Kill Bill—Volume 1
Kill Bill—Volume 1, the fourth movie to be written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, is about a number of things, but violence isn’t really one of them. This isn’t to say that it is not a violent film. Of the various controversies that have surrounded the movie since it began shooting—the first over the surprise announcement by the producers that they were going to cut what was to have been one movie into two parts (Volume 2 will open in February)—none has been as fierce as the one that has raged about the extent of the movie’s graphic gore. In Kill Bill—Volume 1, you get to see (among other things) a fight to the death between two young women, one of whom ends up impaled by an enormous kitchen knife before the wide eyes of her young daughter; a pregnant woman being savagely beaten and then shot in the head at point-blank range on her wedding day; a man’s tongue being pulled out; a graphic decapitation with a samurai sword; torsos sliced open; impalings with various instruments; and, in a scene that you’d be tempted to call climactic if the movie had any kind of narrative arc whatsoever, a twenty-minute-long pitched battle between a lone American female and dozens of Tokyo gangsters, in which the limbs of a great many of the latter get lopped off. It’s saying something about the sheer quantity of battery and bloodletting that Tarantino works into this film that the final act of killing comes almost as something of a relief, and strikes you as being almost dainty: a young woman in a kimono has the very top of her head sliced off, quite neatly, in a tranquil, snow-covered Japanese garden.
A good deal of intense brutality is, of course, nothing new to Tarantino fans. Reservoir Dogs (1992), the first feature that he both wrote and directed, contains an almost unwatchably savage torture scene that, at the time, seized the imagination of audiences and critics and has become infamous ever since: in it, a sociopathic petty criminal slowly cuts off a young policeman’s ear, to the accompaniment of some upbeat pop music, and afterward, he douses the cop with gasoline, meaning to burn him alive. This was a harbinger of things to come: since then, all the films that Tarantino has either written or directed are characterized by scenes of a sadistic and quite graphic violence, set in the context of random and, sometimes, unmotivated crime.
True Romance, the first commercial feature that Tarantino wrote (in 1987; it was directed by Tony Scott and released in 1992), features a stabbing with a corkscrew and the prolonged beating of a young woman; both True Romance and Tarantino’s breakout popular success, Pulp Fiction (1994), show men being kicked and shot in the genitals; Pulp Fiction ends with a scene of S&M torture and homosexual rape. (It also famously depicts a man plunging a syringe …