I watched Kill Bill over the course of the last two nights, which is as joyful as it is heartbreaking, a celebration of and lamentation for vengeance and its purpose. When I first saw it, I read Kill Bill as a mediation on revenge as an idea, a debate on whether the catharsis is worth the cost, personal and otherwise.
And whilst those elements are totally there, I think young Jackson definitely found the most surface level read imaginable. Which is fine, I was younger, and I hope to grow as much in the next three years too. But after a rewatch, not only did I enjoy both volumes far more than I did first time round, but I found they hit on something far more primal.
As Kill Bill Vol. 2 heads into its final act, The Bride (Beatrix Kiddo) is finally reunited with her child, and the man who almost put her in the ground not five years ago, Bill himself. Bill is patriarchal violence personified, made all the more terrifying by the serenity with which he accepts and inhabits this role. He knows he is evil, yet he knows too that he is human, knows that he is kind, and wise and smart and a thousand other things and more. When Beatrix takes her seat opposite him, any sense of even heightened reality fades away and we are left with two mythic figures, the mother and the father, playing out their final, inevitable, operatic climax.
That climax is not one of revenge, because Kill Bill, like all of Tarantino's work since, isn't a revenge film at all. It's a story of cosmic justice, of superheroes whose only power is seeing the wrongs at the heart of our reality and making them right, providing the audience with a desperate, impossible catharsis. The pain at the heart of Kill Bill is not the burden of revenge, the film's melancholy is instead the burden of truth. When stripped to her core, Beatrix's remaining emotion isn't hate for Bill, but instead a question: why? It's a question to which she knows the answer, but it's not an answer that brings any comfort.
Bill: Was my reaction really that surprising?
Beatrix: 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
Knowing this truth is what breaks her, but it also imbues her with the power to make it right. Suddenly, the weight of the lies told to her by Bill, and by extension the weight of those same lies told to women everywhere, everyday is revealed, and that weight is unbearable. How can such an injustice be allowed to stand as true? Surely it is worth any, and every sacrifice to bring all responsible to death.
Yet on her quest, aside from Buck at the hospital, her victims are entirely women, all of whom have suffered just as much as she - Budd dies at Elle's hand. O-Ren's past has made her just as self aware has Beatrix, but she swings the other way, becoming just as feared and powerful as the men who destroyed her family. Vernita simply gets the ending Beatrix wanted, starts a family knowing that while she will never be free of her sins, maybe her daughter will get to be. And Elle is merely a twisted (tragically lesser) version of Beatrix's past, another partner of Bill's and student of Pai Mei. Who knows how many more there were.
Kill Bill treats each of these characters with great pathos, never once portraying their position as lesser than Beatrix's. In fact, as the movie's truth is revealed, we can't help but think back on the tragedy of her journey through the bodies of the women standing in Bill's way. Kill Bill ends with everything right in the jungle, but it began with a child witnessing the senseless, incomprehensible, necessary murder of her mother.
In the end, Kill Bill completely surpasses that ultimately trivial question: is this worth it? Of course it is, everybody can see that it is. But everybody can see that it isn't. Nikki's pain and Beatrix's eventual ecstasy are equally important, and both deserve their happy endings, the fact that they are mutually exclusive doesn't diminish either truth.
Which is where Kill Bill Vol. 3 probably won't come in, but by god I hope it does. It's 2015, so it's been twelve years since the release of Vol. 1 back in 2003, and if the movie's going to happen, it's got to happen now. I severely doubt that it will, but I'd love to see what the final chapter of this tale could be, now that all the men are dead, yet the repercussions of their violence continue to tear through these women over a decade later.