Natural Born Killers (1994)
Directed by Oliver Stone
Story by Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr, Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, Rodney Dangerfield
Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
A satirical black comedy crime film that tells the story of two victims of traumatic childhoods who became lovers and mass murderers, and are irresponsibly glorified by the mass media.
Here we are with movie number three of my 2016 Blind Spot picks. I can’t believe I’ve actually managed to review one each month so far! (the previous two were An Education & Summer Wars). Other than The Doors & Platoon, I can’t say I’ve really liked any Oliver Stone films all that much so I went into this one with fairly low expectations. Plus, I’ve never exactly loved either Woody Harrelson or Juliette Lewis. Well, I have to say that I liked this one quite a bit and both those actors have gone up a little in my estimation (22 years later!).
I suppose it helps that Quentin Tarantino wrote the story? He wasn’t involved with the actual screenplay (I read that they changed his story quite a lot) but this movie has the overall vibe of the films he directed – not just in the extreme violence, of course, but also in the rich characters & dialogue.
I think it’s difficult to make a satire on our obsession with violence that then uses excessive violence to get its point across. Does this movie glorify violence just as much as it claims the media does, thanks to shows such as the film’s American Maniacs as hosted by Robert Downey Jr’s character? I read that, at first, this movie was going to be a straight-up action film before Stone decided to turn it into a satirical black comedy. I think changing the direction of the movie was a very wise decision. Actually, this is what I read at Wikipedia – I can see why he changed his mind:
“As the project developed however, incidents such as the O.J. Simpson case, the Menendez brothers case, the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan incident, the Rodney King incident, and the Federal assault of the Branch Davidian sect all took place. Stone came to feel that the media was heavily involved in the outcome of all of these cases, and that the media had become an all-pervasive entity which marketed violence and suffering for the good of ratings. As such, he changed the tone of the movie from one of simple action to a satirical critique of the media in general.”
I think the movie very much gets its point across and is even more relevant today as violence seems to be at an all-time high but, also, scenes of graphic violence are even more immediately accessible now than in 1994 thanks to the explosion of the Internet. It’s not some true-crime TV show (hosted by Downey Jr with, I gotta say, a really annoying fake Australian accent) that we have to worry about these days. Hell, American Maniacs looks like a Saturday morning kids’ cartoon compared to today’s video games & torture porn films never mind the disturbing clips of real-life violence which are far too readily available online thanks to everyone having their own damn video cameras in their phones. (Off Topic Rant: Man, I love my phone but wish I could time travel back to 1985 when peoples’ private lives weren’t being constantly recorded & uploaded for all to see. Kardashian-free 1980’s life sounds like a damn utopia now! Rant Over). So, Natural Born Killers is more relevant today but also wouldn’t actually work if made now as it’s no longer satire. Watching it now was quite scary, in a way, as I imagine it felt far-fetched in 1994? Now it just feels like one of those Making A Murderer type of true story documentaries that are so popular on Netflix.
I’m actually a huge wuss when it comes to violence in movies (I watch Tarantino’s with my hands over my face half the time) but am more accepting when the movie has a message like I feel this one does. There’s lots of blood in this but I was able to watch it all as it’s not as “gory” as Tarantino-directed films (which do glorify violence but are so cleverly written that I can’t help but love them anyway as a fan of film). Will someone go on a murder spree after watching this? Maybe. But someone who does that would’ve done that anyway whether or not they’d watched a violent movie or played a violent video game.
Oh crap – I really didn’t want to get into a deep discussion about the film’s message and about whether the media has a responsibility to humanity to not glorify violence and blah blah blah. That’s one of those arguments that can go around in circles for an eternity. All I’ll say is: Society is fucked. The media – including movies, TV, video games, websites – is just a reflection of society. It gives us what we seem to want based on our behavior. I think Natural Born Killers displays that logic perfectly but it’s a shame that its message, although extremely blatant, seemed to not be fully grasped by everyone at the time.
I think what worked for me with this movie besides the film’s message was its style. I loved the psychedelic scenes and Stone’s use of different colors. I thought the I Love Lucy sitcom-style scenes involving Rodney Dangerfield as the abusive father of Juliette Lewis were very inventive and the scene in the rattlesnake-filled desert was trippy. Hell, I even found the “marriage on the bridge” scene oddly romantic in a messed-up way. That’s the thing – I think most people watching this movie find themselves liking Lewis’ & Harrelson’s Mickey & Mallory despite the fact that they’re psychotic killers with no remorse. But that’s the whole point, of course. The media in the movie makes them stars and the movie itself has made their fictional characters stars. By the end, you want Mickey & Mallory to live happily ever after and THAT is truly fucked-up. That’s how good the movie is, though – it turns us into the Mickey & Mallory-worshipping audience of American Maniacs.
My Rating: 8/10