Moving Images: “Lost in Translation” and “Kill Bill”
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ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: I stumbled– or maybe grumbled is the more apt word– out of this theater not so long ago after seeing the big new hit movie, “Kill Bill.” In fairness, I knew what I was getting in for.
ACTRESS: Now it’s kill or be killed. And I choose, kill.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: The reviews, some laudatory, some excoriating, had made no secret of the blood-and-gore nature of the film, in which action heroine Uma Thurman summarily hunts down and hacks to bits her former cohorts in crime who had turned on her and tried to kill her. I went not expecting to be amused or entertained, but edified and horrified. I was both.
ACTOR: Silly rabbit.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Aging boy wonder Quentin Tarantino has thrown up a revenge filled, fantasy phantasmagoria of beheadings and skewerings and maimings– the violence cloaked in a kind of hipper-than-thou cartoon excess that defies you to take it too seriously. Why does somebody make this, I wonder. What’s the point? I happened, standing there, somewhat revulsed, to look up and see another film on the marquee: Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” which I had seen some days earlier. What an amusing juxtaposition.
ACTOR: Hello. Do you ever switch seats?
ACTOR: If “Kill Bill” is about our violence-jaded sensibility and desire for revenge, “Lost in Translation” is about our loneliness and our desire to connect with each other.
ACTOR: I’m trying to organize a prison break. I’m looking for, like, an accomplice.
ACTOR: ( Laughs )
ACTOR: Are you in or are you out?
ACTOR: I’m in.
ACTOR: It’s a lyric tone-poem of a film in which a mismatched couple– a wry, bitter middle aged actor and a beautiful young aimless woman– circle each other in a Tokyo hotel high- rise. Both married, both adrift, both insomniac, they sit in the bar and wander the halls and watch TV together, conducting a tender, trans-generational flirtation that is much more about longings than lust. He wants to start over. She just wants to get started. How odd that both movies are here now making their disparate splashes.
They are bookends of our entertainment culture– Tarantino, the dark-hearted, hyper-kinetic, blood-spattering yin to Coppola’s gentle yang. The irony is that she is the bold filmmaker, not he.
In our current environment, it is much riskier to put tenderness on the screen, long- lost tenderness, than savagery; much harder to capture unconsummated longings than ferociously consummated bloodlust-revenge.
After all, even our most-loved TV comedies have acid tongues. Those “friends” are always jabbing at each other verbally, as are most of our sitcom couples, turning the lovey-dovey into some titillating version of kiss and make up. And of course, the whole reality TV world is anchored by humiliation.
One of the meanest shows on television is the ironically named “America’s funniest home videos,” in which small children and animals are always falling down and getting hurt– not really, really hurt, just mock- hurt. This is Tarantino-land, dead on, a place where we can have our violence and laugh at it, too. And of course, revenge fantasies have infected our politics and political rhetoric, certainly since September 11. There is an “axis of evil” that must be eradicated.
Uma Thurman, meet George Bush. It is no accident that someone named “The Terminator” won the governorship of California by talking tough and addressing little, no accident that the myriad Democratic presidential hopefuls are all struggling to find a tone tough enough to make them acceptable as action figure heroes.
“Kill Bill” borrows heavily, in fact, from other action movie genres– from samurai movies to spaghetti westerns. Tarantino, by his own admissions, has clearly lived and breathed movies, been weaned on them. In short, he is a movie mutant, the ultimate disconnected man, whose sensibility has been formed in movie theaters, not by contact with the human heart.
Let us leave, though, with our two lost souls trying, in fact, to make a connection in that Tokyo high-rise and help each other, with their shy smiles and funny asides, through another sleepless night.
I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.