Natural Born Killers

A cornerstone movie that is as controversial as relevant.

Over the past several years, I have learned to like this movie not just for the style in which it is made but also in how it satirizes & ignites the issue of how violence is gratified. The movie is not about violence itself, but about mass-media’s obsession with violence. About how an infant culture adopts and accepts abnormalities in its fabric.

Woody Harrelson as Mickey Knox is the embodiment of that cool killer. A guy who loves his girl, let’s her be, and kills without remorse. It is taking a Doom/Duke Nukem persona that gamers obsess about impersonating within the game to a warped reality – one which gets realised every few months in US (& Finland!).

The movie is a direct result of the violent culture the country has embraced. A little googling tells us that there have been more than 80 shootings in the US directly related to this movie. Whether or not this movie is to take blame for the actions of weak-minded individuals (or couples), if a movie can evoke a response as strongly as this has, it definitely is ironically prophetic. When Mickey is being interviewed in the maximum security prison, he says that he is not even the same species as the interviewer (Robert Downey Jr. in over-acting delight only surpassed by Tommy Lee Jones’) – he has evolved. That whole Q&A session reeks with what is wrong with the ‘violence’ embracing misfits:

Mickey: You’ll never understand, Wayne. You and me, we’re not even the same species. I used to be you, then I evolved. From where you’re standing, you’re a man. From where I’m standing, you’re an ape. You’re not even an ape. You’re a media person. Media’s like the weather, only it’s man-made weather. Murder? It’s pure. You’re the one made it impure. You’re buying and selling fear. You say “why?” I say “why bother?”

Mickey: It’s just murder. All God’s creatures do it. You look in the forests and you see species killing other species, our species killing all species including the forests, and we just call it industry, not murder.

Mickey: I realized my true calling in life.

Wayne Gale: What’s that?

Mickey: Shit, man, I’m a Natural Born Killer…!

The mix of different video formats & styles, with some animation thrown in, are both: a representation of the switching POVs of the movie (Knoxs, detective, reporter, audience) and the fact that news footage/Reality TV itself is a mix of so many different formats from archives to play-acting to drawings & diagrams. It works to add to the warped reality that Natural Born Killer represents. My favorite part of the individual set-pieces was the “flashback” on Mallory’s life to her father’s house done in sit-com style. It is a pathetic, sad yet very real domestic life (how many such incidents do we read about in the news) that is represented in the same way we devour such stories – the same way we devour sitcoms like Friends or Seinfeld.

The movie was highly controversial when it released. Today, it is as relevant as ever.

Rating: ★★★★½

About Shariq Madani

Shariq is a social, talkative, fun-loving guy who enjoys books, food and a long drive. But his real joy is in the comfortable darkness of a cinema, watching a good movie, and later spending hours discussing it.