Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Michael Conniff Headshot

CON GAMES: Violence On The QT With Quentin Tarantino

Posted: Updated:

Can't think of a better news hook than the Dalai Lama's visit to Aspen to talk about violence in the movies of Quentin Tarantino. Call me crazy and I'll zip your head off with the sword I just stole from The Bride.

I'm in the genius camp when it comes to Tarantino, the auteur of "Reservoir Dogs," "Kill Bill," and even the lessermost "Jackie Brown," all with their heavy doses of patter and splatter. But I never thought of him as anti-violent until Uma Thurman's father came on my "Con Games" radio show in Aspen to lead me monkishly down the path of virtue.

It turns out Robert Thurman, the author of "Why The Dalai Lama Matters" is not only a professor of Indo-Tibetan matters at Columbia University but also the very first Tibetan monk to come from America: he was ordained as a mendicant in the mid-1960s before he opted out for the more secular life of a scholar. In the bargain he fathered Uma, the actress most associated with Tarantino's voluminous "Kill Bill" movies, both Volumes I and II.

Irony, anyone? A former Tibetan monk whose glamorous daughter chop-chops more bone and gristle in "Kill Bill" than a veg-o-matic set to "dismember."

Remember the killing fields in "Kill Bill"? No worries. The Prof set me straight about The Bride on my radio show: QT is using all that violence to show he is in fact anti-violent.

Get it? I don't.

My first thought is that Tarantino is not likely to re-make "Gandhi" any time soon. Monkishly or not, the obvious path of virtue for an anti-violent filmmaker would be a film about non-violence -- or anti-war films about Vietnam like Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now," Oliver Stone's "Platoon," and/or Michael Cimino's "Deer Hunter."

Making an abhorrently violent film anti-violent screed at 24 frames per second is no small trick, and Professor Thurman assured me that the ready supply of filmic blood in "Kill Bill" and the other titanic Tarantino movies means the violence is shown as violence and hence abhorrent -- in contrast to fakey-bakey movies that show death without the red stuff. In other words, real blood equals actual anti-violence.

Such a way-cool trick is also abnormally dependent on an audience that is beyond sophisticated, so hip and knowing that it can always see what is seen in a Tarantino movie as reflecting precisely the opposite. That's not unreasonable, and no doubt many Tarantino fans come away with this hipper-than-thou message. With his culture-vulture patois, the writer-director is selling a post-modern art-about-art that his most intellectual fans buy with pleasure even as it plays downmarket.

Call me Ahab, but I ain't buying. Your daughter is lovely, Professor Thurman, and I am particularly fond of the scene where The Bride (Uma) plucks the remaining eye from the eyepatched Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah), who screams a bloody streak in her aborning blindness. But to cite the presence of actual (fake) blood does not make the case for Quentin Tarantino as a cinematic vigilante against violence, any more than scarlet gushers in violent videogames make the case for pacifism.

To me, movies like "Reservoir Dogs" and both volumes of "Kill Bill" say we are a society so violent it will kill you. Unlike the plucked eyeball flushed down the toilet, much of the QT violence is over-the-top, somewhere between too real and surreal, but isn't that exactly the kind of killing and maiming that plays to the younger multiplex crowd? Even if Tarantino sees his movies the way The Prof does, with Uma in the middle, the net-net for Netflix subscribers will be movies that live as a testimony to precisely the violence the Dalai Lama would abhor more than most.