By Hayley Tai
My first Tarantino film was unplanned and while I expected myself to enjoy the film, it left me confused. I had been doing a little research on action films and chanced upon Kill Bill, Vol. 1. The storyline was intriguing and compared to the “mysterious assassins” who riddled action films in the same century, the Bride’s identity was only a mystery to us- the audience. I began to explore more films directed by Tarantino, and even as I watch them now, I still feel as though I have a role in the films.
The fascinating quality of Tarantino’s films lies in the way he constructs their narratives to us- there is a necessary interaction between the audience and the film. It draws the audience and is refreshing due to the active participation needed. Of course, it isn’t only this that makes Tarantino a one-of-a-kind director. His treatment of violence in film is often comical and aestheticised. In Pulp Fiction, we see a scared Brett being intensively interrogated by Jules Winnfield. The scene “Do you speak English” is iconic, and has become a recurring gif in today’s cyberspace. Of course, the comic intent in the film greatly differs from the simplistic messages behind the gif.
Jules Winnfield is the comic black character with a violent streak. As he harshly questions Brett, Winnfield shoots him in the shoulder and quotes the Bible. Because of this contrast, the audience feels a tension between comedic effect and shock. Most films I’ve watched are capable of capturing different emotions within a powerful scene. However, unlike in Tarantino’s work, the difficulty of understanding one’s reaction to a scene is rarely felt in other films. Watching the film, I was unsure if I was meant to be laughing or to be on the edge of my seat, worrying about the victims that were soon to come. However, I found myself involuntarily trying to stifle a laugh when Winnfield said (in a serious tone), “Well, there’s this passage I sort of got memorised. Sort of fits this occasion.” He was referring to the Bible and if you think about it, no one goes around repeating “memorised” Bible quotes after shooting someone! The scene is one of the more obvious displays of comical violence, but the tension and confusion one feels is inherently felt throughout Tarantino’s films.
Tarantino combines the effect of comedic violence with the necessary blanks in his films to engage the viewers. He does this by projecting his intentions through the films. Be it political agendas or social issues, Tarantino deftly weaves them into the quilt of his work. When we watch films like Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction, a second viewing is often necessary. When I first watched Kill Bill, I was completely overwhelmed by the violence and mystery of the Bride’s history. However, when I watched it a second time I saw political, racial and gender issues within the film. Whether it was merely a deduction on my part or Tarantino’s true intent, the distinct and exaggerated representations of the female assassins in the film brought several gender questions (which I had vague answers to) into my mind.
As such, the viewer who is indirectly given a role in his films may find herself lost in the world of Tarantino’s subtexts, and feel ultimately confused. This is what Tarantino does. He intentionally punctures typical narratives with blanks and irony to induce confusion, stirring up questions within the minds of his audience and preventing them from becoming passive watchers of film.