Natural Born Killers (1994)

Natural Born Killers seems like the type of film that could be analyzed at length by both film classes, as well as social studies classes. It might even be a good film to watch in a psychology or philosophy class. There’s a reason that it isn’t, though, and that’s due its content, which itself is supposed to be a satire of the media and its obsession with violence, as well as the public’s fascination with the same topic matter. The subject matter it presents is profane and violent, something that likely would not go over well in such classes.

That is a shame, because what Natural Born Killers presents is quite fascinating, and could be something worth devoting several days in a class studying. Not only is the entire film and its message interesting enough to keep people busy looking at, but taken purely at face value, not looking deeper at all, the film still manages to be something you would want to watch more than once.

The reason for these repeat viewings is quite simple. The first time you watch it, you will be bombarded with odd sights, and it will take you this first watch just to get used to the style that director Oliver Stone went with in making the film. Included within are over 3000 cuts, about 4-5 times those of a normal film. The screen changes from color, to black and white, to a specific color filter, to blurry all the time, and it takes some adjusting in comparison to your average film. You’re never going to be quite sure what you’re looking at right away, so this primary watch is just for you to get a basic idea of what is going on.

The second time you watch it, you can begin to see the brilliance that is involved in this film. There is a heavy amount of symbolism used, and each time there is a switch in filming style, you can begin to see the reason that it is there. There’s an old adage in filmmaking stating that nothing is ever put in a film without purpose. I’m not sure if that is always true, but it certainly seems to be in the case of Natural Born Killers.

Take the story for instance. It’s nothing special. A couple (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) decide to have fun by murdering random, innocent civilians. The media begins picking up on this, much to the couple’s delight, and they continue on doing what they’ve done. There are a couple of people trying to catch them, a detective played by Tom Sizemore, and an Australian journalist played by Robert Downey, Jr.

I don’t believe for a second that watching Natural Born Killers just once is going to give you the full experience.

The cast is great, all playing their roles very well. The most surprising performance being Downey, Jr. He’s a good actor, but he manages to pull off a very convincing Australian accent, even though there isn’t much reason for it. See, there isn’t any depth that the change in ethnicity brings, and it seems like it was done just because he wanted to try out the accent. I mean, it works fine, and it is entertaining, but with a film that has the type of depth that this one does, his accent seems pointless against the rest of the film.

The weirdest part of this already strange film is the fact that it plays almost exactly like I want a film to be, odd cuts aside. It has a back-story for the characters to begin with, and then it lets us follow them do whatever they feel like. We aren’t given much reason for their actions other than “It’s fun,” but that doesn’t really matter. Even though you won’t like or sympathize with the characters, they are interesting and always stay entertaining. Unlike the American audiences portrayed within the film, you won’t be rooting for every murder.

This is a good thing, as it is the message of the film. It’s not a subtle message either, especially once the film is drawing to an end. You should almost get tired of this message by the end, but not in a bad way. The message gets through to you, meaning that Oliver Stone did his job as a director. He manages to make you feel bad about enjoying the film you are watching, but that doesn’t make the film bad.

What negatives the film does have come from the sporadic editing. It doesn’t always quite gel the way it should, and often leaves you wondering what is going on. There are random flashbacks intertwined in flashes of images, and it doesn’t always work the way it should. While it all has a point, some of it could have been switched up and still made the same impact, just without leaving the audience confused for part of the film.

I don’t believe for a second that watching Natural Born Killers just once is going to give you the full experience. It’s a movie that could be studied for days in a school classroom, if they allowed it to happen. It uses heavy symbolism throughout, and while the sporadic editing initially, it ultimately makes the film unique. There is some good acting to be had, especially in Robert Downey, Jr., whose Australian accent, while pointless, is entertaining by itself. The film has a message, one that it isn’t subtle, but even if taken at face value, still manages to be an odd, yet entertaining experience.

Conclusion: Natural Born Killers is an odd, entertaining, fascinating experience.

Recommendation: Watch Natural Born Killers if you want to watch a trippy, insane movie.

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