Title: Natural Born Killers (1994)
Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, Rodney Dangerfield
In Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killer’s Mickey and Mallory Knox, the films murderous protagonists are two character’s who have completely rebelled against society, proclaiming it crazy and worthy of being annihilated. They are a product of dysfunctional families that treated them like garbage and let the television set be their baby sitter. In one extremely original flashback sequence we get to see Mallory’s dysfunctional family life as if we were watching an episode of “I Love Lucy” only this time the show is called “I love Mallory”. Brilliant part about this flashback is that we see Mallory’s father (played by Rodney Dangerfield) as a father who abuses Mallory sexually, he talks dirty to her and beats her all the while we hear a laugh track in the background, as if we were watching a sitcom. This scene is just one of many that let’s us know that Natural Born Killer’s is a film that shows us a society that filters everything they experience through the distorted world view of the media and television. Instead of having a loving mother and father, Mallory and Mickey got sexually, physically and verbally abusive ones. It is no surprise that they are simply a result of the world they live in; when it really comes down to it the finger needs to be pointed at society. “These children that come out at you with knives, they are your children. You taught them. I didn’t teach them, I just tried to help them stand up” - Charles Manson
Mickey and Mallory are rebels every step of the way, they are looking for a way to exist in this world without being held down by its laws and regulations. This is a world that fucked them over, so they are fucking it over right back. Everything they do goes against the establishment, they are angry and pissed off, and so they decide to violently show their hatred towards the system. They want something? They take it. Somebody pisses them off too much? They kill them. They need a car? They steal it. One scene let’s us know that Mickey and Mallory are the ultimate rebels: their marriage scene. They are out in the dessert on route 666, when they decide to take a break and stop in the middle of the road, on a bridge. There in the middle of nowhere, with no bride’s maids or witnesses, Mickey and Mallory say their vows to each other and seal the pact with blood, by cutting each others hands and doing a blood pact. Mickey says “By the power invested in me, as God of my world…” No judge was present, no priest had to say any words, and no papers had to be signed, yet you feel that their love and devotion to each other is genuine and true. And so they go out through the rest of the film, doing what they want, when they want and how they want. Nobody tells these two what they have to do and how to do it. As a psychiatrist says in the film at one point: “Mickey and Mallory know the difference between right and wrong. They just don’t give a damn”
The film goes into similar territory visited by films like A Clockwork Orange (1971) in which Stanley Kubrick presented us with a rebel known as Alex De Large; a young man who refused to follow the rules. He would steal, rape and beat anyone he wanted to, just because he could, because he was young and strong. Yet, what Kubrick’s film shows us is that when you don’t play by the rules, the system can and most likely will force you to play by the rules. Another film that plays with the same ideas as Natural Born Killer’s is director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson (2008). A film about an incorrigible man who does everything the wrong way: intimidating, kicking and punching anyone who doesn’t agree with him. Bronson is a man who was simply “born bad” and he knows it, destined to live a life in jail for being so. Same as Mickey Knox says that he has found his true calling and says that he is a “Natural Born Killer”. These are people who simply see the world as being completely wrong, the rules of society and the way everything moves in the world is upside down to them. The anger they feel towards the world emerges in different ways. Problem is that when you look at society, you can’t help but agree with them to an extent. Yeah, there is an undeniable truth that things are crazy out there in the world, things are ass backwards wrong. Some people simply know how to deal with the craziness better then others.
This film got a lot of criticism for the violence it portrays. According to some critics, the film incites people to violence, to go out there and cause some damage. I don’t agree so much with this idea. Natural Born Killer’s is simply a reflection of the world we live in, it’s a comment on our current society. Before this film came along, there were already real life characters that behaved exactly the same way that Mickey and Mallory did in the film. What Oliver Stone shows us in this film is nothing new, it is a phenomenon that’s been happening in society for ages. Just like he does with practically every film he has ever done, Oliver Stone is simply showing us the messed up world we live in, through a cinematic reflection. Some people just can’t take the truth that’s all. They apparently live life with shutters in front of their eyes if they see this film and can’t see the truth in it. Society does create characters like these. Look at Charles Manson himself! Oliver Stone mentions that this film is partially based on Charles Manson who has often times stated “My father is the system. I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you.” Same thing can be said for Mickey and Mallory.
One of the films main points is that society is bombarded by the media. Television, the internet, newspapers, magazines, billboards, you name it and we are being bombarded by it minute after minute. I mean, you can’t walk two steps without someone trying to sell you something. You can’t even take a piss in a public bathroom without being told what to buy or who to vote for. Now they even have freaking television sets inside of elevators! Some media outlets show violence simply for the ratings they are going to get in return. The film criticizes this through the character of Wayne Gale, a Geraldo Rivera type of television personality who will show anything on television to get some ratings, the more violent the better. Actually, those scenes where Wayne Gale is interviewing Mickey were inspired by Geraldo Rivera's interview to Charles Manson. It’s the kind of sleaze bag ‘journalism’ that proliferated during the 90’s and therefore got criticized a lot, specifically in films. You can see it pop up in various films, the character of the t.v. journalist always getting the negative portrayal, always looking like some sort of vampire thriving on other peoples woes. On this film Mickey and Mallory are presented as children of television, kids who saw way too much of it and were probably raised by it. Mallory’s father is presented as man who drinks beer and smokes cigarettes while watching wrestling in his underwear. Mickey and Mallory’s memories are sitcom infused flashbacks, and finally, their big jailbreak takes place while television cameras are recording the whole event. The media, and its bombardment on our psyche and its influence on how we perceive the world is really felt through this film. So much so that Mickey and Mallory’s final violent statement is aimed at a media mogul! When the media guy pleads for his life Mickey says “You are scum, you did it for the ratings. You don’t give a shit about us or anybody else except yourself”
So yeah, this film was a big controversial thing. The MPAA kept telling Stone to cut out the violence, and Stone was obligated to do so since he was contractually bound to deliver an ‘R’ rated picture. When the film came out it was blamed for quite a few copy cat murders. Yes my friends, some people out there in the real world went out and committed murders, blaming the film for what they did. They stated that they had either seen the film the night before or that they were emulating what they saw on it The big question that pops up for me is: why did so many people connect with this film in a way that would make them want to behave in the exact same way that Mickey and Mallory did in the film? Is it because they feel the same hatred towards the system as Mickey and Mallory did? Did they see Mickey and Mallory as a pitch perfect reflection of themselves? In the end, I am not one of these people that would blame a film or a song for the way people behave. An artist cannot be held responsible for the way somebody will react to his or her art. It is the main reason why all these lawsuits against Stone and his film never pulled through, the first amendment backed Stone up. Plus, what is Oliver Stone doing in this film if not commenting on the way the world already is? Isn’t that what art is supposed to do?
This is precisely the reason why I admire Stone as a filmmaker so much, because he speaks about the way the world is through his films, and most of the time he holds nothing back. Natural Born Killers is like a barrage of information, fast, quick and scattershot, it’s the Oliver Stone way. If you see his films, many of them have that pacing, that frenetic, speeded up sensation, like life is going on in front of you and you better pay attention or you’ll miss something. Natural Born Killers is like a freight train of images, an avalanche of visual information. Stone uses so many styles and formats on this film, he’ll go from black and white, to color, to oversaturation, to shooting in 16mm , to showing projections in the background and he even uses some morphing! I mean, if Mickey and Mallory were breaking all the rules, I’d say that Oliver Stone was right there breaking them with them while making this film.
Final word: Natural Born Killers is a film that needs to be seen more then once. It comments on so many themes, and it encompasses so much that one viewing will simply not be enough for you to absorb everything. Yeah the film is violent, and yeah the main characters are troubled individuals dealing with their own personal demons in an extremely murderous and psychopathic way, but just remember, this film is not made for you to go out there and shoot whoever the hell looks at you the wrong way, its meant for you to learn from it, and see what we should never become: desensitized individuals with no respect or appreciation for human life. This film is there to tell you that not everything the media tells you is true. That the ones behind media don’t care about you, they only care about their ratings, about making their money. It’s here to tell you that maybe you shouldn’t watch television 24 hours a day seven days a week, maybe you should go out there into the world and live your life, go out with a friend, fall in love, have a good time, experience things, grow, care. Just like Mickey says in the film: “The only thing that kills the demon…is love”
Rating: 5 out of 5