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

Uma Thurman

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.