Revenge and Madness in Kill Bill

In: What is the Problem with Revenge
Megan Saunders
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Revenge has played a key role in popular culture, from the Renaissance days with The Revenger’s Tragedy and The Count of Monte Cristo to the contemporary television show Revenge. Whenever revenge is inflicted it is natural for an audience to appear sympathetic with the avenger. But what happens when the avenger is mad? In Shakespeare’s masterpiece, the title character Hamlet feigns madness in his plight to avenge his father’s murder. However, in Quentin Tarantino’s two-part film Kill Bill: Vol. 1-2, the relationship between revenge and madness is even more closely intertwined. The protagonist, known simply as the Bride, seeks revenge on those responsible for leaving her for dead and for the presumed death of her unborn child. As viewers, we are meant to relate to her vengeance and thus see her actions as justifiable. Yet the Bride’s quest is closely aligned with the Ships of Fools known in Renaissance Europe: Michel Foucault writes of mad persons aboard these vessels in his book History of Madness. It is through Foucault’s depictions of the ‘mad’ that understandings of Kill Bill evolve. The Bride’s search for reason is closely aligned with her path of revenge. That is not to say that the Bride lacks reason; on the contrary, she is calculated and rational. Yet her desire to kill Bill and his accomplices must void all other emotions until she achieves her goal. Foucault writes about how the uncertainty of destiny was always at hand on the open water. Likewise, the metaphorical waters that the Bride navigates are the deserted terrains toward her targets. As she approaches each subsequent assailant, the inevitability of death is at hand; throughout the film she is stabbed, shot, buried alive, and eludes death more than once. However, it is madness that ultimately enables her to reach her goal in killing Bill.

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