Posts both recent and from long ago should prove that I adore Kill Bill, both as entertainment and a piece of pop culture whose components seem artistically and deliberately arranged. Entertaining, deliberate, artistic — anything that can boast these three qualities, by the way, qualifies as “good” in my book.
I was talking about Quentin Tarantino movies recently — because that’s what people who do when they lack the skills to discuss what everybody else is going on about — when my friend, Jesse, said he liked Pulp Fiction best. I like Kill Bill. (And, yes, for the purposes of my conversation and this post, I’m considering Kill Bill one movie, not two.) I have my reasons for liking it, though I’m quick to admit that my pick isn’t perfect and that Pulp Fiction and, to a lesser extent, Jackie Brown both have their merits and their reasons for being important to cinema in general. Jesse, however, found fault with Kill Bill, particularly with certain plot points. And when I asked him to say what specifically bothered him, he stopped me dead in my tracks.
“Something that was really irritating for me about Kill Bill was that the way it initially withheld Beatrix Kiddo’s name was pointless. It didn’t do anything to further the plot.”
I suddenly realized that Jesse was right: I can think of interesting implications of not telling the viewers Kiddo’s name, and I can think of just as many ways in which her name, once revealed, adds to the meaning of the film. However, pressed to say what logic prompted Tarantino to initially withhold the name but to ultimately reveal it, I could come up with no good reason — only sloppy writing or perhaps that Tarantino saw the virtues in giving and not giving the name and ultimately opted to do both.
My thoughts on the subject, beginning with the pluses of not stating the name:
On a subtle level, Kiddo’s initial lack of a name helps to set her up as an idealized mother figure. Viewers learn at the end of Volume One that Kiddo gave birth to a daughter whom Bill has raised. This moment carries a lot of weight in the film because it changes Kiddo from a mere angry woman to an angry mother — one who eventually reconfigures the typical daddy-mommy-baby family set-up by getting rid of Bill altogether and raising her daughter on her own. So, for the period that Beatrix is still nameless, the viewer can hold her up as the epitome of motherhood and the bad-ass action film mother since Linda Hamilton played Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. However, any grand ideas Tarantino may be attempting to convey about the structure of families in general get changes when, partway through Volume Two, a character finally speaks Kiddo’s full name, arguably making her less of an everywomen or everymother and more of a specific person. That’s how I view it, anyway — in short, an effective naming strategy that manages to direct the viewers attention until it’s completely undone.
Once we know Beatrix’s full name, however, we can work with that and look at how that revelation lends the movie a deeper meaning.
Giving the character a name also adds a few somethings, though all of them work independently from the two points I just described. First off, the name “Beatrix” calls to mind the idealized woman from The Divine Comedy, Beatrice. (Hands down, however, any name respelled with an “x” becomes ten times cooler than the version spelled without, Roman numeral puns notwithstanding.) The main difference between the two is the fact that Beatrice causes Dante’s journey to happen — she asks God to allow Dante to go on the grand tour of the afterlife — and Beatrix is the one who actually goes on the quest, crisscrossing the globe and figuratively going though hell in her search.
Keeping in mind that the daughter’s name turns out to be “B.B.,” Beatrix’s name seems significant in that her “B” name and Bill’s “B” name produce a child that represents those two initial letters and, thus, equal parts of mom and dad. (“B.B.” also calls to mind the small, rather harmless bullet beloved by underage sharpshooters. Given that her parents work as assassins, that itself is notable — and cute, in an awful way.) And this wordplay adds meaning to the notion of Beatrix hacking apart the mommy-daddy-baby relationship, even though even her daughter’s name would seem to suggest that traditional family set-up.
Finally, once the viewer knows Beatrix’s full name, he or she can look back on lines delivered by other characters in a new context. In the first scene, for example, Bill repeatedly calls Beatrix “Kiddo.” Anyone unaware that Kiddo is actually her last name might interpret this as only a pet name, but it’s not, necessarily. (The guy clearly has affection for her, but that first “Kiddo”-strewn scene ends with Bill shooting Beatrix in the head, so perhaps it’s not the lovey-dovey appellation it might seem to be.) Also, in Volume One’s “House of Blue Leaves” chapter, O-Ren Ishii delivers a line that initially seems nonsensical: “Silly rabbit, tricks are for kids.” Upon seeing Volume Two, one might realize that the line could actually be a jab at Kiddo’s full name, as the recited cereal slogan includes both “tricks” and “kids,” two words that make up the majority of Beatrix Kiddo’s name. It’s a small point to make, I know, but it is one that develops a deeper meaning in light of the revelation of the name later in the show.
In Jesse’s opinion — and now mine, too, I guess, since Jesse put the thought in my head, the jerk — these arguments in favor or against Beatrix’s name don’t add up to enough of a justification for withholding the name, building up suspense, and then revealing it, for no reason. A good reason for doing so, I guess, would be to eventually reveal something that drastically changes the outcome of the plot. Theoretically speaking, had the film eventually reveals that the protagonist’s name was actually “Bill,” then that might have merited the initial reluctance to say it aloud at the beginning. But that would have been retarded. Also, if Tarantino truly wanted his protagonist to lack a name, he could have easily have written the film so that no one speaks it — or at least not have written it so that characters speak it but then have it bleeped out, as if it were some obscenity or some bit of information that would have somehow lessened their enjoyment of the film. As its stands now, the bleeps only call attention to the fact that her name is some big secret and build suspense around something that never pays off. (Not unlike how some critics might view the two volumes of Kill Bill — huge build-up with a let-down at the end.) For when it’s finally spoken, sans bleeps, the plot more or less proceeds as normal.
So then, I put the matter to you all, Back of the Cereal Box readers and good people of the internet: Jesse and I can’t be the only people who have discuss this apparent failing. Does anybody else know why Beatrix’s name was initially withheld, only to be eventually revealed?
Previous Kill Billery:
Okay, so I kind of biffed this one, at least initially. I may have said some things about Beatrix and the Man With No Name that turned out to be less than correct. Guess it's what I get for going on about movies that I haven't seen recently enough. I took it all out, mostly because I was wrong, but also because it didn't have much to do with what I was trying to do with this post: Find out if anybody can explain this one aspect of Kill Bill.