‘Tell ‘Em Mickey and Mallory Knox Did It, Alright?’: Looking Back on 1994’s Natural Born Killers (Spoilers Ahead)

There are, and we all have them, a series of personally-held pipe dreams about cinema: a third, Sam Mendes-filmed and trademark-laden Bond film; cinematic adaptations of John Le Carre’s The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People by director Tomas Alfredson and star Gary Oldman; and, in the vein of those that you don’t dream but come true anyways, an Oliver Stone-Quentin Tarantino collaboration.

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(centre-left and centre-right): Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr on the set of their 1994 feature film, Natural Born Killers (WarnerBros.co.uk Photo)

Their disputes over the script’s over-energisation by director and co-screenwriter, Oliver Stone, or disownment of it by the original writer, Quentin Tarantino, aside, it defies articulation, though we shall try nevertheless, that this film was made.

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Director and co-screenwriter, Oliver Stone, on the set of his 1994 feature film, Natural Born Killers (Virtual-History.com Photo and Caption)

That notwithstanding, there are some very distinct Stone-isms in 1994’s Natural Born Killers including:

  1. Characters making a run for prosperity albeit with great risk: Much like Wall Street‘s Bud Fox or Platoon‘s Charlie Taylor, 1994’s Natural Born Killers‘ Wayne Gale is making a similar attempt through his show American Maniacs by putting himself at great risk and by being in a relationship he doesn’t really want and breaks off at the end.
  2. Several different styles of shooting: With 1994’s Natural Born Killers, surpassing the likes of 1991’s JFK in this respect, there are several grades of film stock – including ‘black-and-white and color; celluloid and video; 8mm, 16mm and 35mm film stocks‘ according to the American Society of Cinematographers – the film especially relies on black-and-white, red and colour film stocks to suggest subtextual scenes, extreme violence and reality.
  3. Montage-y editing with quick cuts: out of the likes of 1986’s Platoon, 1987’s Wall Street and 1991’s JFK, 1994’s Natural Born Killers has the greatest number of cuts – over 3,000 according to The Telegraph’s Chris Bell – of most motion pictures and often resorts to advertisements in between bursts of Mickey and Mallory’s violent antics.
  4. Stories about recent issues: In the vein of 1986’s Platoon, 1987’s Wall Street and 2010’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, is 1994’s Natural Born Killers set against a hyperreal, 24/7 news cycle-laden 1990s, with advertisements and all; the latter are, as per director Stone’s ‘to show the power of commercials to soothe on television, to remind us that we’re safe‘ albeit only for a few seconds.
  5. Protagonists caught between two opposing sides of opinion: In the heightened vein of Charlie Taylor in 1986’s Platoon and Bud Fox in 1987’s Wall Street, Wayne Gale is caught between his unseen media baron of a father-in-law and society and the life  that Mickey and Mallory represent, even though both sides have him risking near-certain death.

As always, please let us know of any Stone-isms that you find in 1994’s Natural Born Killers in the comments. Thank you.

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(from left to right) Star Woody Harrelson and director Oliver Stone on the set of 1994’s Natural Born Killers (Ivid.it Photo and Caption)

Both iterations of the script – the Tarantino version and the alternate-ending Stone/Velos/Rutowski version, courtesy of DailyScript.com – follow the same throughline of Mickey and Mallory’s escape from the police with the Tarantino version being heavier on Wayne and Scagnetti’s roles and more specific on film stocks.

With respect to the actual film, the getaway-style plot is clear from the get-go, despite the unconventionally-set prologues for Mallory, and less so for Mickey, amid advertisement-style edits.

Among the takeaways from the film – and the carried over influences from Tarantino’s version – is that Mickey and Mallory, post-prologue, generally stay the way they are barring, responding to most situations with homicidal aplomb whilst Robert Downey Jr’s Wayne gets the most culmination from an unhappy, but successful, TV anchor to being liberated of his job and marriage by the film’s end.

If anything, there’s nothing but more reinforcement of their ways as Mickey’s interview with Wayne progresses and he articulates about the purity of murder and the devolution of people like Wayne.

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(from left to right) Stars Juliette Lewis and Woody Harrelson in a promotional photograph from 1994’s Natural Born Killers (TWCC.com Photo)

The film’s core acting duo from the get-go are Woody Harrelson’s Mickey and Juliette Lewis’s Mallory as they tear through the diner and escape through the desert and keep escaping – from police, rattlesnakes and opportunistic television anchors – thereafter.

Given the prologues for both Mallory and Mickey in that order – Mickey’s is sprinkled throughout his Native American dream sequence and interview with Wayne – the cause for their violence is clear, and it stays unflagging as Mickey and Mallory are portrayed without break in logic or violence by Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis.

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Composer Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (WonderingSound.com Photo and Caption)

The score, courtesy of composer Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame, is largely overshadowed by the mix of songs from the opening with Leonard Cohen’s Waiting for a Miracle to L7’S Shitlist during the diner scene and so on. The use of songs and score only makes the film’s edits more jarring and overwhelming whilst the mix of genre also accompanies the variety of shooting styles used in 1994’s Natural Born Killers.

 

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(from left to right) Director Oliver Stone and Director of Photography, Robert Richardson, on the set of 1994’s Natural Born Killers (Bu-Ray.com Screenshot and Caption)

Outside of 1991’s JFK, 1994’s Natural Born Killers was my cognisant introduction to cinematographer Robert Richardson’s hot rim lighting technique as articulated by Chelcie Harman and as evident in several prison-set scenes. Typically, and as visible in the screenshots below from 1991’s JFK, there’s a white illumination of the character’s head and shoulders, i.e. the rim of their profile.

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(from left to right) A screenshot from 1991’s JFK with cinematographer Robert Richardson’s hot-rim technique on Jay O. Sanders and Kevin Costner (DavidMullenASC.com Photo)

Apart from that, there are several Dutch angles in 1994’s Natural Born Killers, which only add to the film’s disconcerting and overwhelming feel.

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A black-and-white Dutch angle shot from the prison in 1994’s Natural Born Killers (NoirsVille.Blogspot.com Photo and Caption)

Very simplistically, director Oliver Stone’s 1994 feature film, Natural Born Killers is disconcertingly put together but still straightforward enough to follow despite its attempts to throw you off through soundtrack, cinematography and editing.

Quite the curveball, that really curves, post-1991’s JFK.

(Whilst the opinions and observations, unless stated otherwise, are the author’s own, the following sources were used to gather information: ChelcieHarman.Wordpress.com, Complex.com, CraigersCinemaCorner.com, DailyScript.com, FlavorWire.com, IMDb.com, Independent.co.uk, MentalFloss.com, SensesOfCinema.com, Telegraph.co.uk, TheASC.com)

Plot and Act-by-Act Breakdown:

Plot: a husband-and-wife serial killer team seek to evade the authorities after a string of murders.

Act 1: Mickey and Mallory Knox decide to murder the diner’s patrons, save for the pinball player; they decide to leave the diner and escape into the desert.

Prologue: Mickey escapes with Mallory after making a delivery to her family home; Mickey later escapes from prison and murders her parents with her assistance and they escape again.

Act 2: Mickey and Mallory decide to marry each other atop the bridge; Mickey chooses not to murder the loud passers-by.

Act 3: Mallory decides to go to town after spotting the girl hidden in their motel room; Mickey later chooses to murder that girl.

Act 4: Mallory decides to murder the workshop mechanic; Mickey and Mallory escape to the desert after he catches up with her.

Act 5: Mickey and Mallory decide to ask the Native American man for help; Mickey and Mallory decide to spend the night in his home.

Act 6: Mickey chooses to kill the Native American after waking up; Mickey and Mallory decide to navigate their way through the rattlesnakes.

Act 7: Mickey and Mallory escape to a drug store looking for antivenom; Mickey decides to kill the lone pharmacist.

Act 8: Mallory is arrested by Scagnetti outside the drug store; Mickey decides to surrender to him to ensure her safety.

Act 9: Mickey decides to receive Wayne in his prison cell; Mickey agrees to the interview for Wayne’s show.

Act 10: Mickey decides to go to the interview-ready cell; Mallory decides to receive Scagnetti in her prison cell.

Act 11: Mickey’s interview inadvertently triggers a prison riot; Mickey decides to use it to escape from the cell.

Act 12: Mickey decides to lead Wayne, Kavanaugh and the cameraman to Mallory’s cell; Mallory decides to attack and later kill Scagnetti after Mickey arrives.

Act 13: Mickey and Mallory and company decide to follow another inmate to safety; they just manage to evade the warden.

Act 14: Mallory decides to gunpoint Wayne into escaping past the warden and out of the prison; the rioting prisoners later decide to kill the warden.

Act 15: Mickey and Mallory decide to convince Wayne into addressing the camera directly in the forest; Mickey and Mallory later decide to kill Wayne.

Epilogue: Mickey, Mallory and their children go on a Knox family road trip, replete with flashbacks.

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