This post concerns the last half hour of Kill Bill Vol.2. It contains MAJOR SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen both films, I recommend you turn back NOW.
I went to see Kill Bill Vol. 2 on Thursday evening–the day it was released here in the UK. I thought Vol. 1 was one of the best films I’d seen last year, and I was mad keen to catch the second part as soon as possible. I enjoyed it a lot. However, I seem to have come away from the film with a completely different opinion about it than the friends I saw it with.
In particular, I found the last half hour, where Bill and Beatrix battle it out (verbally) for custody of their daughter, very emotional. In a few short minutes, Tarantino completely reversed my perception of Bill. Until then, he was simply the Bad Man who tried to kill Beatrix, succeeded in killing her entire wedding party, and stole her daughter. In this last chapter, though, the film shows why he did that thing. Far from being a monster, Bill is revealed as a noble and loving man, a good father, and to a certain extent the wronged party. Beatrix’s “roaring rampage of revenge” is cast in a different light. After cheering her on for three and a half hours to get to this point, I wanted her not to kill him.
Here’s how I seem Bill. Of all his protégées, Bill loved Beatrix the most. He was her mentor, her lover, and though he didn’t know it immediately, the father of her child. The other members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad may have been jealous of the relationship they had (especially Elle Driver), but they all truly loved Bill. In his own words, he may have been a “murdering bastard,” but this applied to the crimes he committed against other people. The bonds of trust and loyalty amongst the members of the Squad ran very, very deep.
Then he sent Beatrix on a mission from which she never returned. Bill assumed she was dead. He mourned her for three months, and in anger tried to hunt down the person who had killed her. What he found instead was that she had run away, had shacked up with another man, and was pregnant. Bill was shattered. The love of his life had stabbed him deep in the heart. No other betrayal could wound him more deeply.
And what Bill felt, the other Vipers felt, too. By hurting the man they loved, Beatrix had betrayed and wounded them. Bill lashed out against Beatrix in the only way he knew to hurt her as much as she had hurt him: by killing her, and everyone who was close to her. His feelings over this were clearly mixed. Yes, he was enormously angy, but he also still loved her as much as he ever had. Hence the words he spoke to her as he shot her in the head:
“Do you find me sadistic? This is me at my most masochistic.”
By killing Beatrix, Bill was ending part of himself, too.
Because the other Vipers loved Bill, not Beatrix, it was easy for them to hate her. Vernita Green and O-Ren Ishii had strong ties to Bill, but they also had interests and depths of their own: Vernita had her family ties, and O-Ren had her Japanese mob thing going on. This is why their characters could stand alone in the first film, without much reference to Bill. However, Elle Driver and Budd are defined purely in terms of their relationship to him, and so they are saved for last. Elle was jealous of all of the love that Bill devoted to Beatrix. And of course Bill was Budd’s big brother. (Interestingly is also the first one to admit that they had wronged Beatrix. He is not the simpleton other people perceive him to be.)
Although it is never stated in the film, it’s clear that the Vipers are no longer together as a unified Squad. I’m pretty sure that the emotional impact of the Massacre at Two Pines is what drove them apart. I don’t think they balked at the killings themselves, but this is where Bill found out that he Beatrix was carrying his baby, and his emotional state took yet another blow. Just as Beatrix found that she could no longer carry on as an assassin once she found out she was pregnant, Bill also discovered that fatherhood changed him.
Consider what he says to Beatrix when she confronts him: he admits that he “overreacted.” He doesn’t say he was wrong to take action, just that the action he took was too drastic. Bill feels regret. Earlier in the chapter, when they are putting BB to bed, he explains that when he shot Beatrix, he realized that there are some things that cannot be undone.
For four years, Bill has been living with this regret. He has a wonderful daughter, but no-one to share her with. He knows that some day, Beatrix will awaken. Because of his actions, he knows there can be no possibility of reconciliation. He knows that she will come to kill him, and to take back their daughter. He knows that in order for Beatrix to have a mother, she must lose her father. The bedtime scene is the only time that BB can ever spend with both of her parents together.
Speaking as a father of a young son and a daughter, I find this heartbreaking and tragic. It made me cry in the film, and it is making me cry now as I write this.
It is abundantly clear that Bill loves his daughter more than life itself. It is equally clear that BB is a happy girl who loves her father. What makes Bill such an extraordinary character is how he has faced those four years of lonely, dreadful anticipation. He hasn’t tried to erase Beatrix from his life and BB’s. Far from it: he has told BB all about her mother, in loving, glowing terms. BB has a photo of her on her bedside table. Bill told her that her mother was asleep, but that some day she would wake up and come back to her. He told BB that her mother dreamed of her every night.
When Beatrix finally does come out of her coma, Bill knows that his time has come. We see him speaking with Budd, trying to convince him to watch out. Bill isn’t trying to get Budd to stop Beatrix for him, because that would be futile. He just doesn’t want his brother to die because of a mistake he made. Likewise, when Beatrix reaches Mexico and asks Esteban Vihaio where Bill is, Esteban tells her “because Bill would want him to.” Bill has accepted his fate, and he is not trying to escape it. In fact, in this fate, he sees his only chance at redemption and forgiveness.
Knowing that Beatrix must kill him, his last act of nobility is to grant her the self-knowledge necessary to free her from the same regret that haunted him for the last four years. By breaking down her emotional defenses with a dose of truth serum, he forces her to confront her essential nature: that she is a killer. Killing Bill is something she has to do, rather than chooses to do. Giving up her mission of revenge at the final hurdle would be as much a lie as the new life she had been trying to make for herself in El Paso. In his own roundabout way, Bill is granting Beatrix forgiveness for the action she is about to take.
And yet Bill is still afraid. He fears dying, but he fears winning the fight they must have even more. So while he and Beatrix are having their conversation, he downs an entire bottle of booze. Tarantino is very clear about this: we see Bill open the bottle and drink the first shot in a single gulp, and we see him trying to shake the last drop out of the bottle when it is empty. Bill could have chosen to kill Beatrix at any point in their chat: he has a gun, and she is sedated by his truth drug. But he doesn’t. He holds back, and throws the fight.
Afterwards, as she gathers up BB and heads for the open road, understanding comes slowly to Beatrix, but she does eventually realise what Bill has done for her. What he could never say in words, he made clear in his actions. Throwing the fight was his way of saying: “I love you. I’m sorry. I understand what you have to do, and I forgive you.”
In the final shot of the film, we see Beatrix lying on the floor in a hotel bathroom, clutching a teddy bear to her chest. As the camera closes in on her, she is weeping, but slowly her tears turn from sadness to bittersweet joy. Her last words are: “Thank you.”
She isn’t thanking God, or Fate, or any other intangible. She is thanking Bill.