A Compelling Villain – Bill from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill – Vol.1 & Vol.2
A villain doesn’t have to be perfect, all powerful or even logical for him or her to be a perfect villain. In fact it’s that lack of perfection or strive towards imperfection that makes many villains, both film and literary, so interesting. In some cases, even more interesting than the heroes themselves at times. The hero/protagonist is supposed to be a selfless person who is supposed to do what’s right regardless of selfish desires. While the villain/antagonist is supposed to represent selfishness and the desire to put their own wants above all others. And yes, they will kill as many people as it takes to achieve that end.
First let’s start with the protagonist, Beatrix Kiddo aka The Bride aka Born Killer. I say “protagonist” because she is by no means heroic at all. She saves no one’s life. (Sparing the life of the Yakuza boy isn’t the same as saving it.) She’s not out to stop some bad guy’s evil plan or even rescue someone. Her motivation is the most selfish, easily relatable story motif there is: Revenge. We know what happened to her and therefore we root for her.
And then there’s Bill. The villain we as the audience are supposed to root against. Other than the initial act that gets the revenge story in motion what does Bill actually do that would be considered ‘evil’ or ‘villainous’. And this is not counting special features or deleted scenes. The answer is nothing. You never see Bill kill a single person in both volumes. He tries twice to kill the Bride and fails. That’s it. You don’t see Bill killing cops or killing some random henchman for failing. Bill simply just waits for the Bride to come to him.
Bill has no plot (The character not the movies. Thought I should make that clear). He has no plans to take over the world, rob a bank, steal a secret weapon of mass destruction or even assassinate someone. An assassin who doesn’t assassinate anyone. Think about that for a second. Bill doesn’t even send random scores of henchmen to go after the Bride.
And here’s something amazing for you.
Bill doesn’t lie.
While some of his responses are vague when it comes to certain questions, everything he says is more or less the truth. He more or less doesn’t lie to Tommy in the chapel at the beginning of Vol.2. He tells Budd that Oren really didn’t have 88 body guards and that they just call themselves the Crazy 88 because, ‘they thought it sounded cool’. When his daughter B.B. changes the truth slightly about the death of her gold fish Emilio, he corrects her by quoting her directly. When B.B. and Bill continue the gold fish story Bill says, “You’ll be so proud of her mommy. She didn’t lie,” once again emphasizing how important the truth is to Bill. Tarantino continues this when he tells B.B. the brutal truth about how he tried to kill the Bride and later on when Bill tells Beatrix that he has a solution to her “lying problem”, he shoots her with a literal solution in the form of a powerful truth serum he calls: ‘The Undisputed Truth’. Even the movie’s title is brutally honest, spoiling the movie’s climax for everyone and at the same time, not.
Tarantino could’ve just easily left out the truth serum and had a simple exchange between Beatrix and Bill. We as the audience would’ve taken for granted that whatever she would’ve said would be true. Bill is the father of her child after all and they used to be lovers. And sure you can interpret the truth serum as a not-so-subtle way of explaining that after everything Beatrix put him through, he really doesn’t trust her. But I give Tarantino more credit than that. Bill goes out of his way to explain just how strong the truth serum is. And from a character standpoint you can tell he made it especially for her. Unless of course Bill just keeps bottles of powerful truth serum lying around his house because, reasons.
In other movies, pain is used to get answers during interrogation scenes. But in Kill Bill the Bride’s pain comes from the answers themselves. Not physical pain but emotional pain as the Bride is forced to tell the truth about how she not only loves killing, but she enjoyed killing every single last person it took to get to him. Then Bill gets her to admit that not even she believed her plan of living in El Paso would’ve worked. You can tell how painful it is for her not to lie. In other movies the protagonist and the interrogator are almost always intimately close. But former intimate lovers Beatrix and Bill sit on opposite sides of the room. And when they do sit close together, they try to kill each other. Other movies would have these former jilted lovers yell and hurl insults at each other, but no. They address each other in all-too-calm voices but you can still more or less feel the emotional blows from their exchanges.
Their one and only kiss inside the El Paso wedding chapel, the only kiss anyone shares in both volumes, is a direct reflection of their relationship; lifeless. The most intimate thing you witness them sharing only succeeds to drive more distance between them with Beatrix saying goodbye for one reason and Bill saying goodbye for another.
Now contrast Bill’s brutal honesty with the Bride’s long string of lies within the story’s arc. When the Bride finds out she’s pregnant there’s a wonderful scene that, much like the climax in Vol.2, focuses on her telling the truth and having to provide evidence to prove that she’s being honest. It’s almost as if we’re being told to not trust anything she says or at least take it with a grain of salt. She even tells Karen Kim, the shotgun wielding assassin in Vol.2, that any other day she would be lying to her. That day just happened to be the day she’s telling the truth, as if it happens so rarely.
And there’s a reason why. The Bride is a liar.
In El Paso, her would-be husband Tommy and all of her friends do not know her past, her real name or even the real father of her baby. She lies, in a chapel mind you, to her future husband Tommy about Bill being her father. Claiming that your former lover and the real father of your baby is your own father is a pretty big lie. She technically lies to Bill when she vanishes and moves to El Paso without telling him that she’s pregnant, making him assume she was dead. She lies to Hitori Hanzo when she meets him at his restaurant in Okinawa. Even the Bride’s initial premise is a lie. Vol.1 tells you, or heavily implies that Bill’s massacre happened during Beatrix’s wedding, when it in fact happened during her wedding rehearsal as explained in Vol.2.
Need more evidence. Listen to the lyrics of the song playing in the background after Beatrix puts B.B. to bed.
Now contrast that with Bill who is constantly lied to by those close to him. His former lover and mother of his daughter, the Bride, of course lied to him about being pregnant and ran away. A lie of omission, but a lie nonetheless. His own daughter B.B. lied to him about how her gold fish died. Budd, his own brother, lied to him about pawning his Hanzo Sword. A real testament to brotherly love considering how much money Elle was willing to pay for Beatrix’s sword. And speaking of Elle, Bill’s current lover, she lies to Bill when she tells him that Beatrix killed Budd with a black mamba.
No wonder Bill values the truth so much. The people closest to him have no problem lying to him and hurting his feelings. His daughter kinda thinks he’s stupid if she honestly thought he would believe her lie about how her foot ‘accidentally’ entered Emilio’s fish bowl. But she’s 4 so I suppose she gets a pass. Budd hurts Bill by lying to him about pawning his ‘priceless’ Hanzo sword that Bill both gifted and engraved with a loving message. And Elle casually lies to Bill about the black mamba killing Budd. Keep in mind, during that brief phone call she casually tells him the ‘tragic news’ that his brother and the mother of his daughter and are both dead. One’s a direct lie and the other is a lie of ignorance. Plus she delivers the tragic news like she’s reading items off a grocery list, pocket notepad and all.
What makes Bill such a compelling villain is how much he goes against the grain, and takes a chainsaw to all villain clichés in the process. If you really look at it, Bill makes for a very risky villain. I mean look at him: An honest man. An assassin who’s never seen killing anyone on screen. A loving, nurturing father. No scores of disposable, armed henchmen to do his bidding. Bill has a large hacienda in Mexico and no guards. I can’t remember a single time a bad guy’s ‘liar’ didn’t have any armed cronies. And this is a personal favorite, he’s a villain that lives in Mexico but he’s not a drug dealer of any kind. Any other director would’ve tied Bill to drugs the moment they tied him to villain and Mexico.
And yet, nothing feels amiss. Bill still manages to be terrifying without you ever seeing him do anything at all. In another movie that goes against the grain, you are more or less told through other characters in very subtle ways as to how strong and villainous Bill is. Your mind automatically fills in the blanks whenever it comes to the important events that aren’t shown on camera. And it’s that mystery that adds to the character. How did Bill meet Pai Mai? And why was he not worthy of the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique and Beatrix was? What did Bill do exactly to make Hitori Hanzo swear a blood oath to never make another sword again? Whatever it was, also led him to break that very same oath just for the promise of killing Bill. And keep in mind, Hitori and Beatrix had just met before he decided to make her a sword. That mystery adds to his character and more importantly, doesn’t take away from the story.
The confrontation at Bill’s hacienda is the only time we see the Bride holding a gun. She faced off with 88(or so) Yakuza bodyguards armed only with a sword. The fact that she feels threatened enough to carry a gun tells you just how dangerous she knows Bill to be.
But you already knew that of course. Because if there is one thing that we take with us about Bill through both volumes is that he tried to kill his pregnant former lover. Never mind showing him kill lots of innocents. The El Paso incident, which we only see the prelude of, is all the convincing we need to know he’s bad
So why did Bill do it?
This brings me to my favorite aspect of not only Bill but Kill Bill as a whole. (Writer’s take note.)
I’m certain many of you simply believe that Bill overreacted when he found out that Beatrix was pregnant and getting married, as is somewhat explained in Vol.2. But placed under a bit of scrutiny it falls apart.
For starters, was Beatrix always planning to leave Bill? I mean, if she can speak several languages fluently I’m pretty sure she knew that sleeping with Bill would eventually lead to her being pregnant. Being an assassin (trust me I’ve done a fair bit or research) requires a fair bit of planning. As does revenge. Especially against other trained assassins. But the movie would have you believe that Beatrix got pregnant, remembered who the father was, panicked and left. And then, for some strange reason, she got engaged to a man she’s known for less than a year. And even worse, when the Bride tells the reverend’s wife that she doesn’t have any family but, “we’re planning on changing that,” she strongly implies, (aka lies) that the baby is Tommy’s. For those of you who didn’t fall asleep during biology class, you already know what Beatrix and Tommy did or had to do, in order to convince Tommy the baby is his. Such a revelation would drive an ordinary man over the edge. Imagine what such a revelation does to a man whose life and occupation revolves around killing people.
Was his reaction extreme? Of course it was. Innocent people died thanks to Bill’s broken heart. Was his reaction that surprising? Well…
…put yourself in Bill’s shoes. Your former lover, whom you thought was dead, is alive. You should be happy. (Remember how happy Beatrix looked when she first sees B.B.?) You’re expecting to find a corpse or an unmarked grave of someone you cared about. But instead you don’t find her dead but happy, without you. She has friends, a new boyfriend and above everything else, she’s getting married to ‘some f**king jerk’ a.k.a., not you. And (this is very important) she’s pregnant. She wasn’t pregnant the last time you saw her. But now she is and she’s getting married to a stranger when you’ve known her and loved her for years. And if that isn’t bad enough, the effing jerk is also old enough to be your son.
Now, as a ‘murdering bastard’ as Bill referred to himself as, you can:
Leave Beatrix alone and spend the remainder of your life imagining her screwing her perfect stranger of a new husband and living a long and happy life while you do BLANK.
You make sure Option A doesn’t happen.
Not as easy a choice when you put it into perspective. But it gets better or worse depending on if you’re Bill. Since Beatrix didn’t look pregnant before she left for El Paso, this leaves Bill with only one logical assumption. (I’m assuming you already know what that is.) After all, Beatrix’s very first words are, “Bill, it’s your baby,” as if she knows exactly why Bill is trying to kill her. Not a problem for couples who trust each other, but Beatrix is a liar. Given all the evidence it’s difficult to determine (especially for Bill) if Beatrix was telling the truth or lying to save her and her daughter’s life.
So what does Bill do? Get a paternity test that is never shown on screen? Or invent and shoot your former lover with a powerful truth serum that doubles as a recreational drug. (How the hell else does Bill know about the euphoria with no druggy after affects as well as length of time it takes to go into effect? It also explains why a truth serum of all things is his favorite invention and I honestly doubt he tested it on his four year old daughter. And for an already honest guy like Bill, the drug has no negative consequences.)
Then after the serum takes effect, instead of asking something that bleeds insecurity such as, “Is B.B. my daughter you lying slut?” which of course implies several other things. Bill instead asks, “Why did you leave with my baby?”
Years have passed and Bill has obviously bonded with B.B. (she calls him daddy after all) but you can tell he wanted to be sure without coming off as desperate or insecure. And it works. Had Beatrix’s baby not been Bill’s baby, she would’ve immediately told a different story about how she wasn’t pregnant before Karen Kim tried to blow her away with a shotgun. After the story you can see that Bill is visibly more relaxed. He gets to die knowing that he, and not some ‘effing jerk” is the father of his daughter. That may not seem like a big deal to some of you but for most men, it’s all they think about, even when they try not to.
To the casual movie watcher, Bill can seem a bit plain. And that would be somewhat accurate. After all he doesn’t have nearly the mystery Kevin Spacey’s Keyser Soze or the complete disregard for human life of Heath Ledger’s Joker or Darth Vader’s mere presence or the body count of any villain. Try picturing them with kids. In fact try picturing any villain with kids. Darth Vader, one of film’s most famous fathers, is the least father-like father in the history of film. I can’t begin to imagine Anakin or Darth Vader raising twin babies and changing their diapers or driving them to soccer practice or Jedi school. Or Ra’s al Ghul changing Talia al Ghul’s diapers. But Bill pulls it off with ease like Brando’s Vito Corleone; fatherly in one scene and menacing in the next. The relationship between Bill and B.B. feels authentic. Not shoe horned in as a useless gimmick like in Bad Boys 2. Not only can I imagine Bill changing diapers, I imagined he changed a lot of diapers since he was raising B.B. as a single father. Also, I can still see him cutting someone’s head off.
Some see Bill as cruel and that’s also accurate. When you kill people for money, you have to be. But as I explained earlier the El Paso incident, while tragic, was more or less justified. Extreme? Yes. But justified. His heart was broken after all. And that’s the greatest tragedy. After his heart is broken figuratively the Bride breaks his heart literally.
I’m not here to argue how the Bride is really the villain and how Bill is really the hero. That’s a whole other blog for a whole other day. And if I’m bored enough I’ll cover it in greater detail. But I will say this. The thought of getting back with Bill or raising their daughter together or her simply taking B.B. and leaving Bill alive was never an option. Even with B.B. still alive and healthy her goal is still to Kill Bill. Never mind the fact that he raised her himself for the past four years. (Granted he’s the very reason why he had to raise B.B. as a single father.) However, even before the El Paso incident the Bride still didn’t want to raise B.B. with Bill. In fact in the story’s arc she all but says I’ll jump a motorcycle onto a speeding train for you but there’s no effing way I want us to raise OUR daughter together, despite our years of history. I’d rather sleep with and marry a perfect stranger AND jump a motorcycle onto a speeding train than start a family with you.
How would that make you feel? How would that make any man feel? I mean the absolute arrogance of Beatrix honestly believing that after hurting Bill that badly, Bill will somehow just find it in his cold black murdering heart to forgive her and move on with his life. Spoiler Alert, people don’t work that way. Not just men or just women, people. If the roles were reversed, do you think Beatrix would’ve been as forgiving as she hoped Bill would be? I’ll let you decide that for yourselves.
When developing a villain, or any character, don’t be afraid to go against the grain. Ignore that voice in your head telling you, ‘I want my reader to be comfortable with the character.’ And while that is certainly a worthy goal, comfortable characters tend to make cliché characters, aka boring characters. And if you take anything away from this blog, take this rule.
Villains can’t be boring! Superman is allowed to be a little boring. In fact that’s kinda of the point, at least when it comes to Clark Kent. But Lex Luthor is never allowed to be boring. All great villains have one thing in common. None of them are boring, even when their heroes sometimes are.
Thanks for reading.