiences were now given moral amnesty to cheer for the heroic Mr. Bronson, as he systematically shoots every two bit, scum-of-the-earth lowlife in New York City.
Once the first scene occurred, the utilitarian "greatest good for the greatest number" justification clicked in. You were now allowed to enjoy every scream, every plea for help, and every protest that Bronson solicited from the evildoers.
Bronson became the first blockbuster vengeance movie; the film was so popular that it has grossed over 22 million dollars. The budget for the film had only been $3 million. Four sequels were made. The revenge craze reached such a fever pitch that an iconic prison sociopath in Great Britain named himself "Bronson," and eventually got his own full-length film.
Eighteen years later, an apprentice took up the mantle left by Bronson.
That was when Quentin Tarantino surfaced with a film called Reservoir Dogs.
1992: Playing with the Concept
Reservoir Dogs is actually an excellent film, and does a lot to explore the difficulty to discern right from wrong in an ethically complicated situation.
Throughout the film, Tarantino paints Harvey Keitel's character, Mr. White, as the bastion of ethical purity. When one ofhis fellow diamond thieves is grievously wounded, Mr. White does everything he can to nurse him back to health and protect him from the "less ethical" thieves.
As it turns out, the man he was nursing was an undercover cop. The last scene ends with Mr. White shot half to death, holding the cop, and taking his final revenge with the last trigger pull of the movie.
Something happened at the end of this film, however. You didn't feel bad for theexecuted cop, Mr. Orange. You sympathized with the caring thief, Mr. White.
This began Mr. Tarantino's blockbuster career in "justified" brutality.
"Zed's Dead Honey. Zed's dead."
1994: They Cut Him in Half!
In Tarantino's next hit, the pop culture phenomenon Pulp Fiction, he got just a bit more obvious with the revenge stuff.
Bruce Willis' character, Butch, comes upon a man he knows (his enemy, actually) being brutally raped by depraved rednecks. In fact, the men were so twisted that they keep a sex slave locked in a chest and named him "the Gimp."
Willis, of course, has honor and doesn't stand for this. He runs back into the fray with a samurai sword and dices the rapists like a julienne salad.
Note that Butch did not simply kill the villains. He dismembered them. This would become a theme throughout Quentin Tarantino's career.
2003-2004: Kill Bill. Forget it. Kill everyone.
Finally, Tarantino begins building his entire story arc around killing the scum of the earth.
This one, of course, has a gang of assassins that beat and shoot a pregnant woman half to death in her bloody wedding gown. For good measure, Tarantino throws in a rapist CNA for the main character as she is locked in a coma.
So now that all that is squared away, we get to watch two movies of bad guys being killed in ways that would make the Spanish Inquisition blush.
Here is a short list of brutal murders: knife through the chest (Vivica A. Fox), scalped by a samurai sword (Lucy Liu), snake venom (Michael Madsen), snake venom/ having an eye plucked out (Darryl Hannah), and an exploding heart (David Carradine).
Thus, Tarantino's method of plot delivery was locked in.
- Establish the villain as the lowest form of life on the planet by graphically illustrating their perverse and or/ brutal nature.
- Allow the villain ruin the protagonist's life systematically for a little while.
- Sic the hero on the villain(s). The villain will lose nearly all of his or her internal organs on the silver screen, accompanied by fountains of blood.
- Wait about three years to write the same script again.
Cut You Up, Holmes!
No One Likes a Nazi
2009: Inglorious, Bastardized Idea
A lot of awful people go to sleep each night using the Nazi party to comfort themselves.
Well, that would be because no matter how many people they insulted or cut off in traffic, they will never be quite as bad as a Nazi.
This justification is the entire premise for Tarantino's next slog through revenge slaughter that is "Inglorious Basterds." Here we have Nazis. What is to be said about them? Who likes a militant organization of evil blonde haired, blue eyed thugs that took pleasure in systematically killing almost anyone? What's not to like about killing these guys in front of a camera?
And kill them Tarantino did, over and over again.
The methods ranged from simple scalping, to beating on them with baseball bats, to carving swastika into their forehead as they screamed.
It's like the Joey Ramone once famously said:
"Beat on the brat with a baseball bat...
with a brat like that, what can you do?"
If you're Quentin Tarantino, you can come back and make another movie where the Nazi's spiritual successors are gratuitously slaughtered.
Interviews About Django: Unchained. Tarantino on Controversy.
2012: Tarantino, Unchained and Unoriginal
Finally, Tarantino goes for his biggest blood sport in a fancy dress flick ever in Django: Unchained.
The writer/ director once again goes to great lengths to make sure you understand that slavers are the worst humans possible, ever. That is a premise that need not be contended. However, my boy Quentin goes even further in this movie, illustrating the brutal whipping of a young woman by slavers and even having a poor man ripped limb from limb by feral dogs.
At this point, anyone watching the movie will be in a blind rage, or is lacking a soul.
True to his formula, Tarantino then lets you look on with glee as main character Django kills every last one of the bad guys in bloodier style than Mortal Kombat fatalities.
The formula, once again, remains the same.
Tarantino sets you up to enjoy gratuitous slaughter by using the most deplorable humans to have ever lived.
Whatever, I'll do it myself
If you were the hero in a Tarantino flick, who would you kill first?
A Cheap Shot
Deep down in the soul of your average human is an unquenchable thirst to see things made right, and justice to prevail. The desires to see good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people are quite universal.
By graphically illustrating the brutality and depravity of base humans, Tarantino creates the need for his audience to have some hope of things being made right. When watching one of his films, it is completely normal to physically feel the rage in your chest and throat.
As a result, he creates a situation where that craving for justice can only be repaid blood-for-blood, eye for an eye, tooth for tooth. The only philosophical statement that Quentin's films make clearly is that revenge, no matter how brutal, is always warranted.
The issue here is that revenge isn't always warranted, what's wrong doesn't always make things right, and evil isn't as readily discernible as it is inside of a revenge movie.
If it were, it would be easy to destroy.