Natural Born Killers, 1994.
Directed by Oliver Stone.
Starring Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Robert Downey Jr, Tommy Lee Jones, and Rodney Dangerfield.
Two victims of traumatized childhoods become lovers and psychopathic serial murderers irresponsibly glorified by the mass media.
Natural Born Killers was selected as a special presentation at the 51st Chicago International Film Festival as the movie celebrates its 20th birthday, but what made revisiting this classic bloodbath barrage of violence so fun is that the message director Oliver Stone wanted to get across still exists in our world today. Oliver actually introduced the film in person, and described the production as him sick and tired of the media, venting out his frustrations by “throwing up on-screen”. Truthfully, there probably isn’t a better assessment of Natural Born Killers.
It is chaotically frenetic to the point where sometimes it actually feels over-stylized. To this day it is my only remaining gripe with the film, but in a way it’s also what makes the movie stand out. There are constant cuts to black and white, constant color filters, animal stock footage, a relentlessly heavy soundtrack, and loads of demonic visuals all attacking the audience at such a rapid pace that it begins to feel like Oliver Stone was intentionally making a mess of a film aesthetically. Or once again, as he put it, throwing up on-screen.
Whether the onslaught of an overbearing aesthetic style bothers you or not, there is also no denying that the movie is defined by its two Bonnie and Clyde reminiscent leads, Mickey and Mallory (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis). Sexually abused as children and brought together by some twisted fate to become stone cold killers, their reprehensible and disgusting actions of senseless serial murder become the focal point of a media more interested in glorifying the violence for ratings, rather than condemning it. One of the most underrated and compelling sequences of the film is actually a montage of various citizens being interviewed by news reporters, praising Mickey and Mallory as awesome. It’s a euphoric moment of “What the fuck is wrong with society?”
A young Robert Downey Jr. sporting an English accent is also able to bring out just how corrupt the media is in hilarious satirical fashion, and successfully creates a debate of who is worse: The serial killers or the media glorifying these criminally insane people, potentially creating copycat killers and essentially encouraging this behavior indirectly. Downey actually steals the entire latter half of the film during his Super Bowl interview, where all he is concerned about is getting the kind of answers that will bring in the ratings. And speaking of ratings, violence generates hits, which is why every news story you see on TV isn’t exactly about a kitten being rescued from a tree. A happy story simply doesn’t grab attention like one about mass murderers at large.
Of course, the main attraction of Natural Born Killers itself is the sheer amount of graphic violence. Mickey and Mallory Rob diners, kill cops, rape citizens, and are generally deplorable people, but we can’t look away. They are anti-heroes of the tallest order, yet some of the most riveting and dementedly sympathetic characters ever created. Continuing with the theory that violence generates mass media attention, when you have a movie like Natural Born Killers that is just evil against evil, you have something really engaging on your hands. Who do you root for? Do you want these mass murderers to get away with everything, or receive comeuppance from a group of people that could be argued as more sinister?
The film also brings up another debate regarding abuse in prison, and that when you poke someone – that’s already pissed off – with a stick, you’re only going to anger them more. No, prisoners don’t deserve to be treated like saints allowed to watch television and play video games, but there has to be a happy medium before you do more harm than good, and see to it that no one reforms as a human being while serving their time.
Finally, the soundtrack of Natural Born Killers deserve special mention, primarily because it fuels that rebellious and violent attitude the film is permeated with, while having so many awesome songs and bands ranging from Nine Inch Nails to Bob Dylan to L7 to Leonard Cohen to Peter Gabriel and more. This soundtrack combined with the frenetic and over-stylized presentation make the duration of Natural Born Killers feel like a 2 hour music video that never lets up on being as loud as possible.
It really is a shame that Natural Born Killers was initially poorly received by critics, because it in the end it turned out to be a surprisingly deep film filled with rich social commentary that can still be applied to the world we live in today. Back then, all critics apparently saw was a movie so violent that it took Oliver Stone 155 cuts to get the movie a rating certification of R. Defined with unorthodox and chaotic aesthetic directing choices, phenomenal turns from an ensemble cast, and a pair of unforgettably psychotic leads, Natural Born Killers is in hindsight a masterpiece.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. He currently writes for Flickering Myth, We Got This Covered, and Wrestle Enigma. Follow me on Twitter.