Film / Natural Born Killers

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"You ain't seen nothin' yet."

"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 dad. He's been sexually abusing Mallory for years, constantly volleying insults and threatening violence towards her and the rest of his family. It's implied that Mickey didn't have the best parents either, as a flashback shows them getting into an argument and a physical fight.
  • Accidental Murder: Mickey accidentally shoots the Native American man sheltering him and Mallory after coming out of a nightmare.
  • Adaptational Heroism: To an extent—the Knoxes 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.
  • Ambiguously Human: Owen Taft - he appears out of nowhere at the beginning and end of the film, and in the original cut, just before he kills the Knoxes he says he "came from the fire."
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Mallory's father was a sexually abusive jackass, and Jack Scagnetti strangled a prostitute just to kill someone. You won't feel too bad when they get their comeuppance.
    • Wayne Gale exploits Mickey and Mallory's crime spree for ratings, and during the prison riot starts killing people himself. Mickey and Mallory later kill him, partially out of disgust and contempt for his Attention Whore behavior.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: The Warden of the prison (Tommy Lee Jones) that Mickey and Mallory are held at is no pencil pusher, personally breaking up a fight between two of the inmates without asking the guards for help. Lampshaded by Scagnetti who says that he should appear on American Gladiator.
  • Ax-Crazy: Mickey and Mallory, but Jack Scagnetti and Wayne Gale also get in on the act.
  • Bald of Evil: Mickey shaves his head towards the end of the movie. This is somewhat subverted though, as soon after this he and Mallory decide to stop killing and have a family.
  • Berserk Button: The only person who calls Mallory "You stupid bitch" and lives is Mickey.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: the NC-17 version is bloodier, gorier, and way more graphically violent than the theatrical release.
  • 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.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Mickey has one, coming out of it shooting a person.
  • Chewing the Scenery:
    • McCluskey, with his "horrific fucking laugh".
      • Who can forget "Jesus Harold Christ on a fucking rubber crutch!"
    • Wayne Gale, of course. "For the first time of my life, I'M ALIIIIIIIIIIVE!"
  • Cop Killer: Mickey and Mallory kill plenty of cops during their crime spree and escape. This causes many instances of Police Brutality directed towards them once they're captured.
  • Cult Soundtrack: The Trent Reznor-compiled soundtrack, which includes songs by Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Dr. Dre and Tha Dogg Pound.
  • Damsel in Distress: Mickey does, effectively, rescue Mallory from her immediately-dangerous plight (continuous sexual and verbal abuse from her father) and liberate her from the house in which she's basically trapped. This does also involve him orchestrating the killing of the monster that is keeping her there (her abusive father). Mickey saves her again after they've been sent to prison, this time breaking her out of her jail cell and killing Jack Scagnetti holding her hostage.
  • Dark Action Girl: Mallory is as capable and ruthless a murderer as Mickey.
  • 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. In the first scene of the movie, Mickey and Mallory start a brawl at a diner and kill almost everyone there.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: One of the police officers Mickey and Mallory are shown killing is exiting a donut shop.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mickey's father shot himself right in front of his son. It's implied that this is one of the reasons Mickey became a killer in the present day.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Downplayed. Despite killing over 50 people, Mickey is still disgusted at how the media has sensationalized his actions. He glorifies in it because he's an insane killer - what's their excuse?
    " You'll never understand Wayne. You and me, we're not even the same species. I used to be you then I evolved. From where you're standing you're a man. From where I'm standing you're an ape. You're not even an ape; you're a media person. Media's like the weather, only it's man made. Murder is pure. You're the one made it impure. You're buying and selling fear."
  • 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 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).
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Mallory is quick to anger, and even Mickey accidentally cause her to have violent outbursts.
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: The scene showing Mallory's family life is done in the style of a 50'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 been 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 able to see perfectly not two minutes later.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: A ruthless satire of this trope, exemplified by Wayne Gale, a reporter so desperate for ratings that he'll kill people for it.
  • Important Haircut: Mickey shaves his head, 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.
  • Killer Cop: Jack Scagnetti strangles a prostitute to death for the fun of it. He's also the detective assigned to capture Mickey and Mallory.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Mickey is on the very justified receiving end of this by police after the shootout that leads to his and Mallory's arrest.
  • Outlaw Couple: Mickey and Mallory are the poster children of this trope.
  • Parental Incest: Mallory's dad sexually abused her for years.
  • Pet the Dog: Mickey and Mallory avoid killing Mallory's brother after they had previously killed her mom and dad.
  • The Plan: Subverted in that Mickey and Mallory didn't actually plan the riot. They instead attribute their miraculous escape to "fate."
  • Police Brutality: The police beat the crap out of Mickey and Mallory due to their status as cop killers. Later on, Jack Scagnetti and McCluskey plot to have Mickey and Mallory killed while being transported to a mental institution.
  • Prison Riot: After Mickey's interview with Wayne Gale, the whole prison goes apeshit and a massive riot breaks out. Mickey and Mallory exploit this in order to escape.
  • Pure Is Not Good: Mickey calls murder "pure", and that media sensationalism makes it "impure".
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Mallory is very emotional and short-tempered, while Mickey is often calm and collected.
  • Revised Ending: Oliver Stone's original ending had Mickey and Mallory being murdered by the prisoner who helps them escape from prison.
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
  • Self-Made Orphan: With Mickey's help, Mallory kills both her parents.
  • Serial Killer: Mickey and Mallory kill dozens of people over the course of several weeks.
  • Spare a Messenger: Mickey and Mallory always leave one survivor at the scenes of their killing sprees... Until the very end, when they shoot the journalist that was with them because he unfortunately had a camera which documented everything, serving as a means of telling their story.
  • Strawman News Media: A satire of this trope and If It Bleeds, It Leads, as the amount of attention the news gives to Mickey and Mallory's killing spree turns them into celebrities.
  • A Threesome Is Hot: Mickey proposes to Mallory to have sex with a female hostage on their wedding anniversary. Mallory is enraged by the suggestion and leaves, prompting Mickey to rape the hostage.
  • Title Drop: "Shit, man. I'm a Natural Born Killer."
  • ‹bermensch: Mickey displays a mindset like this during his interview with Wayne Gale.
    "You and me, we're not even the same species. I used to be you then I evolved. From where you're standing you're a man. From where I'm standing you're an ape."
  • Unholy Matrimony: Mickey and Mallory are a married couple that go on a cross country killing spree over the course of the movie.
  • Viewers Are Morons: In-Universe. Wayne Gale believes so, dismissing his viewers as "zombies".
  • Villainous Crush: Jack Scagnetti has a rather creepy attraction towards Mallory.
  • Villain Protagonist: Obviously, the Knoxes, but even the people assigned to their capture have their villainous moments; Jack Scagnetti strangles a prostitute to death for seemingly no reason.
  • Wardens Are Evil: McCluskey looks down on his prisoners and arranges to have Mickey and Mallory to be killed instead of transferred into a mental institution.
  • Wedding Ring Removal: Played with. Mallory takes off her wedding ring to wash the dishes, but Mickey is horrified by this and insists that she must never take it off.
  • You Are What You Hate: Jack Scagnetti hates violent criminals, but as his murder of a prostitute shows, he is one himself.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Mallory's mother has purple hair, mostly a Shout-Out to Alex's mother in A Clockwork Orange.

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