Tarantino’s is foremost a cinema of the cinematic; in an obsessively referential age, his passion for pastiche was first seen as thrilling, then exhausting, then something worse—irrelevant, easily dismissed. “Tarantino lives inside the world of movies,” a critic complained to me recently, “and so his movies are only about movies.” At his most indulgent this can certainly seem to be the case—dynamos are just built differently, and often this means their backbone is fused directly to their Achilles heel—but even in those moments, his own sensibility is there lurking in the background, usually spackled with Karo syrup. If they chiefly—not only—explore and invoke the cinematic world, Tarantino’s films evince a close secondary focus on the power, the survival, the consuming self-interest of the individual. For a video-store prole who became a famous director, this fascination with unlikely triumphs of the will is as apt a preoccupation as any.
Take away a director’s favored tricks and one of two things will happen: Their vision will be distilled to a potent essence, or they will be revealed as frauds. In Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Tarantino does some of his finest work without any virtuoso action, iconic imagery or riffy dialogue—confined, in fact, to a pine box. For five minutes we are buried alive along with The Bride (Uma Thurman), and the most obvious reference, having brought Uma back from the dead once before, is to himself. As Ennio Morricone’s lonely, evocative score from A Fistful of Dollars plays, The Bride wriggles and razors herself out of her restraints; then begins a truly harrowing sequence composed of nothing but her right hand and her refusal to die. The thin knuckle-smears of blood that bloom on the wood after each punch are more powerful than all of the liters spewed during the genre-wanking “Crazy 88s” sequence that marred Vol. 1. To me, this is Tarantino’s world—breathless, punishing, exhilarating—a world where a warrior woman can come gagging through the earth.