“Mr. Brown: Let me tell you what ‘Like a Virgin’ is about. It’s all about a girl who digs a guy with a big dick. The entire song. It’s a metaphor for big dicks.
Mr. Blonde: No, no. It’s about a girl who is very vulnerable. She’s been fucked over a few times. Then she meets some guy who’s really sensitive…”
It’s incredible how a film about a group of volatile and violent criminals starts with a conversation about the meaning of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” You’d think these people would be comparing notes on their favorite dead body disposal method or something. Instead, here they are, bickering about whether this pop song is about love or sex.
Quentin Tarantino’s feature film debut started his Hollywood career with all the controversy that marked his success as the Independent filmmaker who does films with blood and a lot of fanboy talk. Reservoir Dogs might have been received by the critics with confusion and bit of disgust, but the public loved it. It set the bar for this new way of experiencing cinema. While many claimed the film was too violent, including fellow film director Wes Craven, who walked out of the theater during the Sitges Film Festival screening, the truth is that, if we really pay attention, we’ll see that the violence is created by our own minds.
Most viewers will agree that the hardest scene to watch is the one where Mr. Blonde, played by Michael Madsen, toys with a police officer he’s captured. We see the razor and know what’s happening; however, we never see it. Plenty of films we don’t find half as violent show the weapon going into the victim, but why does this moment seems inhuman to watch? It might be because we’ve been given all the elements to finish it. It’s a color by numbers of violence. As humans, we all have the ability to know butchery. All we need is a trigger. Tarantino knows this too well, and he provides all the triggers for us to finish the job.
Our psyche is more than able to turn this movie into the most criminally insane depiction of our Id. So now that we put the big scene aside, is this movie a work that glorifies murderous and violent behavior? Before you think I’m turning into one of those Parent-Teacher coalitions that want to burn Marilyn Manson posters or whatever, read on, because actually I think this is a film that presents its host of criminals as both mentally and morally immature.
Let’s take it back to the quote that starts the movie. They’re talking about “Like a Virgin.” If you used that page of dialogue and exchanged these men at the dinner for a bunch of teenage boys sulking about not getting a girl to take to the movies or the parking lot, you’d buy it. I’m not saying you’d like it or believe it to be a refreshing plot. You’d simply shrug your shoulders and think about the five dorky sixteen-year-olds laughing too loudly and trying to grab their server’s butt at your local Denny’s on a Friday night. Who knows? Maybe they’d remind you of a younger version of yourself.
When you see other films about suave criminals, those suited characters don’t talk like this at all. They’re all about aged liquor and trips to Vienna. They have a tailor they call by their first name. They’re unashamed and don’t even hide their unlawful status. They outsmart every agent and officer that’s tasked with catching them, particularly under their nose. Every woman sighs when they walk by and would rather be jailed herself than turning in this man she’s known for all of three minutes. As viewers the life of crime looks extremely attractive in this light. Who wouldn’t want to get away with murder, literally, while also being the coolest cat out there?
Tarantino doesn’t show us that perfect jet-set life. He presents us with a bunch of weirdoes and losers who can’t make it work. They’re talking about pop-culture not because it’s cool, but because it’s the basis for their crimes. They would like to be Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief, but they’re still stuck being the pimply virgins annoying the waitress doing a graveyard shift at a roadside dinner.
The success of Reservoir Dogs resulted in a million different attempts at recreating this new style of storytelling: the non-linear narrative, characters who could be as funny as they were terrifying or as boring as they were cunning, as well as dialogue that was as fast and sharp as Mr. Blonde’s razor. Not all those were bad movies per se, but they did seem to be missing the point. This is due to the fact that all those elements are not throwaway moments of Mr. Tarantino showing off his cool factor. They all serve a particular purpose:
a) The dialogue is not for mere decoration. It tells the audience what these bad guys value, which is that teenage wet dream of sex and violence they’re clearly wishing they were having.
b) The fact that the story is told in a 1,3,7,2,4- sequence gives us as viewers the idea that someone on the inside is retelling the whole thing to us, not unlike that friend of yours who has ADHD and keeps interrupting the flow of their conversation with, “but the thing I forgot to tell you is that these guys, like you’d never believe, but then, oh, then this other thing happened that was insane!”
c) As for the characters being as obvious as they are mysterious, well, that’s just human nature. I bet you that even Danny Ocean has a day where his Italian designer shoes are not perfectly polished and no cab stops just for him. The difference is that in Reservoir Dogs we actually get to see that duality. We see the cracks in the plan and these men’s personas.
So while it’s true that we all imagine that Quentin Tarantino has his own personal fake blood provider, that doesn’t entirely mean he thinks his films as a call to violence or a glorification of it. Instead, they’re a mockery of the horrific acts that happen in the world, incited by insecure or insane minds.
This article was illustrated with behind the scenes pictures of the filming of Reservoir Dogs. Here’s an article on the film set that almost drove its crew and cast to madness. While Tarantino’s film is not regarded as a nineties film, it features several elements that were part of the era; here are 5 Gen X films you’ll love.
Images from Miramax