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Speaking of Natural Born Killers twenty five years after it s original release, the first thought that enters your brain is violence. Through a pure word association you immediately go to that dark place, and that is the genius of the movie, perhaps Oliver Stone’s crowning glory. Now let’s think about another movie for a moment: Stanley Kubrick‘s A Clockwork Orange. Through the method of force-feeding, Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is brainwashed until he becomes cured of his need to rape, murder, and commit grotesque acts for his own amusement. He in part becomes immune to the pleasure he received from violence, and the thoughts of it makes him physically sick. In this manner, force-fed violence makes him a better person, so acts of barbarity in that respect are good. However, it does not work because violence is ingrained within his nature, he is naturally born to be violent and what he is subjected to cannot change that fact.
Consider that premise in the same context of this movie, and the trick that the viewer misses in Natural Born Killers works in the same manner although, opposite. Through that forced overload of violence the audience becomes desensitized to it, accepts it without knowing, which is why cinema goers stayed rooted in their seats, instead of leaving in disgust. In the same way that same audience, or society in general does not bat an eyelid at the real life stories of murder which appears on the front-page of newspapers, a social media feed or darted across news headlines. That is, unless it is a person they have a connection to and thus triggers an emotional response.
It is an inevitable factor of life that death and acts of violence are all around us, whether we choose to accept it or not. Oliver Stone simply presented that point, in the raw, vivid vehicle of cinema. The overriding point there is no escaping violence, and there is no escaping Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis). They are the top of the food chain, the powerful who conjure death and humor in equal amounts. They are not puppets on strings, they are in fact the strings. The result of western cultures effect on society that is the hand which is pulling the strings. On the ends of the strings are the victims of the vibration, or in this case the body count. In some ways a rational form of causation, and reaction to modern life. Through the persuasions of these two characters, Stone delivers his subliminal, but stylish message, violence can be good and bad in equal measures.
But that is only one aspect of Stone’s vision or mission statement. He may have used the script
of a Quentin Tarantino screenplay, a road movie surrounding two people who fall in love and go on a killing spree. That only forms the guidelines for the wider illusion Stone put into play. Natural Born Killers works in two halves, separated by one key figure who cleverly enters the storyline and becomes the dividing line within the narrative. This comes in the character of Warren Red Cloud (Russell Means), who offers food and shelter to the pair, while Mickey sleeps he tries to exorcise the killer demon inside of him. This causes vivid dreams within Mickey as to the cause of his murderous streak being that of nurture from his abusive parents. In some ways Red Cloud represents are own confusion as to what makes someone a murderer, also in some way explains what sets killers apart. As Mickey wakes he shoots Red Cloud and for the first time in the movie, he displays guilt along with remorse.
It is then that the second act of Natural Born Killers plays out, that is how messages of violence are relayed to us the public, and how we as a society decide to process that message. Quite simply, Stone delves into the media’s role in the bigger picture. How glorifying some sectors of society through coverage can paint the villains as heroes and vice versa. Shown early in the movie where Mickey murders the predator father of Mallory, good violence. In the second part it is through the character of Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.) where the media’s role becomes more apparent. Set a year later as both are captured, and Gale records an interview with Mickey where his words alone incite a riot within the walls of their incarceration. Mickey and Mallory eventually escape, and again go on a rampage, taking Gale with them who succumbs to his own need for violence. In turn echoing are our own need to get caught up watching barbarity in play, be it movies, real life or at times even sport. When they reach freedom the couple simply dispose of the unnecessary media representative, as they decide to stop killing there is no need to show the world their life.
Twenty five years on, Natural Born Killers makes as much sense as it ever did. With the invasion of social media and technology into our consciousness we are fed daily news, regardless of whether we want it or not. It was banned in Ireland upon its release, as not to subject the general public to senseless killing – even though at times it was a country still witnessing acts of senseless aggression. Watching and enjoying Natural Born Killers will not make you into a murderer the same as watching Superman won’t make you fly. There is a moral instinct within us all which makes us separate fictional thoughts from reality. The point the censorship board missed is laid bare in the title: killers are not made from watching R-rated movies, they are born that way. A fact lost at the time, censorship cannot stop a murder, movies do not make them, it is simply easier to target or to point blame towards when something is hard to comprehend. Obviously Stone expected this, even making the dramatic lines from Mickey as he shaves his head laying out his naked mind, echoing the title of the movie, that moment seemed lost on the powers that be.
Oliver Stone always made movies which made us question facts, such as JFK or even Born On The Fourth Of July, presenting the reality of war with facts, and questioning our belief system to change opinion or adopt his own. The fact remains, twenty-five years on Natural Born Killers is still relevant, in some aspects always will be.