Natural Born Killers (film)

Natural Born Killers does not make any pretence at subtlety. From the very beginning it screams out at the audience and doesn’t relent until the end. It is a message sent to the viewer in a whirlwind of colours and violence. The main characters are Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis). They start by running away after murdering Mallory’s parents and eventually go on a murder spree across the United States.

The most overt theme throughout the movie is the role the media plays in our lives. We are shown in an exaggerated fashion how excessively violent behavior is normalized by the media. The most intense and horrific example of this is when the female lead Mallory is seen to be sexually abused by her father, but the scene plays out in the style of a sitcom. This doesn’t happen in real life though, so what is the point the movie is making? Maybe it is symbolic of what was happening in the victim’s mind or it shows how something so disgusting can be packaged in a different way and that is what is happening in the media already.

I think the movie is more complex than a mere criticism of the moral vacuum of modern media. At times Natural Born Killers shows the events from both the standard media point of view and from the Mickey and Mallory’s point of view. The media shows them as evil murderers but the media shown through their perspective presents them as heroes that are no longer willing to suffer injustice in a corrupt world. The movie is not only making the point that violence is glamorised in the media, but that our whole interpretation of events is structured by the ideology through which the events are presented in the media; whether we like it or not, the media pursues a certain moral ideology.

The fact that events can be interpreted in wildly different fashions is presented by Natural Born Killers in interesting ways. When events are shown through the fugitives eyes things are bright and colourful, but when shown through others people’s eyes black and white is used and the surroundings take on a sinister tone. Are Mickey and Mallory delusional? I don’t believe the movie makes that claim: rather, they have one of multiple interpretations, albeit a version of events that is different from the accepted view in the mainstream media.

The title of the movie itself is laced with irony. Mickey and Mallory were abused their whole lives. They are not natural born killers, but have been made to hate life due to exposure to horrific conditions. We find throughout the movie every character displaying a level of violence or other vices. Perhaps the main point of the movie is violence creates violence and that there is so much of it going around that it is flowing through the impacting us all.

The movie is not perfect though. It goes on a bit long at the end, and the journalist played by Robert Downey Junior is a bit too comical and excessive. I also question why the main characters are shown to be taking magic mushrooms. Is there an anti-drugs theme? I doubt it. I think it was just used to explain the psychedelic colours. I didn’t think this was necessary though as they made more sense as pure symbolism.

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