“Bang Bang”: Performance and Trope in Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)

There is one absolute certainty in Quentin Tarantino’s two volume Kill Bill film: Beatrix is going to kill Bill. That assumption isn’t just the film’s title, it’s how revenge films operate. Bill did something horrible, and so it’s fair to assume that he will be punished by the end of the film. Because the film frequently returns to the violent scene of Bill trying to kill Beatrix, it suggests that Beatrix will ultimately get her vengeance. It is the only thing she focuses on, and the only thing the film focuses on.  

Killing Bill justifies Beatrix’s other actions in the film, both her murders and the trauma she inflicts on others like Nikkia. All of this has to lead to some climatic resolution or shoot out. However, just as Beatrix readies her gun for this climatic moment, she sees something which changes everything. She has found Bill, but also a part of herself she thought had died: her daughter.

“A Roaring Rampage of Revenge”

Beatrix has inadvertently entered someone else’s story, a different and more playful revenge narrative. Her daughter, B.B., has a radically different understanding of the situation, but one which surprisingly mirrors her mother’s arc. When B.B. points her toy gun at her mother, she recreates the moment where Bill shot Beatrix, but from a new perspective. Whenever we’ve returned to the scene where Bill tries to kill Beatrix, we have seen it from Bill’s perspective, looking down at a bloody bride. We don’t see Bill during the shootout, just his victim. By showing B.B. holding the gun, and then a shot of a crying Beatrix, the film adjusts our expectations of Beatrix’s journey. She has been shot again by someone she loves, but unlike Bill, she could never hurt this new assailant. Beatrix has been shot by a different kind of bullet, but one which is equally life altering and shocking.

The film thus reconstructs Beatrix’s death, and shows us how she saw Bill in that moment. Like the stone-cold B.B., Bill totally misinterpreted what was going on. Just as B.B. fails to recognize the tension between her father and mother, and the trauma her mother underwent, Bill had no idea that the baby was his until it was too late. That is why Bill sets up this ‘play’ death, he essentially reorganizes the vengeful tropes Beatrix has operated through during the film. In doing so, Bill tries to position himself in a different light, not as a killer but as a reconciler. By staging Beatrix’s death with their daughter, Bill essentially dismisses Beatrix’ revenge narrative by comparing it with a cheesy Western type film.

There are two simultaneous layers of narrative coexisting in this sequence. First we have the layer between Beatrix and Bill, the layer which takes up most of the film and motivates Beatrix’s quest. Then, we have the layer between B.B. and her parents, or what she thinks is happening and how Bill and Beatrix play along with that narrative. This explains why the scene parodies Beatrix’s journey in such a cartoonish way. When Beatrix first see’s B.B., we get this shrill and dramatic sound effect, like something out of an old Western. That sound signals the moment where Beatrix enters B.B.’s childish narrative, one filled with bad guys and good guys, and no one in between. B.B.’s understanding of what is happening comes from an innocent position, one where she unconsciously recreates the events which happened between her parents based on Bill’s version of the story.

“My Baby Shot Me Down”

Even B.B.’s name emphasizes her role as a recreation of Bill and Beatrix, as she is named after them. She is also named for the B.B. gun, a ‘play’ gun similar to the one she points at Beatrix. By positioning her as a symbol of Bill and Beatrix, the film suggests that she switches between their perspectives and goals in the scene. Like Beatrix, Bill claims that B.B. is impervious to bullets. That is technically true, as Beatrix wasn’t the only person to survive Bill’s murder attempt. B.B. also performs what Beatrix came to do, the main point of the film. In her play narrative, B.B. is shot down by Beatrix and becomes a bullet ridden corpse, only to suddenly return from the dead and shoot her killer. B.B. thus plays out what has happened, what Beatrix expected to happen, and what the audience anticipates based on Beatrix’s revenge plot.

But B.B. also represents her father in the scene, a comparison made even more apparent by her line, “Bang bang”, as she pretends to shoot her mother. This is a call back to Nancy Sinatra’s song “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”, which plays right after Bill shoots Beatrix. We initially read the lyric “my baby shot me down” as a reference to Beatrix and Bill, as Beatrix was shot down by a man she loved. However, in this strange twist, we realize that Sinatra’s song also foreshadows B.B.’s survival. Beatrix gets shot down by her baby, not literally, but emotionally. B.B. disarms her just by posing as her father with the gun. As a result of this moment, our expectations of the film become more complicated. Suddenly that clear outcome, of Beatrix getting her righteous vengeance on Bill, is more complicated.

Once she recovers from the initial shock of seeing B.B., Beatrix fully invests in her playful narrative by playing dead. As she makes this decision to play along, the camera quickly zooms away from her face, indicating that she is moving away from shock. It takes two more increasingly zoomed shots before Beatrix enters B.B.’s story, a technique which demonstrates that she has moved away from her internal narrative and outwards, towards B.B.. Her dramatic line, “I should have known, you are the best” plays with both layers, as she is using trope language associated with revenge Westerns (like the one B.B. is playing with), but she is also referring to her reaction about B.B.. She should have known that B.B. would have survived and that Bill would have her.

B.B.’s assertion that “I was just playing” doesn’t mean that Beatrix and Bill are out of danger, or out of the game they have been playing. B.B. might be done playing, but Beatrix isn’t. She has to keep pretending that she gets along with Bill, so she doesn’t alarm B.B.. Bill does the same, as he continues to pretend that Beatrix has been in a fairy tale-like sleep, and not in a coma he caused. Some have suggested, mainly on the YouTube comment section of this scene, that this sequence demonstrates that Beatrix should have trusted Bill, that he is a good father, and that he never would have shot Beatrix if she had just told him about the baby. I think that position is very dismissive of the abuse Bill perpetrated against Beatrix throughout the film, but also of the abuse he demonstrates in this scene. He uses B.B. as a shield to manipulate Beatrix. He thinks of her as a momentum for his twisted love for Beatrix, someone who symbolizes both their tangled relationship and a gun. Each letter in her name stands for her parents, but also represents Beatrix’s inability to escape from Bill in the first place. It will always be B and B; Beatrix will always be connected to Bill no matter how far she tries to run. The real abuse in this scene is thus Bill’s ability to justify his actions and love while also dismissing and trying to rewrite Beatrix’s position.

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