‘Bill’ is violent, sublime

There were 10 in the party. And they should have killed 10. But they killed only nine. “The party” refers to the wedding party of The Bride. “They” refers to the elite squad of female assassins, plus Bill. It is also important to mention that Quentin Tarantino directed the film and that Uma Thurman stars in it as The Bride. The last thing to mention is violence.

This film is all about violence, and there is a lot of it. Tarantino’s aesthetic treatment of it is what excuses its sheer excess. It is stunning, and sometimes boisterous, sometimes crazy. Always, though, violence is well choreographed, and Tarantino does not forget to showcase it. In one fight sequence, he switches from color into black and white. Since color tends to draw attention to foreground objects, removing it allows the eye to focus on the very form of violence. It creates a graphic scene of damage. This is a showdown. Uma has got a black and white agenda, and Tarantino literalizes her modus operandi: he has us seeing things from her point of view. When color is reintroduced, it is matched with The Bride’s blinking, which is a little hint that black and white is linked with The Bride’s subjectivity.

So who is The Bride, and what is her story? The Bride, pregnant with Bill’s baby, goes to Texas to get married and escape her life as an assassin. But her former colleagues come after her and slaughter the wedding party, all except for The Bride herself. She is knocked into a coma, which lasts four years. Suddenly, she wakes up. She finds herself about to be raped, because a male nurse is pimping out the comatose patients. The Bride’s first conscious act is to kill both the pimp and aspiring rapist, despite her inability to feel her legs. Once she regains touch with her body, she makes her “To Kill” list. Then a lot of people die.

Back to the violence. In the restaurant action sequence — the same one that briefly turns to black and white — there is another visual trick. Here, the fight enters a room that hosts another realm of visual laws. The shadows become elegant and large. The characters become silhouettes. The color blue predominates. The screen becomes a moving, kicking daugerrotype. The resulting deranged sense of perception affords us another way of seeing the violence. The blood color is not seen, so there is no blood. It is a clean, cool, blue violence. Because of its hyper-stylization, it exists someplace between cartoon and real human action. It is this displacement that allows the violence a liberty that feels very exciting to watch.

Tarantino’s stylization peaks when the film becomes entirely anime. This cartoon sequence illustrates Lucy Lui’s character, O-Ren Ishii, as a girl in Japan. She cowers under her parents’ bed as they are murdered by a gang of yakuza. In this scene blood becomes like paint. There are showers of blood and spurts of blood and floods of blood that splatter Tarantino’s visual world. The yakuza’s samurai sword becomes like Jackson Pollack’s paint brush.

With “Kill Bill,” Tarantino has elevated style into such a key role that it has acquired substance. He has given “cool” a texture. Hopefully Volume II will flesh it out even more.

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