It has been 25 years since Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” caused a stir when it hit theaters, but the violent tale of runaway lovers mixed with cruel media satire still seems controversial today.
In celebration of the anniversary of the extravagantly overdone movie, it is closing this year’s edition of L.A. Beyond the Fest tonight, followed by questions and answers with filmmaker Stone starring Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis and producer Don Murphy.
In the movie, Harrelson and Lewis play Mickey and Mallory Knox, a young couple who embark on a crime wave that ends up making them the center of a worldwide media storm. The film’s outrageous style, blending film formats with a high-density editing strategy, made it visceral and shocking.
As Times critic Kenneth Turan put it in his original review, the film is “bold and surprising, a vision of a charnel house apocalypse that comes close to defying description.” Turan also called it “the movie Oliver Stone was born to make, and if that statement is a two-way knife, so be it.”
As well as recent concern about real-world violence and the release of Warner Bros.’s “Joker”, there was much media dismay that “Natural Born Killers” would trigger imitation crimes. A lawsuit essentially trying to treat the movie as a defective product, claiming that Stone and Warner Bros. they were responsible for the wave of multistate crimes of a young couple, dragged into court for years before eventually being fired.
Among the many sources of intrigue surrounding the film, the original script for the film was written by Quentin Tarantino – he finally received a history credit in the final film – before being rewritten by Stone, Richard Rutowski and David Veloz. In a little irony, Robert Bornson’s director of photography, “Natural Born Killers,” filmed Tarantino’s latest projects, including “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” this year.
Stone and Lewis recently talked about the movie before the Beyond Fest event.
“I think it was a special movie,” said Stone. “There’s nothing like it. It’s unique.”
Where did the movie style come from, mixing formats and the extreme editing style? Did it seem like an extension of what you were already doing in “JFK” and some of your other movies?
Oliver Stone: We always try to adapt the style to the subject. The reason the Natural Born Killers were so extreme was because of the time that was made in the early 1990s, it seemed to me a time of excess and a new change in the cultural environment towards the sensationalism and violence promoted by the great media in a way that has never been done before. … The news was turning to the sensational, whether it was the violence or the rise of war, the steady drum beat to make a tabloid headline. The nasty old papers began to change, a woman would cut her husband’s penis and that would be the front page of the New York Times or the Washington Post.
I think from 92, 93, 94 it started to get very heavy and never stopped. And I thought, “This is not a good thing that is happening, but it is happening.” And it didn’t stop. I see a lot of this mindset now. On television, for example, commercials adopted the “Natural Born Killers” mentality: shock, shock, shock. One after the other. You cannot surprise the public. There is no sense of formality, deceleration or maintenance of the atmosphere. It’s more and more: get ahead, pay attention, don’t let it slip. That’s what the movie is about.
Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in “Natural Born Killers”.
You’ve always talked about the movie as satire or media criticism, but it was often received as a kind of treatise on screen violence. Why do you think there was this disconnect?
Stone: You would need to go to psychology classes for that. America is very literal. Violence, literal. I mean, I’m a guy who was in Vietnam. I made combat films that were called very realistic: “Born on July 4th”, “Platoon”, “Salvador”. And so, how can you believe that (in “Natural Born Killers”) bullets could do that or a knife could go through a window? This is ridiculous. You don’t see the tongue in the cheek, can’t you see that we’re making fun? They could.
I have never felt so much disdain and animosity expressed to us journalist actors … They hated us. They hated the movie.
Juliette Lewis in & # 39; Natural Born Killers & # 39;
Juliette Lewis: Oliver never does something that says something. I mean, (the movie) is incredibly clever and layered. So this combination that I knew would be really interesting and provocative. But here’s what was wild: when Woody and I made the press – and, by the way, I was new to publishing, I wasn’t so versed – I never felt so much disdain and animosity expressed to us journalist actors. I mean, these interviews, they hated us. They hated the movie. And then you look back at her, you know, that’s Oliver Stone antagonizing, stimulating. Many of your movies are like poking people or hitting your head with a sledgehammer. … I was shocked, however, that the media was missing the layers and the dot.
Does the movie still have something to tell us now?
Stone: Younger people still tell me that. People say it’s on the pulse now. I mean, one of the phrases in the movie is, “The future is murder.” This is one of the three Leonard Cohen songs we use. It seems that a war mentality and a violent mentality are in the air. Americans now – how many bombing missions do we run? How many remote wars do we fight? Don’t you come home to hide? That is the main point. There is violence in our system, bloodshed in our bloodstream and we are not expected to return home to the United States.
That is the main point. There is violence in our system, bloodshed in our bloodstream and we are not expected to return home to the United States.
Oliver Stone in & # 39; Natural Born Killers & # 39;
Lewis: If I’m being honest, as an actor, I developed and started playing and doing all these makeshift things and had my ideas encouraged. But as a result, I didn’t know what to think about the movie. The animosity I came across, particularly being a woman, the savage, the sociopath as a woman, I think it messes with people. As I talked to Woody, he hasn’t gone crazy for years. I worked with who I worked with, (George) Clooney, all these people and they said, “Wow, you’re not crazy.” And it’s a compliment, but it can also be a suffocating accusation, just because I touched something very wild.
So, as far as themes about what “Natural Born Killers” were putting up and making a statement, absolutely they are as relevant today as they were. I felt that the movie was really early. One of those you reach. And this is amazing about Oliver Stone, about radical thinkers, society needs to keep up with what he was posing at the time.
With the new movie “Joker”, also a release of Warner Bros., there has been much concern about whether this movie will incite violence. Are you surprised that this conversation is still having?
Stone: Not at all. I think this also applies to the fact that Trump looks like the Joker, so they’re alluding to that.
But in particular with our present moment, with the eruption of mass shootings and the air of violence in the culture, does that give you any pause?
Stone: Why don’t we blame the Pentagon and all our military budget and the trillions of dollars we have invested in all wars and occupying the entire planet and urging people to fight, fight, fight on our televisions? That is what you must blame, the mentality of violence in the air. How is a movie going to launch this kind of violence? It’s on TV every day. If you turn on any channel … you’re more likely to see some kind of footage, some kind of TV cop episode, murder story. The bad guy is killed, the bad guy wins. The usual fiction.
Oliver Stone, left, and Woody Harrelson on the set of “Natural Born Killers.”
At the end of the movie, Mickey and Mallory escape. Do you think this is part of what people find disturbing, that they escape and the end credits show that they have children and only live their lives?
Stone: Yes, they go on and become parents and all that … they become clandestine people. I think they end up like hippies.
Some people have found it disturbing to get away with it because we have a mindset of law and order. We believe that if we shoot a person in prison, shoot him or kill him, it is the best way to find a solution. It is not the solution. The solution is that the system is broken. Look at our prison system. It does not work.
Lewis: I am a moral person where you want consequences, but neither is it always the life we live in. But who knows, I think they could have died the following week. I don’t know if their type lives. You see, these things, I didn’t take time to analyze it completely. I just know that Oliver likes to upset people and not to shut you down. Do they escape? I dont know. I think not. I think they die in a burning house.