Chapter Two: Kill Bill Vol. 2
By Brett Beach
May 20, 2010
In an ironic turn that is fitting given some of the plot twists in Vol. 2, it is the first part that feels to me like a series of (enjoyable) leftovers. Yes, Vol. 1 has the standoff with the Crazy 88 that is the cinematic piece de resistance of the films, but that sequence also feels like Tarantino giving the audience precisely, though deliriously, what’s expected, instead of finding a way to transcend himself and play with and tweak expectations, which he often does so perfectly he makes it seem easy.
The second installment digs deeper and resonates stronger emotionally. This is true even if one has not seen the first movie. Vol. 2 is Tarantino riffing on Sergio Leone and Douglas Sirk with equal fervor. Grandiose spaghetti-western showdowns and ridiculously amped-up domestic entanglements are conflated so that both become inextricably entangled. Instead of war waged in the wide open desert panorama outside Budd’s ramshackle trailer or a majestic sword fight on the beach outside Bill’s homey villa, there is a hilariously restricted battle within the cramped confines of Budd’s home and a brief, vivid (seated) exchange between Beatrix and Bill on his patio. Both scenarios are abruptly resolved by our heroine with a burst of violence wrought by her hands: an eyeball plucked, a heart exploded (internally at least).
It would be condescending to say that Uma Thurman acquits herself nicely in the role. She delivers a performance high on both physical prowess and acute emotional resonance. There is an exceedingly short list of actresses who are believable both wielding weaponry and their heart on their sleeve in the same part. Linda Hamilton (Terminator 2), Geena Davis (The Long Kiss Goodnight) and Sigourney Weaver (Aliens and Alien 3) spring to mind and perhaps it is because all those films (and Kill Bill) involve women attempting to balance a fierce maternal instinct with a fierce killer instinct. Perhaps they are one and the same.
Tarantino sets up this theme of motherhood at the beginning of both films by using the same black and white footage of The Bride laying bloody and beaten and uttering the previously quoted line as Bill prepares to execute her. He employs it as the cliffhanger at the end of Vol. 1 as the audience learns that the daughter is still alive. However, it is a pair of quieter, heartbreaking moments that demonstrate Thurman’s perfect fit with the role that she and Tarantino co-created.
Upon awakening with a start from her coma in Vol. 1, she immediately clutches her stomach, reaching to feel the child no longer there. Tarantino allows her sorrow to play out several beats longer than one would expect and her pain is agonizing. This loss is inverted in Vol. 2 when she arrives at Bill’s home and learns the truth about her daughter. The emotions that play across her face, both controlled and barely contained, inspire well-earned tears from me.
There are a handful of performances that, long before becoming a father, I have always felt seemed transformed by the actor or actress’s perfect modulation in playing a grieving or otherwise distressed parent. To wit:
Ryan O’Neal and Marisa Berenson as parents beside their angelic young son’s deathbed in Barry Lyndon. Stanley Kubrick (!) plays this scene for every last shred of sentiment and heartbreak and loss and the surprise of that fact alone makes the scene stunning. O’Neal and Berneson are almost universally knocked as pretty faces and pretty vacant for their work here, a charge I have never understood.
Tom Cruise in Minority Report. Specifically for the scene in the hotel room where a cache of old photos sets him up to believe he has finally uncovered the identity of the man who kidnapped and killed his son years ago. The mingled tears of joy and sorrow and revenge as he declares, “I really am going to kill that man,” are both vindicating and terrifying.
Jennifer Connelly in Dark Water. As a mother going through a nasty divorce and on the verge of losing custody of her daughter, she has problems enough even before she begins receiving visions of a murder committed in the rundown apartment building she has moved in to. Looking older, more tired and more scared than at any point previous in her career, Connelly’s work here is even more impressive than her Oscar-winning role in A Beautiful Mind. Dark Water got lost in the wave of the J Horror remakes from last decade and is still seriously undervalued.
I would add Thurman to this list. If Vol. 1 makes Beatrix Kiddo a hyper-charged comic book heroine on a rampage, Vol. 2 makes her iconic. Whether punching her way out of being buried alive in a coffin or cuddling her daughter while sharing an entirely inappropriate bedtime movie, she is fierce and fallible. Towering and vincible. Larger than life and all too human. A woman, a mother.
Next time: BB Kiddo’s entirely inappropriate bedtime movie.