Kill Bill Hides a Male Adolescent Taste for Violence
The claim risks becoming rather self-defeating. It assumes that violence is a predominantly masculine trait but betrays confusion about its stance on masculinity and aggression. One must choose whether violence defines men, or men define violence; this question tries to sustain both possibilities simultaneously and ends up subtly promoting a masculine stereotype. If men are inherently violent, they cannot be blamed for finding it everywhere. It defines them and so much of what they see. This “naturally violent” understanding of masculinity then operates as an apology for male behaviour. A woman expressing aggression, the question implies, is an aberration.
Rather than “female aggression”, the awkwardly contradictory term “female masculinity” has been chosen- suggesting that women cannot be aggressive or have a “taste for violence” but can only be violent under the guise of a male because violence is male by definition. Although comparatively rare, it is quite obvious that women are capable of aggression, to the point of atrocity, too. The equation of maleness with violence is not fallacious, but it is not the whole picture.
Indeed, the patriarchal society is so antithetical to female violence that women will often have to go through the channels of the “male adolescent” just to be able to express their natural aggression at all. In the unaccommodating patriarchy that often refuses to acknowledge female drive and aggression, the nearest default category for the adult woman, if she is to feature on a social radar at all, is often that of the brutal, burgeoning male.
Tarantino makes many strong statements about vengeance and redemption and parenthood, but these are, perhaps, almost too overt. Although ostensibly driving the film, these serious themes work too hard, embarrassingly obvious attempts to afford the movie some critical credibility. Kill Bill is a misogynist fantasy in a literal sense; it features appalling violence towards women- but it must be taken in context. The murder of females in framed by the core hierarchy: although the Bride has many women on her “list”, her real target is a male. The abuse of women is shocking in part simply because it is surprising and unusual, and as a “pop video” stylisation, an allegory rather than anything pertaining to realism, this film’s “cat fights” are among the most spectacular, brave, and beautiful in recent Hollywood history.
From one perspective Kill Bill depicts a world steeped in sexism of various degrees of subtlety, from the repeated torments heaped upon Beatrix to the punishments following from encounters with drunken Japanese businessmen and Mexican pimps. The sexist males are occasionally dealt with with gory pyrotechnics but the fact remains that every event in the film somehow springs awkwardly from woman-hating attitudes. When Go Go butchers the geeky boy in the toilets, the response is so excessive we can only conclude she is mad. This time, she wasn’t responding to sexism, just male sexual attraction- is Tarantino naively, and rather insultingly, suggesting that the “feminist” response to natural maleness is “ball breaking”? The lack of fit between the trigger and the response muddies Tarantino’s agenda. It is unclear whether he is misunderstanding feminism, satirising it, or characterising female aggression as irrational hysteria. The question is apt for the Bride, too- whose agenda is driven entirely by paranoia, and whose cold psychosis makes her cartoonishly two dimensional and unsympathetic.
Although the film circulates around themes of sexism (crassly illustrated on both sides) and misogyny, it does not necessarily follow that the movie is condemnable, lazy, or worthless. As Kill Bill is concerned with abuse, abuse of everyone and everything in every direction, it “corners the market” on it, and vindicates itself for continually representating it. Depicting is not the same as endorsing, but it can be. Tarantino has a poor track record with making the distinction- his Pulp Fiction enfatuation with the word “nigger” springs instantly to mind. Racism was, apparently, amusing to Tarantino, and he enjoyed exploiting it in Pulp Fiction. In Kill Bill, however, he has constructed in sexism the most pervasive and intangible challenge faced by Beatrix. Clearly just investing the Bride with surprising, virtually supernatural violence does not constitute “postfeminist” empowerment and perhaps one of the more unfortunate and masculine” of the protagonist’s characteristics is her inability or unwillingness to fight the less obvious but more pervasive sexism on any more than the most personal level.
The fact that Beatrix does nothing to change this world of endemic misogyny, of Pussy Wagons and “I seen better”, might hint that the apparently woman-hating frame around her character is not, in fact, the point. Like any mythological hero, the Bride finds her mission directed by symbols, and the glaring misogyny that appears to form the background of her world is not to be taken too literally. The regular markers of woman-hating in Kill Bill are, it seems to me, not to be read as anything more than extensions of the semiotic value of the core misogynist: Bill. Bea’s anger towards him has extended into a general wrath to all those associated with her injustice, many of whom happened to be women, but this does not amount to a “masculine” hatred of the female, on her part. Nor does it amount to a feminine hatred of females, or any kind of irrational or juvenile aggression that might be suggested in “male adolescent taste for violence.” Bea’s psychological association of everyone responsible for her tragedy is identical to the semiotic connection of all the misogynistic events and characters in the film. This film is after all hyper real, a fantasy and a myth before it is anything else, and as such must be read as a symphonic expression of semiotic and psychological equivalence.
There is a sense in which Kill Bill’s violence relates us directly to the protagonist’s psychological, and visceral, condition. The violence is graphic and extreme, yet it somehow avoids abstraction, resensitizing us, sometimes (as with Buck), refusing the temptation to glamorise or excuse brutality. The deaths are deliberate and deliberated, from the shocking murder of the “Housewife” in the first scene to the demise of each one of the Crazy 88, we are made aware of the loss of a real live human being. There is nothing faceless about the violence in Kill Bill, suggesting to me that this is not mindless violence, glamorising or desensitising us, although it is not quite the opposite, either.