Open letter to Quentin Tarantino

Dear Mr. Tarantino,

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I really dislike you. More specifically, I should say that I don’t enjoy your movies, since I haven’t met you. For all I know you could be an extremely nice guy, although to be honest I kind of doubt that. In the spring of 1994, I went with my boyfriend at the time to a drive-in (remember those?) to see the new movie everyone was raving about: Pulp Fiction. I squirmed when Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta shot all those guys. I dug the dance scene at the restaurant, but cringed when Uma Thurman got that gigantic needle slammed into her sternum. And then, you lost me.

You know that scene where somebody (Travolta?) accidentally shoots the guy in the back of the car? And then thinks it’s funny? Right there is where I signed off. It’s not that I made a declaration to never see one of your movies again, per se, but that’s pretty much how it’s ended up. I’ve seen a few movies you were in; some were fun (Desperado) and some were really, really stupid (From Dusk ‘Til Dawn). But I haven’t really watched anything else that you’ve directed. It wasn’t that it was gross. I’m willing to admit that overall, the movie is very well put together. Everything about that scene, though, just turned me off. A shoot-em-up film is one thing, but it was the “accidental” nature of that particular example that gets to me. A human being’s life was ended, and because the characters involved (much like our society) were so desensitized to death and violence, they thought it was funny, and were merely concerned with getting the blood stains out of their car.

Please understand: I don’t have a huge problem with violence in movies. If it is realistic or necessary to the narrative, I am fine with it. If it’s campy throughout (back to Desperado, which is hilarious), it can indeed be entertaining. My issue is with your particular brand of violence. When utilized as a part of a whole, I can agree that blood and death can be humorous, but not simply on their own merit. Violence for the sake of violence is not funny. The shock value associated with, say, cutting someone’s ear off is something that should, in my opinion, be used sparingly. Death should be treated with at least a modicum of respect; I mean, it’s DEATH. Again, I think it’s the suggestion of a desensitized audience that bugs me. Oh, just some guy with his brains blown out, nothing to see here. But instead of having something to say about the horror or sadness or justice of the situation, you just seem to revel in the blood, Mr. Tarantino. I might go so far as to say you get off on it. I have definitely been known to have a sick and/or inappropriate sense of humor, but something about your sense of humor and mine, well, they just don’t jive.

In the past few years, as I come to a “study” of seeing more movies and generally trying to delve into the medium, my feelings about you have become a bit more complicated. You are seen by many as an “auteur,” and I don’t disagree that you have had an impact on movie-making. As I try to broaden my movie-viewing horizons, I quite often bump up against cult classics like Reservoir Dogs, or films starring people I greatly enjoy, like Inglorious Basterds, or Best Picture nominees like Django Unchained. But I’m just not interested. Perhaps you, as a student of film, would think that my interest is shallow, or that I lack in true taste. Maybe I do. But ultimately, we watch movies because we want to be entertained, and that’s the crux of the matter, here, sir. You don’t entertain me. I think that, if you were at all inclined to do something different, I might be more interested. Most directors aren’t notable for their range in terms of genre, and I respect that. Movie-making is serious and all-encompassing work, so it makes sense that one wouldn’t go bouncing around. But, since you only seem to do things more or less one way, I’m going to have to pass. There will just be one school of cinema that I will remain ignorant of.

I don’t agree at all with the people who think that the seemingly random acts of violence that occur in our society today have been influenced by media or entertainment. Plenty of people have watched a movie where someone gets shot without taking it into their heads to go out and shoot people themselves. But I do think that movies like yours are at least symptomatic of the problem. Again, most of us (yes, myself included) are highly desensitized to violence these days. So perhaps it takes more outre (or just more) violence to get through to us. At the risk of getting way too philosophical, though, I think that we lose a little bit of our humanity when we “enjoy” violence, or when we don’t respond to it with discomfort or sorrow. I believe that art, of any kind, is part of what elevates us beyond mere “animal” status, but when our art appeals to our baser nature, what do we accomplish? Are we moving forward, or back?

Oy, it got all pretentious there for a minute. Sorry about that. I guess I’ll just wrap up by saying that just because I don’t like your vision doesn’t mean that I don’t get that lots of other people like it. Obviously you’ve done quite well for yourself, and I’m sure that my opinion, posted here, will not lose you 5 seconds of sleep tonight. You might say that because I am still mulling over that scene in Pulp Fiction, nearly 20 years after the fact, you’ve accomplished something. Maybe so. If I must, I will thank you for giving me something to think about. I’d thank you more if you’d consider toning it down a little, though. No? Well, can’t say I didn’t try.



12 responses to “Open letter to Quentin Tarantino

  1. oh good grief

  2. I respect what you’re going for here, but have to ask … how can you assess the work of someone whose movies you haven’t watched in 18 years? While I agree there are films that treat violence with no respect, I hardly put Tarantino’s work at the top, or even anywhere on, that list. Yes, sometimes it’s played for dark comedy. But anyone who’s seen “Reservoir Dogs” — in which a hood gets shot in a most unglamorous way and proceeds to bleed out over the next two hours — can hardly say it’s something he diminishes the impact of. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    • Valid comment, and thanks for reading! I think it’s just that they look all the same, somehow. Everyone is of questionable integrity and there’s lots of killing. It’s just not my thing. Again, (not that it matters) I think if he toned it down or somehow did something differently, I would not discount that. But I just see a trailer or hear something about all of his movies and think “Ugh. I really don’t want to see that.”

  3. Fair enough. I personally have a pretty high tolerance for such fare but realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. For me, the level of creativity Tarantino brings to film-making more than makes up for the occasional over-the-top moment. (OK, OK … I usually enjoy the over-the-top moments, too). I could see how a movie-lover may wish those film-making skills would be used on subject matter they could personally enjoy a little more. FWIW … I tried to think of one that might be somewhat more palatable to you. Maybe “Jackie Brown?” Not my favorite, but I don’t recall so much overt violence. Or his scene in “Four Rooms?”

  4. The last one, I believe … the actor and friends “reinacting” the “Twilight Zone” scene with the Zippo lighter?

    • I think I might’ve gotten ill with the whole movie and turned it off before that.

      Perhaps, though, in the spirit of open-mindedness, I will try either Four Rooms or Jackie Brown. 🙂 I have moments of really wanting to see Inglorious Basterds, because I love Fassbender and think Brad Pitt is very talented, but then I just think “Ugh.”

  5. Hi Sam, I hear ya. I’m not a fan of QT’s ‘brand’ of violence either. I did appreciate Inglorious Basterds, though it’s not something I’d watch over and over again. There are moments on that film that I just couldn’t watch, in fact I had to take several breaks as it was too intense. I refuse to be desensitized by violent content, even if sometimes I made an exception in watching one (like I did recently with Dredd) but I still cover my eyes. In that one at least the character himself didn’t relish on being violent, he’s simply doing a job, but I think QT’s characters are inherently violent and sometimes enjoy inflicting pain on others. I read part of the script of Reservoir Dogs and I knew I can’t handle a character like Mr Blonde.

    In any case I don’t think he’ll ever tone it down. I just saw an interview with him recently where QT got so defensive when the interviewer asked him a simple question why he enjoyed making violent movies. I think it’s a fair question but he just got so prickly. It tells me that he’s just a big kid who likes blood and gore without realizing why so he gets upset when he has to explain himself, ahah.

    • I just can’t get into it. But, in the spirit of movie-viewing adventurousness, I plan on attempting Jackie Brown and maaaaaybe Inglorious Basterds (because, well, FASSBENDER) at some point. 🙂

      • Actually, the STAR of ‘Basterds’ is Christoph Waltz who’s just brilliant. He deserved all the awards he received for that role. Absolutely superb. Fassy was good too, great eye candy too 😉

  6. I love QT. I find it very difficult to get ‘turned off’ by something like death in a movie. It’s a fictional situation, and the scene you discuss, the one with John Travolta killing the guy by accident does make sense/fit the plot line. This guy is a bumbling idiot, truthfully. That scene, for me, was showing how someone who ‘came back’ to this particular circle just wasn’t at the same level, and was a bit of a loose cannon. And besides…how else would they have introduced the cleaner?

    I guess for me, it’s more about the enjoyment of the movie than the “someone died” aspect. I don’t feel it necessary to grieve fictional movie characters who aren’t a serious part of the story line. These characters are essentially ‘fillers’, really. I’m not trying to change your mind on QT; to each their own. I like him, and will continue to watch his movies – the more shocking and out-there, the better.

    • Again, I don’t have a problem with death in movies, but rather with the specific treatment often evinced by Tarantino. As you say, it’s about the enjoyment factor. I did not enjoy Pulp Fiction. I’ve actually seen it more recently, and I strongly dislike it as a whole. My example was merely one instance of what bothers me about him and his movies.

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