Obviously based on the fact that I am doing this series you can see that I am a fan of movies, which has been true for as long as I have been old enough to watch them. Despite my love of movies growing up I tended to watch the same types of genres. As is often the case with kids I also tended to rewatch a lot of my favorites over and over as well. Every so often I broke away from my comfort zone to watch something brand new. Every so often that new movie shook the foundation of the way I viewed the art of film making.
That happened when I watched Reservoir Dogs. This is a film my brother introduced me to, although indirectly as he probably had new interest showing his little annoying brother a movie he was far too young to watch. We shared a room growing up and on occasion I was able to force my way back into the room I was kicked out of to see what movie he did not want me to watch. Seeing this the first time something about it just seemed different to me.
What stood out to me, outside of all the violence and language, was what was not shown onscreen. I had been conditioned at that point to expect movies to follow a basic formula. Well this was a heist movie so I knew we would see the heist and the normal fallout that would follow, except that did not happen. No formula I was aware of was followed. Part of me was annoyed by that fact. If all you ate was microwaved pizza the first time you tried the real stuff you may be turned off. When all you eat is garbage, garbage tastes good. At that point in my life my movie diet was filled with microwaved pizza versions of films so when legitimate art came along it did not fully work for me.
Although I did not love it the first time it lingered in the back of my mind. Growing older and wiser, combined with watching more and more films like Reservoir Dogs, my appreciation of it grew and grew. Quickly Quentin Tarantino became one of the few directors I knew outside of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Any time a new film of his came out I had to see it, and today he still remains one of my favorite directors.
Age to Show:
Some may take issue with the idea of even exposing my son at any age to a movie like this. With the amount of violence and language it may not come off as a movie a parent should share with their kid. I acknowledge that is a concern, which is why I would not show this to him prior to the age of sixteen or seventeen. When I watched it for the first time I was younger than that and turned out okay. There are moments that shook me to my core. I remember turning the other way during much of the infamous ‘ear’ scene. There is no question that is a hard sequence to witness. What I see as my job is being responsible for putting those scenes in context to create a better understanding of their purpose.
As I mentioned previously the biggest movie lesson this thought me was how a film could break all the known tropes of storytelling and use that to its advantage. Not knowing what my son’s film watching career will be like I cannot guarantee it will have the same impact on him. Luckily there are a number of other lessons this teaches you about film.
Within the first scene you can see how effective Tarantino’s dialogue is at captivating your attention and informing you about each character. For me if a movie or TV show has great dialog I can pretty much overlook any issue. It is a big reason why I will watch anything that has Aaron Sorkin’s name attached, and why Tarantino works so much for me. Where Tarantino brings it to the next level is how he enhances his dialog with some poignant and clever imagery.
The best example of this is The Commode Story that Mr. Orange tells while undercover. In the scene Tim Roth’s character uses an anecdote he learned to make the others believe he is a legit criminal. Tarantino could have easily just kept the camera on Roth and let us imagine how the scene took place, but by showing the actual events he does a whole lot more.
For one what we are seeing as an audience did not actually take place in the reality of the movie. There is a great discussion to be had over why Tarantino would give us the exact visual representation. He is attempting to immerse us into the moment so we forget what took place is not real? Does it correspond with what the movie is saying thematically about storytelling in general and the artifice it can create? There are many possibilities, but the main thing to learn is that a director can greatly impact the overall message and effectiveness through creative use of imagery.
This also shows that great imagery can come from some pretty mundane situations. Look at the infamous opening credit sequence. All it consists of is a couple of people walking in a line in slow motion. Nothing all that special, however Tarantino’s musical choice, camera work, and use of slow motion has made it one of the most iconic scenes in film. College walls across the world have been covered with posters of that exact moment ever sense.
Considering this film centers on low level criminals dealing with the fallout of a failed robbery my hope is there are no direct lessons my son will need to learn. If he is going to be a criminal he will be the best criminal in all of criminaling. He won’t bother with this robbery stuff and go where the real criminal money is by being a political lobbyist. White collar crime also has way better benefit packages.
In all seriousness Reservoir Dogs does show the importance of the element of trust. You cannot manufacture trust no matter how hard you try. Earning it is the only way to know it is real. With this film you have a situation where trust was built through holding back information. If you do not know someone else’s name or who they are they cannot turn on you—at least that was the thought. While holding back information from someone may protect that specific information it does not guarantee their actions will not negatively impact you in another way.
Trust cannot spring from a foundation of immorality. Here each criminal or criminal in disguise becomes a victim of their own immoral actions. One by one what was set up to be the perfect crime leads to utter chaos and destruction. What can be learned is that those shortcuts we attempt to take in life can have some disastrous repercussions. Deception is never a victimless crime. We can only play a part for so long. Eventually who we truly are will come out and when it does the end result could be disastrous.
Some may take issue with the fact that I would even dare show my son a movie of this nature considering its violence, language, and explicit content. From the opening scene discussing the true meaning behind Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” there is material that seems inappropriate for a father and son bonding moment. While I understand that sentiment I think there is value in showing and discussing this film.
For one the key is showing it at the right age like I mentioned. Considering the way current pop culture is going this is probably considering tame by most already. Also when it comes to the violence shown in this I feel it is not nearly as damaging as some of the PG-13 violence movies are filled with. In those films people will be gunned down, buildings will collapse, and cars will explode yet not a drop of blood will spill. If anything that can lead to more of a desensitized mindset then something of this nature.
With Reservoir Dogs violence has brutal and bloody consequences. To Tarantino’s credit in the infamous torture scene he chooses to move the camera away and allow the screams to do the job. There is an opportunity to talk about the purposes of violence when it comes to movies. Is it simply shock value? We all know the notion of how people are inherently inclined to slow down to look at a car accident. Is Tarantino tapping into that part of the human mind, or does he just get some sort of sick enjoyment out of depicting pain?
There is something about seeing something we know we should not see that grabs our attention. Is this a cheap tactic to take advantage of that reflex? Is Tarantino using violence as a platform to say something more vital about life or the process of film making? Can something be gruesome but still be art? These questions again demonstrate why Tarantino’s movies are not suffice level cheap entertainment. As a teenager they brought me into a new world of film making. Although decades old at this point I see it still having the same potential for my son.