Are We All Natural Born Killers?


After a week filled with an unusual amount of chaos, I was drawn, naturally, to another viewing of Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers for relaxation last night. Perhaps someone out there can help me understand the film. I am not sure I get it.

I could watch Woody Harrelson cite check a legal brief and find it interesting. He's a great actor. He's got that loose screw demeanor of the wacky kid in the back row in third grade. Anything can happen, and when it does, I'll probably root for him, and given him my lunch money, too.

Predictably enough, I was rooting for him to kill in Natural Born Killers. When he and his lover went on a three-week killing spree, I started humming bars from an old song about Bonnie and Clyde. Then my thoughts turned to John Dillinger. Outlaws as anti-heroes makes sense to me. I sometimes wonder whether that is the appeal of the criminal law. Nothing my clients do surprises me; I am capable of any crime.

Mickey and Mallory are lovers. Their world revolves around the sense of safety they create for one another. But all around is death and destruction. They are unmoved by the suffering they cause, even exulting in it. Both come from places of special pain and hurt. Frequent flashbacks to the horrors of their childhood together with surreal images of demons presently at play in their acts and deeds give the film a surreal quality. Somehow, despite all the harm they cause, you can't help but root for them. The characters in the film representing law and order are unsympathetic, banal in their seeming goodness. Good become evil, and evil good.

I liked the manic zaniness of the film. Something about passion unbound and bursting every expected boundary correspondeds to the workaday world in which I find myself as a lawyer. How often do I see folks looking for love in all the wrong places, and, improbably finding it, and then needing protection from the conforming pressures of a self-righteous mob? How often does the press circle and feed, like vultures, on the sorrow of others, looking for titillating pleasure in telling tales about death?

As I watched the reporter in the film shadow dance on the boundary between good and evil, I thought of a member of the Connecticut press corps. A client of mine is locked up on a huge pretextual bond. He stands charged with assaulting a former girlfriend. It is a routine domestic charge. But things turned anything but routine when a contract shooter took aim at the girlfriend. Federal authorities have arrested the shooter, and charged him with attempted murder for hire. Rumors swirl that my client will soon be charged. This reporter calls me, sends me text messages, leaves phone messages for me at work and on my cell phone. He seems besotted and inflamed by a lust-like fascination with this case. I do not return his calls. There's something uncannily disturbing about this young man's interest in the case. Who, I wonder, does he wish he had the nerve to kill?

Natural Born Killers is brilliant satire, I've concluded. It lays bare the subterranean pleasures we act upon but do not dare acknowledge. Crime stories sell. Television is awash in tales about evil. We cannot get enough of the anti-heroes in our midst. Mickey and Mallory aren't strangers. They are us. Maybe I was drawn to the movie simply to be among friends.

Comments: (1)

  • What attracted you in the movie is exactly what at...
    What attracted you in the movie is exactly what attracted Harris & Klebold: you root for Mickey & Mallory knowing it is wrong but you also know what happened to them, and partly, that makes it right. You need a way out in real life; you see a way out on screen.
    The difference here is that Harris & Klebold took movies (and more) like this as their "script" of how to deal with life. If life presented an issue, they looked at their script that they had internalized. And that is alas, what much of these movies, games, etc do for those whose mind is having difficulties switching between reality and fantasy.
    The ordinary mind switches back in a millisecond. The more susceptible you are (due to a variety of reasons)the faster you switch from reality to fantasy and the longer it takes to come back from fantasy to reality.
    I feel sorry for the obsessed reporter. Maybe it is the scoop, the glory that awaits him if he gets one word out of you. Maybe not. Maybe it is the curiosity, to be informed, part of the in crowd...
    Posted on May 24, 2010 at 6:10 am by Vidocq

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