Paracinema Magazine Cover Story, Issue 19, March 2013
It’s Complicated: An In Depth Look at the Evolution of Bill and The Bride’s Turbulent Relationship in Kill Bill
Volume 1: My Baby Shot Me Down
When Kill Bill Volume 1 opens up, the viewer is immediately introduced to the film’s two main characters, Bill and The Bride, at their very worst. The Bride, bloody and beaten to a pulp, is privy to an offscreen monologue by the titular character, Bill. As Bill gently wipes blood and tears away from The Bride’s terrified face, he explains to her what he is taking from this moment of pain she is going through, claiming that his motivations aren’t driven by sadism. Instead, as he so eloquently puts it, this is Bill at his most masochistic, and before The Bride can fully push out her final words “Bill, it’s your baby,” he shoots her, right in the head, seemingly putting an end to her life.
There’s a true level of brilliance in the way that writer/director Quentin Tarantino begins Volume 1 of this two-part revenge epic, as he introduces the audience to both the antagonist and protagonist in a fashion that suppresses the circumstances leading up to this terrible event. It’s obvious that The Bride is a victim by the hands of, as Bill claims, a “masochistic” madman who, in a shockingly powerful scene, ends The Bride’s life without any hesitation or remorse. This scene, which is fittingly shot in black and white, gives a narrow view of how we should feel about both of these characters. It is clear who we should root for and who we should be rooting against all in the span of three minutes. But just as the scene is shot in black and white, that is also the way in which this situation is presented to the audience, but throughout the course of the Kill Bill saga, there is a lot of grey area to cover in this relationship between Bill and The Bride.
This one sided view of Bill and The Bride defines both characters in very specific ways. Bill, in particular, is more of a perception than he is an actual character. Throughout all of Kill Bill Volume 1, Bill is shown in an extremely negative light, portrayed as a vile murderer who has spent his life, or what we are shown of it, building an empire of evil that reaches all parts of the globe. This perception of Bill is overarching, but a few specific scenes hammer home this fact, with the opening murder of The Bride being the most powerful one. Another key scene comes when The Bride travels to Japan to take out her first target, O-Ren Ishii, but first she must acquire a very special weapon from a very special man: Hattori Hanzo.
Hattori Hanzo, the long retired Japanese sword maker, agrees, without question, to help The Bride in her quest for vengeance the moment he learns who her target is. The mere thought that Bill is her intended victim is more than enough for this man to break a 28-year-old sworn oath he made to never create another instrument of death. Bill is such a vile person, and Hattori Hanzo must feel as if he is at least partially responsible for what his former student became. Bill is a product of his tutelage - a physical representation of the weapons he created - and now Hattori Hanzo can play a hand in putting an end to the last vestige of what came of his former life.
On the other side of this coin is how The Bride is presented to the audience during her time spent with Hattori Hanzo. Whereas she was a victim of the most extreme act of violence one can come across by the hands of Bill himself in the film’s opening, The Bride’s interaction with Hattori Hanzo paints her as a person who is charming, lovely and good humored. Her banter back and forth with Hanzo in his Sushi restaurant is quite adorable, and even when she gets down to brass tacks with Hanzo, and reveals her true intentions, she is shown in a sympathetic light. Hanzo’s reaction to Bill and the immediacy in which he agrees to craft a sword so fine that if The Bride were to “encounter God, God will be cut,” only further defines the roles in which both Bill and The Bride play in Kill Bill Volume 1.
Something else that should be noted is how Tarantino completely avoids showing Bill’s face at any point throughout Volume 1. From the opening moment in which he slays our lovely lead to the De Palma-esque hospital sequence where he instructs a grumpy Elle Driver to abort the mission in which she was kill a comatose Bride, Bill is only heard. In fact, nothing more than his hands and body are shown, almost comically painting him as a criminal mastermind who is only a fat cat and computer monitor away from being Inspector Gadget’s Doctor Claw. Even in the film’s final moment - and from off screen - Bill menacingly delivers the cliffhanger twist that still sends shivers down my spine: “is she aware that her daughter is still alive?” Bill is one step ahead, and clearly holds all the cards, no matter what the rate is in which The Bride is exacting her vengeance on his minions.
Regardless of the numerous incredible set pieces and the force of nature that is The Bride throughout Kill Bill Volume 1, as a whole, the heart of this story hasn’t been quite revealed yet. While the main motivator is clearly revenge in Volume 1, Tarantino has only shown one side of this tale, and it is the story of Bill, The Bride and their relationship with one another where the core of Kill Bill truly lies.
Volume 2: Some Things Can Never Be Undone
Tarantino opens Kill BIll Volume 2 with yet another gorgeous black and white sequence that brings both Bill and The Bride back to a time just before he murders her. Now, this might seem like similar territory at first, but the intentions of this scene are vastly different from what they were with Volume 1. The setting is the same, with The Bride, her future husband Tommy and a handful of friends partaking in a dress rehearsal in the very church in which they will all eventually meet their maker. As The Bride takes a moment to get some fresh air, her attention is suddenly captured by the ghostlike sounds of a flute, which rings a certain familiarity to The Bride in a way that brings a gentle smile to her eyes. As she follows the sounds of the flute to the outside of the church, Bill is revealed, and for a brief but intense moment there is a pause before he looks up to her and says, “hello, Kiddo.” This reveal is - for both The Bride and viewer alike - quite shocking at first, because not only is this the first time we are seeing Bill’s face, it’s also the first time we are seeing both Bill and The Bride together on screen in a way where she is not being victimized.
Much in the same way the opening scene of Volume 1 sets up the audience to go down a very specific path, the opening of Volume 2 clears a path of its own, only this time things aren’t quite as narrow. We already know what will occur between Bill and The Bride, and no matter what happens in this scene, nothing will change that. There is, however, a new level of depth being added to the characters of Bill and The Bride and the relationship they share. Now the audience is being given a peek into the other side of this story. Bill isn’t simply just that masochistic bastard who will, in only a short amount of time, murder The Bride in cold blood. Instead, he’s shown as a charmingly sweet old man who has a level of emptiness in him that is expressed in their conversation with one another. Before this point in time, there is no discussion of the connection that Bill and The Bride shared before he shoots her dead, but this opening proves that their relationship is much more profound than that of victim and victimizer, and it is also a glimpse into why Bill does to her what he eventually does do to her.
This opening sequence has a greater impact upon subsequent viewings, because the depth of their relationship becomes much more apparent as their past is brought to the forefront throughout the film. For the viewer, there is an added level of sadness that comes with seeing the genuine love in both Bill and The Bride’s eyes as they speak to one another during the opening sequence. However, there is also a touch of heartache for both characters during this interaction, as this is a situation where The Bride is forced to, in not so many words, tell the man she loves that she cannot love him anymore. For Bill, he is seeing the woman he loves leave him for another life with another man, and with his child, no less, and no matter what Bill says or does, nothing will change that. These are emotions and feelings that really seep in after a few run throughs with Kill Bill Volume 2, because there is a much deeper investment into Bill and The Bride’s relationship and how everything will eventually culminate to him murdering her in the very church in which they stand.
While Volume 1 boils down to making a villain out of Bill and a hero of The Bride, Volume 2 is where Tarantino throws a wrench in how the viewer perceives both characters, and he does so by making the viewer feel sympathy for Bill. He is a victim of a different kind of pain; a pain that comes with having a broken heart, and as anyone who has ever had their heart demolished by someone else knows, emotions can run high. But seeing as this is a Tarantino movie we’re talking about, well, when emotions run high, blood tends to get spilled.
The catalyst for the entire story of Kill Bill is a broken heart; Bill’s broken heart. In fact, the opening of Kill Bill Volume 1 features a humorous Klingon proverb that claims, “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” something that, on the surface, points to the path of the Bride, but chronologically its placement is just before Bill takes his vengeance. And his vengeance does indeed come from a very cold, dark place; a place that can come as a result of having your heart broken in the worst of ways; a place we weren’t even aware of until the events of Volume 2 were given a chance to unfold. It's as if all of Volume 1 exists solely as a way to groom Bill as the worst of the worst; a man who has built a legacy on terror, death and destruction of anyone who dare to be on the wrong end, and that includes The Bride. With Volume 2, however, Bill is literally given the chance to tell his side of the story, and as we see the truth of the relationship between Bill and The Bride, eventually things come to a point where Bill somewhat becomes a victim in his own right.
Much of the strength that lies within Volume 2 comes from the glimpses of the happier times Bill and The Bride share with each other. One key moment comes when Bill takes The Bride to train with Pai Mei and shows just why his codename is ‘Snake Charmer’. While sitting around a campsite, Bill, using the same wooden flute from the film’s opening, goes into the tale of Pai Mei and the massacre of the Shaolin temple. As Bill speaks of the exploits of Pai Mei and the legend of the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, The Bride looks at him with complete adoration in her eyes, much in a way a daughter looks at her father, and of course with the age difference between the two and the way they are portrayed in their better moments, there is certainly a part of her that looks at Bill as a father figure. That, however, is not to take away from the love that they clearly have for one another. The love seen in The Bride’s eyes is undeniable. It is seen in Volume 2’s opening; it is seen during this lovely storytime moment; and it is seen moments later when Bill drops her off at Pai Mei’s to train.
The finale of Kill Bill Volume 2 is where all of the emotions come to a head for both The Bride and the viewer. As she makes the last stop in this epic journey to finally kill Bill, she is confronted with two very challenging things: one being that her daughter is still alive and the other is learning how she unknowingly destroyed a man who loved her. This is the point when all the cards are finally laid out on the table, and the viewer is given the chance to learn about how The Bride left Bill the moment she learned that she was pregnant. The Bride explains it in as simple a way as possible: she did not want to raise a child in a world of violence. She felt that her child deserved to be given a fresh start without the baggage that comes with the world that both she and Bill live in. It doesn’t hurt her case that, literally moments after learning she about her pregnancy, a hitwoman named Karen Kim nearly takes The Bride’s head off with a shotgun. This near death experience paired with the news of her pregnancy made the decision a no-brainer in The Bride’s mind: this isn’t the life for her child.
While The Bride had a seemingly legitimate reason to run away, she neglected to consider that she wasn’t the only person with something at stake here. This is something The Bride clearly never considered before. She never considered that her little vanishing act would cause Bill to think that she was dead, and that Bill would go into a painful mourning that would last for months on end, believing that the woman who he truly loved was taken from him. She never considered that when Bill finally found her, alive, pregnant with his child, and getting married to another man, that he would be extremely hurt. She never considered his feelings or the rights he has to be a father to their child.
Of course, as we know all too well, Bill’s reaction is, to put it lightly, extreme. In fact, it’s the most extreme reaction a person could ever have, murdering someone who they love. But this is the type of reaction one would expect from the type of man that Bill is, which brings to mind a moment in another Tarantino scripted film, 1994’s Natural Born Killers, where an old native American man foresees his future with this parable he delivers to Mickey and Mallory Knox:
Once upon a time, a woman was picking up firewood. She came upon a poisonous snake frozen in the snow. She took the snake home and nursed it back to health. One day the snake bit her on the cheek. As she lay dying, she asked the snake, "Why have you done this to me?" And the snake answered, "Look, bitch, you knew I was a snake."
What it comes down to is, Bill, in his very own words, is “a killer, a murdering bastard,”... “and there are consequences to breaking the heart of a murderous bastard,” and The Bride experienced some of them by making the choices that she made. Even in the film’s opening scene at the church, Bill gives The Bride a sort of last chance ultimatum: "If he's the man you want... then go stand by him" as the melody from Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’ plays ever so hauntingly in the background, hinting as to where things are about to go depending on her decision. But she already made her decision, and there is no other reaction that a man such as Bill can have in such a situation. He had to kill The Bride, even if he didn’t want to, just as she now has to kill him. It’s the way they are wired; it’s who they are, no matter how unfortunate the outcome is for everyone involved.
When The Bride finally does take her revenge, ending Bill’s life with ease using the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, the emotions that cross her face are the emotions of the entire story of Kill Bill. There is regret that maybe her decision to leave Bill was wrong; there is remorse in seeing the man she still loves walk to his death; there is relief because her long, tiring journey of vengeance has finally come to an end; and there is happiness because she has been reunited with the daughter who she believed never even existed. What would define The Bride was, through all of its ups and downs, the relationship she shared with Bill and vice versa. But now that Bill is gone and their tumultuous, and ultimately sad, story has come to an end, she is no longer Bill’s Bride. Instead, she is Beatrix Kiddo, a woman who now has the opportunity to move onto a new chapter in her life; a chapter that involves a new kind of love: that of a mother for her daughter.
“The lioness has been reunited with her cub, and all is right in the jungle.”