Natural Born Killers (1994)


Food: When I visited Thailand, I learned how to make Pad Thai – using a fairly easy recipe. However, due to the fact that they used vague sauces such as:  oyster sauce, soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, and a turmeric and sugar sauce all mixed together – I gave up trying to find the exact right ones and figure that will be a project for another day. I got the pre-mixed one at the store, with the pad thai noodles. You start with oil and water in  a large pan, and start cooking chalets of onion. You mix in small squares of tofu and (pre-scrambled) egg. Once that has cooked for a minute or two, you move it to one side, and add the noodles (which have already soaked for about 15 minutes in water). Add more water. Add the sauces – per the recipe (first the sweet soy suace, then the regular soy sauce, then the oyster, then the turmeric and sugar sauce). Once the noodles have soaked in the sauces for a moment, mix all the ingredients together. Let simmer. Add shredded carrots, chives and sprouts on top for extra flavor. It is really fresh and easy – and I am no cook and it still tasted good, so cheers!

Film: Natural Born Killers is without a doubt one of the wildest, most relentless films I have ever seen. There is also a lot of fascinating controversy surrounding it – and it actually became a turning point in film history. First, it was initially written by Quentin Tarantino – who was tied to the film at first, but then disowned it after seeing the final product: “I hate that f*cking movie!” However, so it goes that he ran into Johnny Cash on an elevator once who mentioned that him and June loved the film, which warmed Tarantino up to it after all. I would be curious to read the original screenplay because apparently it is quite different than the film. Further, the finished product had to be cut significantly (apparently 4 minutes of footage) in order to avoid a NC-17 rating from the MPAA. It was banned entirely from Ireland (eventually lifted) and was delayed release in the UK.  When the film came out, it supposedly inspired “copycat” crimes – even the Columbine killers code-named their attack “NBK” for Natural Born Killers. Notably, one pair of teenage lovers Sarah Edmondson and Ben Darrus were tripping on acid and watching the film on a loop, before they left their log cabin in Oklahoma and went on a killing spree, murdering Bill Savage (local businessman) and a paralyzed a cashier named Patsy Byers. Byers pursued legal action against Warner Home Video, Inc., Warner Brothers, Inc. Time Warner Entertainment Company, L.P., Time Warner, Inc., Regency Enterprises, Alcor Films, J.D. Productions and Oliver Stone (director) as defendants for damages. The petition stated that “all [involved] Hollywood defendants are liable, more particularly, but not exclusively for, distributing a film which they knew or should have known would cause and inspire people such as Edmondson and Darrus to commit crimes such as the shooting of Patsy Ann Byers… which glorified the type of violence committed… by treating individuals who commit such violence as celebrities and heroes.” The case was dismissed and appeals were denied, but it is safe to say that had this gone differently, it would have greatly impacted the course of history in the way that violence has been able to be shown on film. This has become an age old topic of controversy for this film, and ones like it, and ultimately, direct causality has never been proven, but obviously art always has the power to influence the public and vise-versa. What is ironic, in this instance, is that the purpose of the film seems to be a commentary on the public’s shameless fascination for violence – and even since the days of Bonnie and Clyde – glorifies evil.

That being said, the film itself in my opinion is a masterpiece. It accomplishes exactly what it set out to do with complete unabashed commitment and uses tone and sensory discombobulation to tell the story. There is a line in the film – “I’ve had a strong opinion about the psychopathic fringe that thrives today in America’s fast food culture” – that highlights this idea that the 24 hour news cycle centers around horror after horror, and Americans tune in nightly to get more. When interviewing teens, one kid proclaims, “Mass murder is wrong. But if I were a mass murderer, I’d be Mickey and Mallory!”

Mickey and Mallory Knox are a pair of young lovers, who are deranged murderers, making their way through the country, killing massive numbers of people and always leaving one alive to make sure that they can tell the story and give credit where credit is due. Mickey and Mallory Knox want to be famous. 

The film starts out with the resounding voice of Leonard Cohen, and a magnetic Juliette Lewis (Mallory) dancing around the jukebox in a deserted diner, while Woody Harrelson, as Mickey in his now-famous tiny, round shades, chats up the waitress. It does not take long for this scene to erupt into murderous mayhem. The scene is filmed in an exaggerated, almost facetious, manner. The camera actually follows weapons in first person point-of-view as they move their way to the victims body.

The audience is quickly immersed in a cinematic strange drug trip –  moving from color to black and white, film to video, 35mm with Super 8, interspersed with newsreels, fiction, sitcom style storytelling and even animated cartoons. It is purposely over-saturated and it is purposely warped. You are inside their heads and you are meant to feel overwhelmed by the deluge of media. This is a story that might even be more relevant than it was when it came out in 1994, as people are only more addicted to click-bait news and non-stop media. And it will shock you. It is terrifying. A daughter being groped by her father while a laugh track plays? Is anyone really listening? Fast cutting gruesome images and then suddenly we are watching a comic book?

The story hits a crux when we are introduced to a frenetic news reporter Wayne Gayle (Robert Downey Jr.) who giddily embarks on a special report on the infamous Mickey and Mallory and gets to interview them. Downey Jr. does an exaggerated Australian accent – though, I am not really sure why and we could definitely do without – but is otherwise fantastic in this role.

All of the leads play ‘crazy’ as effortlessly as they breathe, and the whole film relies on their dedication to that. Mickey and Mallory are not perfectly coiffed or even beautiful. They are obsessively sexual with one another, laugh maniacally, are often grimy, unwashed, and unhinged – jealous, angry, fanatical and relentless. They are glorified, yes, but they are not glamorous. In a society where every serial killer gets an eventual Netflix special, and their face plastered on the cover of Rolling Stone, we continue to recycle horror into entertainment. That’s what this film is about, and it should be disturbing.

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