Below I offer the first few paragraphs of my contribution to a forthcoming book in which Christians from a variety of disciplines talk about the movies of Quentin Tarantino. Edited by my friends Jon and Jerry Walls, the book is: Tarantino and Theology forthcoming from Grey Matter Books/Sideshow Media Group, Hollywood CA. My assignment was to talk about Kill Bill and the Old Testament!
Tarantino and the Old Testament: A Dangerous Liaison?
Quentin Tarantino has become synonymous with cinematic violence. Not merely graphic or plentiful, a marked stylization of violence distinguishes these films. For this reason, some Christians find Tarantino’s movies problematic or in fact, abominable. This judgment, however, encounters obstacles. After all, the scriptures report violence, At times violence is reported in summary form, “Thus Joshua struck all the land,… and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded.” (Josh 10:40). While the statement itself points to great violence, it remains detached, even clinical. Just as we castigate Tarantino for violence in his stories, and violent story lines, Christianity’s cultured detractors disparage “Old Testament violence” as though they were equivalent.
When I watch the Kill Bill movies, I am drawn irresistibly not to the book of Joshua, with its military actions, but to the book of Judges, which I have spent decades studying, writing about and teaching. The cinematic, story- and character-bound violence of Kill Bill comes closer to Judges than to other books. In this essay, I offer neither a systematic analysis nor a formal study of either the movie or the book of Judges, though I will draw on my own previous work on Judges (listed below). I make no judgment on either book, but rather flag the points where I see one evoking the other. In addition, no discussion of heroes, vengeance and violence in western culture can ignore its other two monuments to skull-caving, body cleaving violence, Homer’s Iliad and the Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf. Since I can’t avoid making associations with these works, and have no actual methodological necessity for including them, I do so simply because they are fantastic stories that enrich our enjoyment of all such stories, Kill Bill included. I don’t try to cover every scene or stage in the story, nor analyze the plot. I also can’t finally say if these movies are not actually a very clever trap loaded with layers of ironic misdirection. I’m taking the story at face value and will present my impressions and connections, as one steeped in the book of Judges and other stories of mind-numbingly fearsome, chaotic berserkers.
The Isolation of Violence
All movies featuring truly face-melting violence, especially when massive death tolls and impressive property damage are involved, provoke the same set of questions from some viewers about the surrounding environment. “Where are the police ?” “Where are the bystanders?” “How can the Bride just walk away after slaughtering the Crazy 88 and demolishing a night club?” “How can the Bride fly on an airplane with a Hanzo Hatori katana?” In a hoplophobic culture where a school child can get detention for pointing with his finger and saying “Bang!” how’d she get that cranium-cleaving cutlery on board a plane? In Kill Bill The Bride and the “Deadly Viper Assassination Squad” (DiVAS) move freely and wreak their violent mayhem with impunity. The law officers that do appear serve as icons of impotence, stupidity and not a little disdain for rural southerners. Additionally, not even wounds or medical impediments stop the hero. When the Bride awakens from a four-year coma in a dive of a hospital, neglected subjected to repeated rape by her nurse-cum-pimp, she does have problems walking around, but otherwise manages to kill her rapist, escape from the hospital, steal his truck and drive it away, all within an hour of awakening. Presumably in this universe, stolen trucks are not reported, license plates are not traced, and Umma Thurman driving a vehicle called the “Pussy Wagon” attracts not a flicker of attention in a normal middle-class suburban neighborhood. Yes, we see her struggle with non-responsive legs, but really… why not her arms too? Where are the inevitable bed-sores, the disorientation, all the normal things that happen to comatose patients getting four years of crappy care and sexual abuse? Wouldn’t there have been a chance she would get pregnant from the repeated sexual assaults she suffered? And then what about all the physical punishment endured by the Bride and other heroes like them in their combat? Other than being momentarily stunned or slowed down, the hailstorm of physical punishment hardly affects her. Much blood is shed, but little seems actually to be lost. How many round-house kicks to the face can one sustain and still possess perfect teeth, intact jawbones, socketed eyeballs (except for Elle Driver, or course) and functioning brain-cells?
I know, these are silly questions to ask of this genre…
For the book of Judges, cf. Lawson G. Stone, “Judges”in Joshua, Judges Ruth (Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 3; Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2012) 185-494; also Lawson G. Stone, “Israel’s Appearance in Canaan,”in Bill T. Arnold, Richard S. Hess, eds. Ancient Israel’s History: An Introduction to Issues and Sources (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014) 127-164. On the Ehud story, cf. Lawson G. Stone, “Eglon’s Belly and Ehud’s Blade: A Reconsideration,” Journal of Biblical Literature 128/4 (2009) 649-663; “Judges,” 237-247