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Upon Reflection: Natural Born Killers

Occasionally, I like the memory of a movie better than the movie itself. The first twenty to thirty minutes of Kaneto Shindo’s The Naked Island, for example, was a somewhat tedious viewing experience, consisting largely of a montage of poor Japanese farmers transporting heavy buckets of water between the mainland and their parched crops. On reflection, however, I began to realize just how precious every drop of that water was to those characters, how significant every moment of that long, arduous journey was to the film’s narrative and central theme; the more I thought about the structure of the story, the more I came to appreciate its subtleties.

Natural Born Killers, though, epitomizes the phenomenon. In the moment, I feel that director Oliver Stone’s stylistic choices make it borderline unwatchable. Between the obnoxiously obvious symbolism, the manic camera movements, and the less-than-justified changes in film stock, it’s nearly impossible to determine where the satire ends and the pure, unapologetic excess begins.

And yet…

And yet something transcended the student film aesthetics and compelled me to seek out Quentin Tarantino’s original screenplay. On the page, it reads as Tarantino’s thesis statement on violence–how the media portrays/sensationalizes it, the myriad responses it provokes in viewers, etc. That foundation manages to shine through the gaudy color filters and the numerous liberties Stone and his co-writers took with the material, sticking with you long after the end credits roll.

[Originally written November 4, 2012.]

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