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Film / Natural Born Killers

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The media made them superstars.

They didn't win a Nobel Prize, throw a record fastball or travel another acceptable path to fame.
What fugitive lovers Mickey and Mallory did was kill people. Lots of people.
The media took care of the rest.

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 was itself a rewrite of his friend Roger Avary's script The Open Road, elements of which also contributed to True Romance. Tarantino 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 heavily focused on the satirical elements, particularly 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), an Outlaw Couple who captivate the world with a cross-country murder spree, killing 52 people with the special gimmick of always leaving one survivor to tell the tale. Despite being sadistic and largely unrepentant murderers, the media, led by Australian tabloid journalist Wayne Gale (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 that has been called "The Most Expensive Student Film Ever Made", it sadly fell victim to a Misaimed Fandom as some fans actually ended up liking Mickey and Mallory and their ultra-violent killing spree, which was exactly 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. Among those critics was Tarantino himself, whose original script placed more emphasis on the "evil" of the Knoxes and made them less sympathetic. He soundly condemned the "sitcom" sequences in the film, apparently for that reason.

This film provides examples of:

  • Accomplice by Inaction: Mickey and Mallory murder Mrs. Wilson because she did nothing to stop Ed from abusing her, making her just as bad.
  • 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 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."
  • Appeal to Inherent Nature: "Look, bitch, you knew I was a snake."
  • 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.
    • The redneck gang.
    • While Mickey and Mallory get away with their crimes in the theatrical cut, in the film's alternate ending, they die at the hands of Owen Traft (and thereby qualify as these) for, effectively, letting their fame go to their heads and rejecting someone who admires them.
  • Ax-Crazy: Mickey and Mallory Knox, 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: Given her history of sexual abuse at the hands of her own father, it's small wonder that being hit at is this for Mallory.
  • Big Brother Instinct: In a cut flashback scene, Tim Mulberry finds the Knoxes holding knives and standing over his bound and gagged younger sister, and proceeds to kick Mickey four times in the head Bruce Lee style. Mickey shrugs it off, kills Tim and makes his sister the witness to that massacre.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: The Unrated 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.
  • Bowdlerize: Stone was forced to cut three minutes of graphic violence at the behest of the MPAA and the studio in order to achieve an R-rating. All of the footage was restored a few years later for a Director's Cut VHS and Laserdisc. In his introduction to the Director's Cut, Stone says he felt that some of these edits done for the theatrical version made the film more disturbing, as some of the censored footage was played in such an over-the-top manner that its intention as a satire became more pronounced.
  • 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!"
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Lots of characters can be this.
  • 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. 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.
  • Face Death with Dignity. Lampshaded and zig-zagged with Wayne's death. At first, as soon as Wayne realizes that Mickey and Mallory are going to kill him, he pathetically starts running off in plain view of them. Then Mickey cocks his gun and says "Wayne...have some dignity." Wayne then gives up, walks back to them and calmly accepts his fate.
  • Fame Through Infamy: Mickey and Mallory always leave a Sole Survivor at each of their killing sprees in order to tell the story of what happened and build their legend. Wayne Gale and the rest of the tabloid press happily oblige.
  • Fan Disservice:
  • 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).
  • Gorn: The film is about the violent killing spree of Mickey and Mallory so naturally a ton of blood is shed by the couple especially in the unrated cut which has outright decapitation and dismemberment.
  • 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.
  • Immoral Journalist: Wayne Gale, for reasons given above.
  • 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.
  • Madness Shared by Two: Mallory meets Mickey, and falls head over heels in love with him. So much that she eventually joins him in a cross-country murder spree. Granted, with the abuse she endured from her father, her trip into insanity wasn't that far.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Off with His Head!: This happens to McCluskey during the prison riot in the Director's Cut.
  • 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.
  • Rank Scales with Asskicking: McClusky, the Warden of the prison 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 Gladiators.
  • 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:
    • Mickey and Mallory are based loosely on Charles Starkweather, Caril Fugate, Paul Bernardo, Karla Homolka, and the infamous crime duo Bonnie and Clyde.
    • Real life serial killers John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and Charles Manson are all name-dropped. Furthermore, Mickey's interview with Wayne Gale is inspired by Geraldo Rivera's interview of Charles Manson.
    • Jack Scagnetti despises criminals (in particular serial killers and mass murderers like Mickey and Mallory) because Charles Whitman killed his mother.
    • At the end of the movie television footage from real crimes and trials are shown, most notably the burning of the Branch Davidian complex at Waco, the trial of the Menendez brothers, the OJ trial, and others.
  • Screeching Stop: In the opening sequence, one bullet about to hit a waitress suddenly screeches to a halt so the camera can show her expression before her brains are splattered.
  • Shout-Out:
    • At one point Mickey is watching television and scenes from Midnight Express and Scarface (1983) are prominently displayed.
    • Mallory's brother Kevin wears make-up reminiscent of the band Kiss in one scene and make-up resembling Alex's choice of fashion in another.
  • Slasher Smile: Mallory often sports this; Mickey also qualifies. And even Wayne Gale and Jack Scagnetti.
  • 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.
  • Stock Desert Interstate: Mickey and Mallory commit some of their crimes in desert gas stations and drive along Route 66.
  • The Stool Pigeon: During the riot, one of the prisoners being chased by other prisoners has a sign on his back that says "SNITCH BITCH."
  • 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.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Lots of it, especially the I Love Mallory sequence which has cheery sitcom music amidst the domestic abuse and sexual harassment rampant in Mallory's family.
  • Subverted Sitcom: Mallory's childhood trauma is depicted through the 50's sitcom I Love Mallory, which presents her father's physical and sexual abuse as well as her mother's neglect as the bleakest of Comedic Sociopathy.
  • 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: During the interview, Mickey tells Wayne Gale that his true calling in life is that he's a "natural born killer".
  • Torn Apart by the Mob: The prisoners kill the warden and parade his head around on a pike.
  • Villainous Crush: Jack Scagnetti has a rather creepy attraction towards Mallory.
  • Villain Protagonist: The film follows a couple that murders multiple people across the country and becomes famous because of the media's fascination with their killing spree. Granted some of their victims did deserve it, but that doesn't justify their homicidal tendencies nor the fact that they killed some innocent people.
  • 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.
  • Yandere Couple: A big part of what has come to make Mickey and Mallory so appealing to the media and the public is their psychotic devotion to one another.
  • You Are What You Hate: Jack Scagnetti hates violent criminals, but as his murder of a prostitute shows, he is one himself.