I watched Kill Bill twice last weekend. I was sick and in bed the whole time and I didn't have a lot to do but drink green tea and hide my eyes.
Kill Bill came out in 2003 (on October 10, so this isn't exactly a "to the day" type of anniversary) and I saw it pretty quickly. I didn't see it in theatres, so I guess I took my time. But you could rent movies then, so I watched it when I could. I was only 15 years old, so Bill was the first Tarantino film I'd ever seen. I was shocked by how intoxicating it all was. I imagine that's how everyone else felt when they were younger, when they got to watch Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs or Jackie Brown when they were still fresh.
I do remember knowing how special Kill Bill was for a lot of people -- for everyone who had waited those six years to see Tarantino's next great film, like they were waiting for "Chinese Democracy" or a Stanley Cup parade in Vancouver. I never really got it, though, because I was young and inexperienced. I didn't get the big deal about the guy or why I was supposed to care, but I was also as young a cinephile as there ever was, so I pretended to know. I pretended to be interested in the odd guy with the big forehead who my mom had described as "pretty sick." (That's sick as in vomit, not sick as in snowboard trick.)
My reaction to the film was the same as everyone else's was to whatever Tarantino film they saw first.
The music. The women. The language. The blood -- the blood that was so comical just so it could be there. Blood in Tarantino's films is like racism in comedy: it's only funny or appropriate when it's deliberately so exaggerated. If it were realistic, well then it might just be offensive.
I loved the Japanese stuff in it. I loved the Western stuff in it, although -- being 15 -- I didn't know why I loved it at the time. Every scene, every note, every cut or bit of rapid speech... they hit a nerve like every guitar strum hits a chord.
The hair on your arms stood up. And then some (whatever that means).
My favourite part of every Tarantino flick -- whether it was one of his first two classics or his later sagas like Django or Inglourious Basterds -- is how much credit he gives every one of his characters. The woman are strong. Sexy, sure, but strong. The women are the men, really. They're so strong, you get the feeling Quentin's trying to make you feel ashamed for being surprised by it. But it's just so rare to see female characters written well or attractively -- not just for sight but for all our senses. The men are dogs but hungry ones. They're all funny and they're all capable.
In a Tarantino flick, everyone gets their good moments. But everyone gets their fall, too. Everyone wins for a while and everyone loses for a while. Django won and did well in the middle, but he also had to walk in a chain gang, take a whipping, lose his wife, survive a shotgun'd raid, get tied up naked and left for torture, and probably then a little more. In Pulp, Butch won the fight, won his purse, and won his freedom, and he also had to get Deliverance'd with Ving Rhames in some Confederate basement.
In Kill Bill, a movie built around one quest for revenge and practically nothing else, Beatrice Kiddo gets her gold. She recovers her daughter, not even knowing she'd be able to. She kills the men and women who should have killed her. But she goes through a lot. She takes a beating. She barely survives every scene. And, true to Tarantino's form, near murder and physical mutilation isn't the most cringe-worthy abuse she undergoes -- no, the worst she gets is that bit maybe 45 minutes into Part I, when we're told she spent four years in a coma in some hospital near El Paso, Texas, being raped and sold into sexual slavery by some sort of sadistic male nurse named Buck who likes to fu*k.
It makes you feel sick, that scene, because it's the sort of fictional bit that makes you wonder, "Does that really happen, and how would you even know?"
It's like hearing you swallow spiders in your sleep.
It's that kind of detail -- that bit that Tarantino knows he'd hate to hear or hate to watch -- that has also become a Quentin staple. He has to casually toss in some sick little addition to every film, and he lets it last maybe 10 minutes and nothing more, because he knows every crime could be just a little bit worse.
In Tarantino's films, the murderers are also pedophiles. In Kill Bill, that's true quite literally with Boss Matsumoto, who had a couple cartooned cameos in the terrific backstory of O-Ren Ishii -- a side plot turned 30-minute HBO pilot that should really become its own movie.
In Kill Bill, it wasn't just good enough that Beatrice was shot in the head. She had to be beaten first. And, she was pregnant. When she was in the hospital, she wasn't just in the hospital, forced to say goodbye to four years of her life and her impending daughter. No, she was also raped for a few bucks, too. And all the time. And that half-assed jab about her "plumbing" not working anymore? That one's on the house.
In Django, it wasn't enough that they had to go into Candieland and rescue Brumhilda. No, they also had to enter the Mandingo game, and we as an audience had to Google the disgusting "sport" afterward, just to prove to ourselves that, "No, no, it's true. That can't possibly be true."
In Tarantino's films, you're always brought to the ledge and hung there for 180 minutes. The hammer always drops, just maybe not in the way you thought it would. Nothing goes unpunished. Nothing goes unrewarded, either.
Watching Kill Bill again, I couldn't help but feel a little nostalgic. That's just what movies do to you, especially movies that leave an impact. But of course, it could have been any of them... could have been Pulp Fiction. Could have been Reservoir Dogs. Could have been Jackie Brown or even Death Proof. (And if you want a movie that survives on kick-ass women and one fine performance from an always under-appreciated Kurt Russell, Death Proof is it. Bonus points for introducing the song "Down in Mexico" to me, Quentin. It will forever hold a place in whatever version of an iPod we surrogates have in the future.)
But his movies are his movies. They're a practice in excellence, always changing just enough to make you crave the next dish. It's that kind of inertia that makes the man unstoppable. It makes every new film feel like an episode in some sort of portfolio he's crafting. It makes me appreciate what he's done, sure, but it makes me excited for the next one even more.
(*This was originally published on White Cover Magazine.)