Natural Born Killers Essay, Research Paper
Natural Born Killers
In 1994, Oliver Stone left movie-goers and critiques alike in awe. His film, Natural Born Killers, was released to theatres all over America. The story, originally written by Quentin Tarantino, was one of two mass-murders who go on a killing spree across the country. At a glance, the title suggests the theory that killers are born to be just that–killers, naturally. Oliver Stone wastes no time at all as he tears this theory to shreds. He claims that killers are born from society, and are kept alive by the media. Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis play the Bonnie and Clyde type team of lovers that head out to change the world.
If one saw this film in the seventies or eighties, he or she might be shocked by its surrealism and many disturbing implications. However, being released in the early nineties, changes our perceptions drastically. This is simply because at this time it was much more relevant and familiar to our society. Assumably, the many television clips interspersed throughout the film hit a little too close to home for many Americans. We are living in a time when it is common to see Special Reports and Live newscasts cut into our favorite television shows. Much like Stone utilized many different film techniques and added clips into his film Natural Born Killers. Morphing, back projection, slow motion, animation, pixillation, color, black and white, 35mm, and Super-8 are all visual tricks Stone used to keep our attention in the film.1 This constant montage was very effective, along with the perfectly selected soundtrack. Ironically, In our own homes, even though our precious television time is annoyingly interrupted, we still watch when a news flash jolts across the screen. Our curiosity would not let us turn the channel if we tried. Cinematic skills and tricks are not what keep us interested in this news, However. The media s portrayal and glorification of violence and crime is what keeps us as a society hooked, especially in the few years prior to and surrounding Stone s film Natural Born Killers. How about these movie ideas: Two young, wealthy, handsome brothers in Beverly Hills slaying their parents in a bloody massacre, a black man being beaten by white police officers cries out for help, an Olympic hopeful so obsessed with winning the gold medal hires a hit man to destroy the competition, a cult in a small southern town is brainwashed by one man and make the ultimate sacrifice of suicide at his request, and last but not least the story of a football hero being the number one and only suspect in his ex-wife s gruesome murder. These all sound like great ideas for blockbuster movies, but we ve all seen them before for free, in much detail, right in our very own living rooms. The stories of the Menendez brothers, the Rodney King beating, Tonya Harding, David Koresch s cult in Waco, Texas, and the O.J. Simpson trial were all still vivid in our heads during the release of Natural Born Killers. All of these crimes or murders happened in different parts of the country, but were made local to anybody in any city or state by the news media. Footage from each of these trials compose the ending scene of the movie.2 Stone was quoted as saying: When I started this was a surreal piece. Now thanks to Bobbitt and Menendez and Tonya Harding, it s become a satire. By the time I d finished, fact had caught up to fiction. O.J. is the final blowout. 3 The American public is much too fascinated with criminals and crime, and most of this fascination is perpetuated by the media as Stone claims in Natural Born Killers. The more we see on T.V. about a slaying, the more we want to know.
The first scene in the movie, after the beginning credits are displayed, is of a waitress in a diner flipping through channels on an old black and white television. Clips of Leave it to Beaver and President Nixon flash quickly across the small screen. The two main characters, Mickey and Mallory begin killing shortly thereafter.4 Oliver Stone was not trying to underplay this theme of the media playing a major role in the life of a serial killer, there is no hidden meaning here at all. Stone, does however, briefly point out the fact that growing up in a dysfunctional family is the platform for both Mickey and Mallory. A flashback of Mallory s childhood was in the form of a sitcom. There was even a title placed over the scene, the I Love Mallory show dangled in front of the camera for a few seconds. The focus was Mallory s abusive father played by Rodney Dangerfield. Laughter of a live audience was played when he threatened to rape or beat his daughter. This is simply Stone s way of pointing out how jaded we become watching television, and that anything can be entertainment. The mother just smiled as the abuse went on in front of the younger sibling. When asked by a television reporter how he got where he was, Mickey explained that his father was violet as well and that he simply was a product of that family violence.5 Mallory later murdered both her parents with the help of her beau Mickey. This is an excellent example of society (mallory s family) turning her into a killer, and the media (sitcom-like re-enactment) fueling the fire. Some more examples of the media perpetuating and glorifying crime are all the scenes where citizens are interviewed on the street. Teenagers look into the lens of the camera wearing I love Mickey and Mallory T-shirts and say things like, If I were a mass murderer, I d be Mickey and Mallory! and Murder me Mickey! 6 Quick glimpses of horror movies and insect shows are often in the background. Old movie footage of horses and fire are randomly projected onto the cloudy sky. A close camera shot on a sign outside Mickey and Mallory s motel reads Free HBO. There is also a scene at the end, where hundreds of fans are waiting outside the courtroom just to catch a glimpse of the famous killers. This is eerily familiar to the crowds outside the courtroom during the O.J. Simpson trial.
Wayne Gayle, a tabloid television show reporter, wants the ultimate ticket to fame. He wants a live interview with Mickey. After explaining his case to Mickey and claiming Television history with the Most charismatic serial killer of all time the arrangements are made for an interview on Super Bowl Sunday. Maybe the most disturbing scene asserting the claim, is at the very end when Mickey and Mallory are getting ready to kill Wayne Gayle, played by Robert Downey Jr. The dynamic duo are always known for leaving one victim living. Gayle, remembers this, but is still brutally murdered because Mickey points out that his camera is still filming. The whole reason he is there in the first place eventually ended up killing him. The camera is all that is necessary to tell the story anymore.
I think that Oliver Stone s claim that killers are not born as killers, but transformed by society, and continue that way because of television and movies is arguably a good one. This particular claim is exemplified perfectly in one of the last scenes. Riots in the prison leave blood stained walls, but the reporter still does not abandon his camera. In his interview, Mickey actually states that the media made him the way he was, and actually created a serial killer. As Wayne Gayle, the reporter, begs for his life, Mickey says profoundly, Killing you and what you represent makes a statement Frankenstein killed Dr. Frankenstein. Mickey has met his match, his creator the media. Mickey goes on to explain his own theory that media is like man made weather. That it survives on the buying and selling of fear. It is a vicious circle. The media helps to create these killers in our society, but does nothing to stop it, it is the airtime these people get from both the media and us as viewers, that keep them the way that they are. The movie directors and news anchors only supply what we demand. Look at what the media has done to us, Stone stated in one interview, Any of us could become like Mickey and Mallory. 7 I do not necessarily agree that anyone could be like Mickey and Mallory, but if already troubled enough, our mass media system could definitely bring forth the fame that surrounds Mickey and Mallory in the movie. This is quite possibly an equally disturbing idea.
As much as I agree with Stone s accuracy and relevance to the social context of the time at which the movie was released, I think that there could have been a bit more having to do with the families the murderers came from. Mallory s family was highlighted in the sit-com style scene, but nothing much was said for Mickey s childhood, except for a few generic flashbacks. I agree strongly that the extreme coverage of mass-murderers and criminals on television today has made our society more acceptable of crime and more jaded to real life violence. There is still the hope that strong family values can make up for what the television has forced us to lack. There were more than a few allusions to broken homes and dysfunctional families, but not nearly as much as the allusions to television. I see the two as equally corrupting.
Oliver Stone s Natural Born Killers certainly did what Stone intended it to. Appeal to an audience and get media attention ironically. Stone s claim was backed up and reinforced many times throughout the movie. This movie could not have come at a better time in our society. Coincidentally or not, the idea of the media following a story for so long with so much coverage was the norm in the early nineties. The hyped up story of Mickey and Mallory was not so unbelievable after months of watching the Menendez trial and seeing O.J on our television sets everyday for over a year. Oliver Stone has forced us to see the reality of how much television and movies influence us as a society. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we can see the problem, defined ever so precisely in Natural Born Killers.
1 Damien Cannon, rev. of Natural Born Killers . Movie Reviews UK(1997). 6 November 2000 .
2 Natural Born Killers, dir. Oliver Stone, perf. Juliette Lewis, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey J.r., and Tommy Lee Jones. Warner Bros. 1994.
3 Richard Corliss, Stone Crazy, Time vol.144, No. 9 August 1994, 6 November 2000 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/archive.cinema.html
4 Natural Born Killers, dir. Oliver Stone.
5 Natural Born Killers, dir. Oliver Stone.
6 Natural Born Killers, dir. Oliver Stone.
7 Answer Frame New Releases August 26 1994, 6 November 2000 http://www.inconnect.com/ renshaw//new082694.html.