Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘Natural Born Killers’: How far is too far?

A film with undying infamy
(Courtesy of Natural Born Killers on IMDB)

It tends to go without saying that murder is a sort of taboo topic, though you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at some of the media produced by our society in this era. With a true crime or murderer profile published with remarkable consistency no matter where you look, it’s safe to assume we’re rather obsessed with the subject.

This is what makes Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” such an interesting film: its infamy, as it shocked and disgusted some of the most loyal fans of horror and murder fiction alike. Infamy is a sort of fame in its own right of course, which has cemented the 1994 film in the hearts of a few devoted fans, some of whom took that devotion to the extreme.

“Natural Born Killers” peers into the lives of newlyweds Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis). The misunderstood and malicious pair intend to right the wrongs of their equally troubled pasts. They plan to accomplish this via a nationwide killing spree, as, you guessed it, “Natural Born Killers.” As media and police tail their every move, the two become iconoclasts to the troubled youth of America, both on and off the screen.

The film feels quite reminiscent of a Quentin Tarantino film and is in fact based on a Tarantino script. Dutch angles are employed in many of the tense moments of the film in order to draw attention to how similar the “heroes” and “villains” are. By framing both sides similarly, the film assumes that both have flawed views on society and their roles in it. The film’s relative uncertainty in its style also relates back the troubled and fragmented pasts of our protagonists and how they act out of confusion rather than hatred. However, this exact romanticizing of murders has proved to quite literally be deadly.

Usually, I believe the themes of a film serve as a driving force for its relevance and use in society as well as its connection with the viewer. I wouldn’t call “Natural Born Killers” a film with merit, per se. I find it to be an interesting time capsule for a generation long passed. I think it spoke to a generation where hyper-violence began to become a less niche aspect of media, specifically for younger children. This sort of weaponized masculinity proved to be disastrous in later years, with groups around the nation claiming to have predicted it.

In this time leading up to the Columbine mass shooting in 1999 and other such events, studios had a sort of free range for filmmaking and loved this freedom. This rapid consumption characterized the radical 90s. It puzzles me to this day just how odd this era proved to be.

“Natural Born Killers” gained much of its infamy from a string of “copycat killers” with varying relations and correlation to the film. I actually spent the most amount of “research” on this particular topic, as the sheer amount of killings with an effort to connect it to this film is somewhat mind-boggling. Most notably, the Columbine killers seemed to have a sort of obsession with the film’s characters and their tragic love. This, among other high profile instances of killers having some sort of affinity to the film sprung several large lawsuits against the filmmakers as well as the studio.

Try as they may, studios still tend to find themselves giving far too much credit to murders on the small and big screens. As much as “Natural Born Killers”is seen as a troubling portrayal of serial killers, newer productions by Netflix, as described in this Collegian article, FX, Fox and other studios in the “True Crime” genre that we’ve all grown to love commit some of the same faults we condemn “Natural Born Killers” for. An overwhelming majority of the killings attributed to this film were committed by teenagers and young adults, speaking to parenting rather than media. It remains up to parents to control how they choose to raise their children and what values they wish to instill them with.

Jackson Walker can be reached at [email protected].

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    david r leavittApr 27, 2019 at 8:08 pm

    It does not say in this storyline, but actually, this movie is heavily patterned after Badland’s… the story of Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend who went on a crime spree after the murders of her parents.