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Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Hero of Kill Bill

I enjoy the Hero's Journey story. It is extremely classical and looking at the base elements it seems kind of boring, but in practice there are innumerable different ways to tell that basic story, especially when certain elements are subverted or ignored. Looking back through Tarantino's filmography the one story which really stands out is the Kill Bill movies/movie. Technically they were released as two volumes, but they were intended to be one and were only split because of the non-profitable four hour run time. Kill Bill follows the basic Journey archetype with a few very interesting diversions.

One of the defining points of the Hero's Journey is the death and resurrection of the main character that happens near the end. Classic examples include Harry Potter 'dying' at the end of the Deathly Hallows or for something more Mythological something like Hercules departing to the underworld during his twelve labors. What is interesting about Kill Bill is there are two points which could be considered a death and rebirth, though one is more significant than the other. The first is when The Bride is shot at her wedding rehearsal and goes into a coma for four years. After this her determination for revenge overtakes everything else and she wants to commit the eponymous act, killing Bill.

The second resurrection occurs at a point more fitting in the Hero's Journey structure, about halfway through volume two, or at the end of the second act. Here The Bride is buried by Bill's brother and left to suffocate. She breaks out after remembering her training with the mentor. In a traditional journey of course the mentor assists at the beginning of the journey, introducing the character to the new world. In Kill Bill there could truthfully be two mentors, one more obvious and one more subtle. Pai-Me teaches the Bride how to fight with a sword, and trains her so hard she becomes a nearly unstoppable killing machine. He also shapes her outset majorly creating the cold demeanor that she puts on when fighting the people she blames for her child and groom's deaths.

The second mentor here is Bill, who serves a very different purpose narratively but also is core in shaping Te Bride's character. He is of course the antagonist and the titular character, but he is also a past lover of the Bride, and someone who she still has feelings for, even if they are confusing. With this said looking at the film from the perspective of beginning at The Bride re-awakening from her coma and ending with Bill's death it leaves us with no clear mentor, except for in flashbacks. However because the film is told non-linearly it could be considered that it still fits in the typical order of the journey because of the order the audience perceives it in, not necessarily the chronology of the film.

There are a few elements still missing from the traditional journey however, such as the refusal of the call. This again occurs before the events of the film starts, as The Bride has declined to be an assassin, refusing to go back to that world of murder and violence. Considering the world she finds herself embroiled in after waking up from her coma it is ironic that she refused, and then entered of her own will, but that is a crucial point of the journey. Here again because of the non-linear perspective of the film it molds itself better to the Journey than if it was told in order.

Even with all these sort of disparate and contrary elements there are still a number which fit perfectly. Though there is nothing necessarily supernatural about the aid the Bride receives in her new katana, it is said to be of such fine craftsmanship that it can cut god, and thus is effectively supernatural. With this new weapon and her training The Bride sets out to kill her first target. This is the crossing of the first threshold, and in her successful murder of this woman she has metaphorically entered the belly of the whale, and there is no turning back.

After this she undergoes a series of tests where she fights the three people leading up to Bill after crossing that first threshold. During the second test she actually fails and is buried, and has to dig her way out. This is a common feature of the Journey, and the failure only makes her grow stronger, even strong enough to defeat Bill. Of course when it gets to that point there is no elaborate fight scene, just a long talk, and then she kills him with one punch. He accepts his fate however and walks into death like he expected it. By doing this The Bride has also righted wrongs with an effective father figure, and by doing this has allowed herself to move on.

In the final scene The Bride is seen weeping as she is afraid to return to a normal world, and is full of grief for Bill and all the other people she killed. This could be seen as any number of end steps, but in the end there is no happy ending, The Bride has to accept what she has done and acknowledge that her life can never be the same. This is another point where Kill Bill differs from the Journey, there is no happy ending, and very little resolution, simply an ending that shows all the pain that such terrible violence causes.

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