News & Politics

Quentin Tarantino Isn't a Villain, and Uma Thurman Isn't a Victim

(Image via Miramax)

Kill Bill is one of the most insanely violent movies ever made.* Uma Thurman, as protagonist Beatrix Kiddo (AKA “The Bride”), slaughters dozens of people in a gory quest for revenge, using knives, swords, boards with nails in them, and something called the “Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.” The violence is crazy and over the top, and Thurman is a fantastic action heroine. She kicks all the ass. I’ve seen it probably 10 times.

At no point in the movie did I ever say, “It’s horrible how they subjugated Uma Thurman. That poor woman!” Yes, her character goes through hell, enduring a murder attempt and the loss of a child and repeated rapes and all manner of other physical and mental abuse. But it’s a revenge flick. You’re supposed to root for the protagonist because she (or he) deserves revenge. And that means the bad guys have got to be really, really awful. They’ve got to do really, really awful things. In order to feel that sense of triumph when the good gal (or guy) wins, you need to see all the cruelty and torment that led up to it. A revenge story is only as good as its villains are bad.

When you see Beatrix writhing in pain on the ground and a bad guy spits in her face, it makes you hate him all the more. It makes you cheer when he gets what’s coming to him. When you see her getting the life choked out of her with a chain, your heart races and your gut lurches. You empathize with her, you put yourself in her place, and you want her to win.

Good guys win. Bad guys die. That’s how revenge movies work. That’s how storytelling works.

Or at least that’s what I always thought, but it turns out I was wrong. As part of the fallout of the Harvey Weinstein debacle, this week we learned that when Quentin Tarantino was directing Kill Bill, he was the one who actually spit on Thurman and choked her with that chain. Instead of delegating it to one of the actors or the crew, he did it himself. He was directly responsible for the pain and humiliation we saw onscreen.

Now, suddenly, Kill Bill is no longer just a movie, but a document of misogynistic abuse. It’s no longer empowering women, but actually subjugating them. It’s just Quentin getting his rocks off. #MeToo, etc.

Tarantino addresses this in a long interview at Deadline Hollywood:

In the case of the choking, when Gogo [Chiaki Kuryama] throws her chain ball at the bride, and the chain wraps around her neck. And then she’s getting choked by it. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how we were going to shoot that scene. Wrap a chain around the neck, you’ve got to see choking… I can act all strangle-ey, but if you want my face to get red and the tears to come to my eye, then you kind of need to choke me.

It looks real because it is real. That’s why it works. That’s why people remember it.

I thought that was a good thing. What happened to “She’s great, she does her own stunts”?

I’m not going to defend a lot of the other stuff people are digging up about Tarantino this week. No, he shouldn’t have made Thurman drive down that road in Mexico. No, he shouldn’t have gone on Howard Stern and defended Roman Polanski. Yes, that ’90s SNL skit where he brags about “jamming” actresses is retroactively problematic. He’s on his own there. Yeah, guess what? He’s a creep. We’ve known that for the past 25 years because his movies provide overwhelming evidence that he’s a creep. None of this is new information.

If you’ve always hated Kill Bill, fine. It’s not for everybody. But if you cheered for Thurman before this, don’t go acting all surprised now. If you want women to be treated the same as men, that means female action stars are going to take some rough treatment to get the shot.

Hell, look at Keanu in the John Wick flicks. He did most of that stuff himself, and nobody’s starting a #MeToo movement for him. If it was the director suffocating him with that plastic bag instead of one of the other actors, would that be evidence of misandry?

I love Kill Bill because the heroine triumphs against all odds and looks fantastic while doing so. She goes through hell and claws her way back out. She’s ferocious. She’s amazing. I respect Uma Thurman for what she put herself through to bring that character to life. If you recast her as a victim, you diminish her achievement. I refuse to participate in that. I refuse to make her less than what she is.

Must be because I hate women.

*Yeah, I know, it’s two movies. But Tarantino wrote and filmed it as one long story, and only sliced it in half with his Hattori Hanzo sword because it would’ve been four hours and change. At one point we were supposed to see the whole thing as one long director’s cut, subtitled The Whole Bloody Affair, but it didn’t happen for whatever reason. Probably never will, now.