Beatrix Kiddo is Vain and Hypocritical (3600 words)
There’s something about Beatrix Kiddo.
In my essay on Ghosts of Mars I stated that most of the time, when movies have intradiagetic narrators, the audience should consider the story as modified on purpose by them and according to secret motivations of theirs. Kill Bill is by no means an exception to this rule. Beatrix Kiddo is a liar, a hypocrite and she is very conscious of the audience to whom she is telling her story. She has a precise goal in mind and her narrative techniques do not innocently aim at telling a good story.
She’s supposed to be looking for revenge, and that’s one way to look at it, but it can also be argued that Beatrix Kiddo is only looking for symbolic power.
She is a beautiful blond with blue eyes. And her daughter is called B.B. by the way. How weird is that ? Anyway, being a beautiful blond, she is already powerful when it comes to symbolic power. But she wants more. I’d like to know why but I don’t exactly yet.
My point is, there are two scenes in Kill Bill which depict Beatrix' shifts in her search for symbolic power. The first is a deleted one in which Bill is forced into a swordfight by a man who wants him dead. It likely depicts the day Kiddo fell in love with him.
During a walk together, Bill and Beatrix are interrupted by a black man and his four henchmen who accuses Bill to have killed his master. Kiddo's friend brings the flirtatious walk as a reason why the showdown should be postponed. This is an ambiguous element. We could believe that Bill, convinced of his victory, is subtly giving a chance to his adversaries to withdraw, but it is very unlikely considering his temper. It could also be believable that he is using the situation as an opportunity to make an impression on Kiddo. Very confident that he is going to slay his opponents with no difficulty, he makes a remark that suggests that he is going to do so because they’ve spoiled a moment between him and Beatrix. How flattering: “You’ve dared disturb me when I was walking with my lady friend, you are dead !” But when looking closer at the elements of the scene it becomes more thinkable that Bill is strategically bluffing on all levels because the threat is pretty serious.
Da Moe’s disciple is a ridiculous stock character, the overconfident bad guy who is going to get his ass owned to him, and as we’ve guessed that the scene is written in order to put Bill’s efficiency as a killer forward, we know the latter is going to win the fight without any problem; it is thus difficult to take his enemy seriously when he understands Bill’s “I’m with a lady friend, can’t we do this another time” as a ruse to escape the fight and sentences it with a “Nice Try !” However, there still are five men putting their lives on the line in order to kill Bill in front of the man.
Da Moe’s disciple sends his first fighter and what does Bill do ? He sends a knife right in the man’s forehead and thus gets rid of his adversary’s best swordfighter. The black man’s reaction “You bastard” inspires a laugh as it is the second time he utters the insult in one minute. Again, ridicule is used to conceal the fact that maybe we should be on the attacker’s side. Isn’t Bill a bastard for doing this ? Isn’t there a code of honour when it comes to sword fighting ? The man that he’s just killed was doing Bill a favour by giving him the opportunity to fight for his life. They could simply have stabbed him in the back or shot him if they wanted him dead. Instead they challenged him into a duel.
After this, the three weaker fighters get killed by Bill without an effort. He is not unskilled with a sword and by eradicating the first man so easily he breaks the three others' spirits (Most fights in Kill Bill are solved symbolically and aren't a question of skill superiority). There is no doubt his move was smart, and maybe he is so confident because he knows he is a bastard with no honour and that it gives him an edge against opponents who expect him to behave honourably.
Bill and Da Moe’s disciple start fighting and after having traded a few attacks and blocks, the latter manages to cut the head of one of the lace of Bill’s kimono. The event is very heavily underlined by a close-up and a very loud noise. The first time I saw the scene, I thought the purposely unsubtle directing was aimed at being humorous, as if all of this meant a shallow “Damn, he’s ruined Bill’s kimono, he is so dead !”
But Da Moe’s disciple silently drives his sword into a beam of wood fixing Bill straight in the eyes. He either wants to restore his master’s honour by vanquishing Bill in sword fight and hand-to-hand combat, or he is doing him a favour; but at this point, they both know Bill is weaker than his opponent with a sword.
Even if he clearly is the most agile, Bill’s adversary soon learns that victory isn’t that obvious without a sword and quickly removes his weapon from his improvised prop to point it at the murderer. Bill raises an eyebrow and silently dares his opponent to fight with his scabbard on his sword. As Bill is weaker with a sword and the other man is in hand-to-hand combat, this seems like a fair in between. It should be noticed that Bill, by placing his sword as if it was an extension of his erect penis, suggests that his opponent would prove to be a coward if he doesn’t accept the challenge.
The black man puts his scabbard back on his sword and a few seconds later, his throat his slit by the blade of Bill’s. Conclusion ? Bill won with a cheap move. He cheated.
What is interesting here is the last shot of the scene: a long zoom on Kiddo’s impressed/aroused expression. Bill has beaten the black man in a duel which involved the size of their penis. Yes, the black man is used as the symbol of the man with the biggest sex.
Kiddo is blind to the fact that Bill is an asshole, a coward and the bad guy of the scene. The only thing that she sees is that he won without losing his cool what she naively sees as the manliest man you can find. She is the B.B. and Bill has beaten the B.B.C. It’s not Tarantino’s perception of the world of course, it’s Kiddo’s. Her mind is full of symbols and mythologies.
If this scene describes her love for Bill -and why would there be a scene in which they flirt if it wasn’t to explain the roots of their mutual feelings- we cannot but observe that it is very shallow. She loves him because he won and because he killed ruthlessly the ones who dared show disregard for the time they were spending together.
In brief, “He is the strongest and he loves me ! Yeaaaaah !” Her love for Bill is not about mutual appreciation but about flattery and getting a sense of worth. This only works because she is immature and lacks personality. Now, because she “loves” Bill, she is going to train and become an assassin and will assassinate people to please Daddy. Until…
Until she finds something that is stronger than an assassin: a mother. I don’t want to sound too cynical, but isn’t the scene when Kiddo explains a contract killer that she doesn’t want to fight because she is “scared for her baby,” completely ridiculous ? She has just found out that she is pregnant; there is no baby yet to be scared for. What there is, is a certain level of chorionic gonadotrophin in her urine. I understand that for a brainless killer, realizing that she can spread life instead of death can come as a shock, but seriously, this is ridiculous. Didn’t she ever think about the fact that she could have a baby before ? It is all the more so suspicious as it seems to be mindblowing to her. Wasn’t she aware of human reproduction ? If she had sex with Bill without using any kind of contraceptive she must have been aware of the possibility and the idea of being a mother can’t have fallen upon her like that.
My point is, other things happen to her in that scene that could have triggered her decision to change life. First, she drops her pregnancy test and survives a shotgun shot only because she bends to pick it up.
This alone could mean “I’m not a killer anymore,” in a similar fashion to Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction who decides not to ever kill anyone anymore because he miraculously survives six shots fired at him from a very short distance. Kiddo could very well be shocked by how close she came to being killed and decide that it’s over. The “I’m scared for my baby” would then be an excuse, an attempt at avoiding the fight because she is now panicked. If we look at the scene honestly, without the pregnancy element Kiddo wouldn’t have made it alive that day. Because we’ve just watched Kill Bill Vol.1 and 2 when Beatrix tells the story, we look at her as an invincible being but she is not, and if it had not been for her newly discovered pregnancy, she would have died on that day.
So, the shotgun shot in the door could convince her to stop being an assassin. Even more interesting is the acceptance of the killer to check whether she is telling the truth when she says she is pregnant and her decision to live her target alone after having congratulated her.
All of this sounds like a big joke to the audience, but if we take these elements seriously, Kiddo has just escaped death by the hand of a very skilled assassin just by pretending that she cared for a baby she doesn’t even have. It is quite interesting that Beatrix could very well be bringing us to dismiss elements by showing them under a humorous light (the strange behavior of the contract killer is just funny and we do not imagine it could have influenced Kiddo) and to take others as self-explanatory because she puts an emphasis on them (She is moved by the discovery that she is going to become a mother, when it's actually quite stupid that she should react like that).
After this event, Beatrix knows that being a mother is potentially more powerful than being a killer. She is the best killer she’ll ever be, there isn’t any growth to expect in that direction anymore, why not try being a mother ?
And because Beatrix is an empty shell, she works by roles, she’s assumed the one of a killer since she was with Bill and now she wants to shift to being a wife and a mother and needs a complete reset of her environment.
She’ll explain that to Bill with “My Daughter deserves to be born with a clean slate”; a sentence that implies that she, Beatrix Kiddo, could represent a “clean slate” whereas Bill cannot. How humble of you Kiddo. Maybe you should have thought of giving your baby for adoption if you wanted her to be born in some kind of “pure” world because you're not exactly a saint. I hope the misandry of her words is obvious, the woman can change and deserves a second chance, not the man. Bill is the menace, she is the protector.
Let’s take a closer look at it. What kind of woman is in love with a man whom she finds so despicable that the day she gets pregnant she decides she should run away from him. I mean, isn’t there some sort of contradiction here ? To me, Kiddo’s flight reveals how shallow her love is and also underlines how much everything is about her and her power and not the baby.
If she had not been a vain person, she would have left Bill and got the baby on her own. But no, she couldn’t cope with losing her symbolic position at his side, because it is only question of symbols with her. She cannot lose her status of Bill’s favourite before she moves on to something different, she needs to disappear from his life without losing her symbolic status regardless of the consequences it might engender.
Too bad it’s going to backfire badly as Bill looks for her killers everywhere (he thinks she was murdered) and ends up finding her instead, nine months pregnant and ready to marry a random idiot. My question is: how stupid is that ? How did Kiddo manage to think she could disappear without living a trace ? And how did she dare inflict this to a man she was supposed to love ? As Bill points out “for the record, letting somebody think somebody they love is dead when they're not, is quite cruel.” Duh ! Are these two completely retarded !?!
This line, coming from a murdering bastard, resonates as quite funny. But again, humour conceals strong relevance. Kiddo behaved as if Bill had no feelings whatsoever. I think it is very intriguing that a somewhat feminist plot should work without taking into account the man’s feeling. Bill points at them only as a parenthesis, as if they shouldn’t count: “And for the record.” The thing is, why shouldn’t they count ? After he’s explained what made him shoot her he concludes “I overreacted.” Kiddo jumps on the occasion to disqualify his argument as confessing that he “overreacted” is doing half of the job. But truly, he did not overreact. When he shoots Kiddo in the head, describing what he is doing as his most masochistic move, she brought him to do it. Yes, he is an asshole and a bastard, but she knew all that perfectly from the start and loved him for it. How could he not react violently confronted to such a violent disregard for his feelings ? The true problem is elsewhere:
“Bill- There are consequences to breaking the heart of a murdering bastard […] Was my reaction really that surprising ?
Kiddo- Yes it was. Could you do, what you did ? Of course you could. But I never thought you would or could do that to me.
Bill- I’m really sorry Kiddo, but you thought wrong.”
The audience is supposed to think “of course, she didn’t expect him to shoot her in the head, they were lovers !” But if you think about it for a minute, it actually isn’t obvious one bit. If your boyfriend is a violent guy, you will definitely expect to take a slap or a punch one day; or if you fancy a guy who loses his temper easily, you very well know that he will lose his temper easily when he has a disagreement with you. If your girlfriend as an easy virtue, you know she might sleep with another guy at some point. Not only is Kiddo an idiot for thinking Bill would never have shot her, but she is a hypocrite puffed-up with pride.
Bill is some sort of reverse prince charming. Instead of kissing Sleeping Beauty to awaken her libido, he killed someone. Now Kiddo is all in love with Bill on the basis that he could kill anybody but her. It’s not that she thinks that he wouldn’t kill her because he loves her so much, it is that she thinks she is the only one he would never kill. When she explains this, Bill just plain mocks her. Beatrix thought she was an exception to the rule and that that’s what made her Bill’s lover. Her love of him was conditioned by an idea of submission. “He is the strongest killer in the world and he can’t kill me.” “He is the most charming prince (already a man of a higher status) in the kingdom, and he will only kiss me !”
So when he does kill her, after she has behaved in a way which leaves him no other alternative because he is overwhelmed by pain, humiliation and rage, she is not primarily sad and hurt, she is vexed. And at the end of the movie their final fight is triggered by this vexation, not by her desire to raise B.B. in a healthy environment. It is Bill’s “You thought wrong” that triggers the killing. He dies because he does not want to say that his gesture contradicted the fact that he loved Kiddo. And he is right. But by insisting on this, he deprives Kiddo of the special status of unkillability she thought she had and this, her pride cannot take.
All of this said, I'd like to go back to the last conversation between Kiddo and Bill in which she is quite hypocritical and superior:
Kiddo: - Before that strip turned blue, I was a woman I was your woman, I was a killer who killed for you. Before that strip turned blue I would have jump from a motortcycle onto a speeding train, for you. (She doesn't take any responsibility for her action, it wasn't her who did these things because she did them for Bill. She took no pleasure in them whatosever.) But once that strip turned blue, I could no longer do any of those things not anymore. Because I was gonna be a mother. Can you understand that ?
Bill: - Yes (on a tone that suggests she is stating the obvious), but why didn't tell me then instead of now ?
Kiddo: - Once you knew, you'd claim her. And I didn't want that.
Bill: - Not your decision to make. (truth)
Kiddo: - Yes, but it's the right decision and I made it for my daughter. (lie) She deserved to be born with a clean slate. (Doesn't mean anything in the context) But with you she would have been born into a world she shouldn't have. (A world she liked until that precise moment) I had to chose. I chose her. (Lie) You know, five years ago If I had to make a list of impossible things that could never happen, you performing a coup de grace on me by busting a cap in my ground, would have been right at the top of the list. I would have been wrong, wouldn't I ?
Bill: - uh... I'm sorry was that a question ? (Makes fun of her counterfeit attitude) Of impossible things that could never happen, yes in this instance you would have been wrong.
In that conversation, Kiddo's mental issues are very noticeable. Before the blue strip, she has no individuality, she is Bill's pawn. He is everything. After the strip turns blue, she becomes a mother, her daughter becomes everything. She still has no individuality. I think she suffers from some unresolved electra complex.
A female friend of mine told me that for her, Kiddo had no life of her own and would have commited suicide right after having killed Bill if she hadn't found a reason to live in her miraculously alive daughter (Or is she ?). And I think that it's true. Kiddo's revenge is nihilistic. She destroys everything because she has nowhere to go. Or, even weirder, she might be trying to recover Bill's love by acting that way. Just like Lady Snowblood, Kiddo acts as if her personal opinion didn't count, as if she was forced against her will to do what she did.
So, all these elements are just extracted from three little scenes of the movie, but clues are dispatched everywhere. Kiddo betrays her true character all the time but at the same time prevents her audience from questioning her behaviour as much as she can.
A very representative example of Kiddo’s manipulation is the blinking/shift to black and white at the house of the blue leaves. This shift is only to be seen in the occidental version of the film. Does that make it less meaningful ? No, because Kiddo adapts to her audience. “Is it too violent for you ? Ok, let’s have it in black and white.”
And what about the boy from the crazy 88 that she spares ? She’s just killed about thirty people and a 17 years old girl, but suddenly, she spares one boy because he is young and scared. If she did not spare anyone during this fight, she would lose her audience’s approval, but because of the joke with the boy we get the feeling that the slaughter that came before was bound to happen and justified. Also, there’s the pop music. The rampage is accompanied by pop music as if Kiddo was saying “Yeaaaah, it’s just innocent fun ! Take it as entertainment. They’re the bad guys and I’m the good one, their lives are worthless.” Again, everything has to be symbolic because otherwise it would very quickly become obvious that Kiddo's life isn't more important than the lives of all her victims. She needs to constantly renew the tricks that allow her to continue with our approbation.
Anyway, I made my point. Kiddo is not what she pretends to be and there is no reason why she should obtain what she wants more than Bill.
I’ll certainly come back to Kill Bill later but there’s just so many things to say.