Film: Natural Born Killers

The media made them superstars

Considered to be one of the most controversial films of the 1990s, Natural Born Killers is a film by Oliver Stone. It derives from a screenplay written by Quentin Tarantino (which itself was a rewrite of friend Roger Avary's script, The Open Road, elements of which also contributed to True Romance), who conceived it as a dark exploitation thriller (with elements of satire), but Stone extensively rewrote it to the point where Tarantino disowns it as part of his work. Stone turned the story into a satire of the incestuous relationship between crime, the media and pop culture, and how the latter two glorify the former and turn mass murderers into cult heroes. The film tells the tale of Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis), who captivate the world with a cross-country murder spree. Despite being sadistic and largely unrepentant murderers, the media (led by a tabloid journalist played by Robert Downey, Jr.) turns them into pop culture icons.

While the equally corrupt detective who arrested them (Tom Sizemore) and the warden (Tommy Lee Jones) at the prison holding the two plot to have Mickey and Mallory killed while transporting them to a mental institution for psychiatric testing, Mickey uses a post-Super Bowl special interview to stage a riot in the prison and escapes with his bride to freedom, leaving a trail of carnage in their wake as the entire prison goes up in flames and the staff is savagely slaughtered by the prisoners.

A psychedelic and surrealistic film (one that has been called "The Most Expensive Student Film Ever Made") the film sadly fell victim to Misaimed Fandom as some fans actually ended up liking Mickey and Mallory and their ultra-violent killing spree, which was what Stone was condemning. Similarly, quite a few critics failed to see the condemnation of media hype, instead fixating on the perceived glorification of violence. (Ironically enough, Tarantino's original script arguably places more emphasis on the "evil" of the Knoxes—making them less sympathetic.note  And those on the "side of the law" are not the Not So Different types Stone makes them into....)

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Mallory's parents, and maybe Mickey's, too.
    • Well, maybe not abusive, but as a child, Mickey did see his father kill himself.
  • Adaptational Heroism: To an extent—the Mallorys are hardly "heroes"; still, Stone's film has them moralizing (eventually calling out Gayle for his antics) and expressing regret for some of their actions. The Abusive Parents angle also provides sympathy of sorts for them. None of this is in Tarantino's original script, which has the couple as something of a dark Deconstruction of the Bonnie and Clyde concept.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Jack Scagnetti was written by Quentin as more of a tired, worn-out Knight in Sour Armor, living with a reputation based on past glory, who eventually snaps and attacks Mallory in the climax—as opposed to the corrupt, murderous Dirty Cop obsessed with Mallory that Stone's film made him.
    • In addition, Mallory's parents were not originally written as sexually abusive. In Tarantino's original script, the given reason for Mickey killing Mallory's parents was that they wouldn't give their blessing to the couple's marriage. The Disproportionate Retribution turned Up to Eleven is discussed by Scagnetti and company as being the couples' Establishing Character Moment.
    • Wayne Gayle does not kill anyone himself in Tarantino's script.
  • Appeal to Inherent Nature: "Look, bitch, you knew I was a snake."
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Mallory's father and Jack Scagnetti.
    • The redneck gang.
  • Ax-Crazy: Two guesses. Mallory is the worst.
  • Badass Beard: Wayne Gale
  • Bald of Evil: Mickey towards the end.
  • Berserk Button: The only person who calls Mallory "You stupid bitch" and lives is Mickey.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Nobody really seems to be particularly concerned with bullet counts here. A particularly obvious example happens during the prison riot, when Wayne fires a pistol with the slide locked open.
  • Broken Aesop: Debatable, but Stone does make the life of crime seem pretty attractive at times...
  • Chewing the Scenery:
    • Wayne Gale, of course.
    • And Mc Cluskey, with his "horrific fucking laugh".
    • Who can forget "Jesus Harold Christ on a fucking rubber crutch!"
  • Cluster F-Bomb
  • Cult Soundtrack: The Trent Reznor-compiled soundtrack, which includes songs by Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Dr. Dre and Tha Dogg Pound.
  • Deranged Animation: During some of the more psychedelic scenes, we're treated to random frames of Mickey running down a hallway and a perverse Felix the Cat attacking Mallory and getting shot.
  • Diner Brawl: Or a Diner Massacre anyway.
  • Dirty Cop: Jack Scagnetti and the prison warden.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Arguably the whole point of the movie, and a vicious satire of it.
  • The Family That Slays Together: Subverted. Mickey and Mallory end their killing sprees after they decide to settle down and have kids.
  • Fan Disservice:
  • The Farmer and the Viper: A variation is recounted to by a Native American who shelters Mickey and Mallory. Sure enough, he's killed by Mickey, but accidentally - Mickey comes out of a nightmare and fires his gun on reflex. Mallory is not amused.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The credits of the fake sitcom "I Love Mallory" are full of punny names and jokes such as "Best Boy: C. Noevil".
  • Freudian Excuse:
    • Mickey and Mallory both had abusive fathers, with Mallory's dad molesting her and Mickey's dad killing himself in front of his son.
    • Scagnetti had a similar excuse, as his mother was killed by a spree killer (Charles Whitman).
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: The scene showing Mallory's family life is done in the style of a 90's sitcom, complete with canned laughter, exaggerated set design, and sitcom-styled joke script... which informs the viewer that Mallory's father has been raping her for longer than her brother has been alive (because the only reason Kevin was born is because Dad didn't realize he was in his own bedroom and not Mallory's) and her mother doesn't object because he beats her.
  • Hollywood Healing:
    • For someone who has just bitten by a rattlesnake, Mickey didn't have a problem engaging in a shootout.
    • Also, Mallory gets sprayed in the eyes with mace by Scagnetti and is capable to see perfectly not two minutes later.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: A ruthless satire of this trope.
  • I'll Kill You!: Everyone. Yes, everyone.
  • Important Haircut: Mickey, right before his interview.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • The two run away and spend their days in an RV, raising their kids and being normal. Oliver Stone was actually aiming for this trope - they're heroic, in a twisted sort of way, because they killed the mass media figure that propagated their doings, the corrupt cop and the warden.
    • Not so, however, in the deleted scene. See Karmic Death below.
  • Karmic Death:
    • In a deleted scene, instead of running away and raising a family, Mickey and Mallory are killed by the same serial killer that helped them escape the prison, because Stone said that the best comeuppance for the two was to be killed by "their own ilk".
    • When Wayne Gale, the bastard who propagated Mickey and Mallory's killings, starts killing people himself for the sake of ratings, Mickey and Mallory give him a vicious "The Reason You Suck" Speech before killing him as well.
  • Mind Screw: All the strange imagery inserted almost subliminally into the film, such as a beheaded, bloody man sitting on a couch which also begins moving near the end of the film (the fake sitcom at the beginning is also credited to "Headless Mann Ltd."; see Freeze-Frame Bonus above).
  • Mood Dissonance: All the frakkin' time.
  • No Fourth Wall: Played with during Wayne Gale's televised interview with Mickey at the prison (which is aired as the "halftime show" during the Super Bowl). At one point the screen unexpectedly fades out...and then fades back in to show a Super Bowl commercial for Coca-Cola. But we don't see the frame of any television screen around the image, in effect fusing us with the in-universe audience watching the interview. Pretty sobering if you think about it.
  • Outlaw Couple: Mickey and Mallory
  • The Plan: Subverted in that Mickey and Mallory didn't actually plan the riot. They instead attribute their miraculous escape to "fate."
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Mallory and Mickey, respectively.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: Mickey's glasses.
  • Slasher Smile
  • Strawman News Media: Type 4.
  • Title Drop: "Shit, man. I'm a Natural Born Killer."
  • What The Hell, Villain?: When Mickey accidentally kills the Indian, Mallory really lays into him.
  • Villain Protagonists
  • Wag the Director: Very little of this film is derived from Tarantino's screenplay. Tarantino says that the only aspect of the film he'll acknowledge as being his are the character names Mickey and Mallory.
  • X Meets Y: Kalifornia meets Network
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Mallory's mother has purple hair, mostly a Shout-Out to Alex's mother in A Clockwork Orange.