Viking Night: True Romance
By Bruce Hall
April 23, 2013
There are many reasons that certain films achieve what we call "cult" status, but one of them is that they tend to deliver their message in subversive or controversial ways that don't appeal to everyone. While it's true that most people do not like to work for their entertainment, is it possible that even the most unusual films can have something to offer everyone? When I was in college, a group of friends and I would meet regularly to ponder this very question. Beginning with Erik the Viking, we gathered once a week to watch and discuss a different cult classic, but we decided to keep the Viking theme. Now, I'll be working without a turkey leg or a goblet of mead, but with each installment of Viking Night I still seek to examine the same question: Can a film with such limited appeal still speak to us all?
If you've ever wondered what would happen if the writer of Pulp Fiction and the director of Top Gun made a movie together, you were probably thinking of True Romance. In the classic Tarantino idiom, this is a ballet of bullets and bad decisions filled with thin, quirky characters prone to long, stylishly self conscious monologues. It kind of seems like a natural fit for Tony Scott’s brand of hyperkinetic impulse oriented storytelling, and for the most part things work out that way. As an added bonus it also stars Christian Slater, who was very popular at the time, and Patricia Arquette as a pair of misguided lovers who bite more out of life than they can chew.
And it's all in the name of love, money and drugs.
Clarence Worley (Slater) is an oily but affable comic store clerk by day and a cloying barfly/kung fu movie enthusiast by night. You might not be surprised to hear that he’s single. Alabama Whitman (Arquette) is a chain smoking call girl with (surprise) a heart of gold who gets hired by Clarence’s boss to show Clarence a good time on his birthday. The plan goes off without a hitch but before either knows what’s happening, the two crazy kids actually fall in love. For Alabama, it’s because she can’t resist his practiced, disaffected charm. In Clarence’s case, it’s because he’s a hermit-nerd who’s so happy to have a girlfriend he doesn’t care how it happened. They have the same likes, dislikes, turn-ons, habits and vices. They even like the same kind of pie.
So the next day they get married, and immediately move in together. Everything is fine until Alabama casually mentions Drexl (Gary Oldman), her old pimp. Just the thought of anyone coveting her but him makes Clarence's skin crawl. He starts losing his perspective and then inexplicably has a vision where Elvis Presley (Val Kilmer) orders him to kill. Swivel Hips warns him that despite finding the love of his life, he will never truly be happy until he brutally murders Drexl. Clarence makes it happen and by the time it's over, he's come into possession of a half million dollars worth of cocaine. He realizes that an enterprising man could sell those drugs and walk away with the kind of money a young couple might use to settle down.