This Movie Changed Me

Lauren Wilford

Kill Bill: Volume 2

Last Updated

October 16, 2018


Original Air Date

October 16, 2018

Movie characters can rewrite the possibilities for our lives. That’s what Uma Thurman’s role as The Bride did for Lauren Wilford. The character redefined Lauren’s idea of femininity — helping her find her inner strength, determination, and persistence.

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Guest

Image of Lauren Wilford

Lauren Wilford is a senior editor at Bright Wall/Dark Room. She is the co-author with Ryan Stevenson of The Wes Anderson Collection: Isle of Dogs. Her Christ and Pop Culture piece, “Killing the Spirit of Fear: How Female Action Heroes Can Help Women Live Courageously,” inspired this conversation.

Transcript

Lily Percy, host: Hello, movie friends. I’m Lily Percy, and I’ll be your guide this week as I talk with Bright Wall/Dark Room’s Lauren Wilford about the movie that changed her life, Kill Bill 2. It’s okay if you haven’t seen it. We’re gonna give you all the details you need to follow along.

Before we get started, a special shout out to our New York City friends. We’re gonna be recording a live episode of This Movie Changed Me as part of the Werk It women’s podcasting festival from WNYC Studios. We’re partnering with NewFest’s LGBT Film Festival, and our live recording will be happening on November 14 at 7 p.m. at The Greene Space. Don’t miss all of the movie lovin’ fun. Buy tickets now at werkitevents.com.

[music: “The Lonely Shepherd” by Gheorghe Zamfir]

Whenever I have to face a really big problem in my life, I always go back to the coffin scene in Kill Bill 2, and I think about Uma Thurman as The Bride trying to break through this piece of wood above her in the most painful and terrifying situation: being buried alive underground. I picture her hitting it over and over again, and it automatically makes me feel like I can take on the world. I can do anything — which is why it’s so hard to now have Kill Bill 2 also associated with the reality of what making that movie was like for Uma Thurman. In the past couple of years since the #MeToo movement began, we now know what she went through: the abuse, both physical and verbal, that she experienced while filming the movie. It’s really hard not to see this film now in that context. But the movie still has so much to teach us and so much to glorify about the strength and power of women, and I’m gonna choose to focus on that instead.

When I’m talking about Kill Bill 2, I should say that I’m also talking about Kill Bill: Volume 1. These two movies are tied both in my head and as a series. We start off in the first film meeting The Bride and going on this journey with her of revenge. The most horrible things that can possibly happen to any human being happen to this woman. In Kill Bill 2, we continue to see her fight, to get her revenge, to get justice. She kicks ass all the while doing it.

[music: “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” by Hotei]

[excerpt: Kill Bill: Volume 2]

The Bride, as played by Uma Thurman, is part of a group of assassins. She decides that she wants out. She’s fallen in love, she’s pregnant, and she no longer wants to be killing people. She tries to get out, but Bill, the Bill of the title, doesn’t want to let her go, and he assigns every former member of her crew to try and kill her.

[excerpt: Kill Bill: Volume 2]

In Kill Bill 2, we see The Bride pursuing her revenge again, but we also see her persevere. As I mentioned before, one of my favorite scenes in the movie is when she has been left for dead in a coffin buried underground, and she just tries her best to get out of it by hitting with her hand, literally her hand, the coffin top above her. It is such a great metaphor for the entire movie, which is: She will persist, and she will find her way out.

[excerpt: Kill Bill: Volume 2]

Uma Thurman has made dozens and dozens of films, played a variety of characters throughout her career. Yet the character of The Bride is the movie that women come up to talk to her about the most. It’s because of this representation of strength and perseverance and persistence, but also the vulnerability that she exhibits in the movie as The Bride. That’s something that Lauren Wilford really connected to because throughout times in her own life, times of anxiety and stress and depression and just the general shit that the world throws at you, she can always turn to The Bride for that source of strength and determination.

Ms. Percy: Well, Kill Bill is obviously two movies, and Kill Bill 2 is my favorite of the movies.

Lauren Wilford: Me too.

Ms. Percy: Watching, as I was getting ready to talk with you, something that I had never really thought about or put into words came to mind, which is that this is my Rocky. [laughs]

You know how men talk about Rocky, and they talk about Rocky Balboa and the character and how it inspires them. I’ve always been jealous of that until I saw Kill Bill, and I was like, oh my God. This is our Rocky. For every woman, The Bride is our Rocky Balboa. I know that The Bride is such an important figure for you. You’ve written about her extensively. I just want to read some of what you’ve written about her, because it’s so beautiful and so precise.

You talk about how The Bride helped me become a better woman, “helped me be a better woman.” “When she awakens from a coma, she makes it her mission to find and kill the ones who did this to her. She slays scores of men in a single fight, plucks out eyeballs, and punches her way out of a buried coffin. She trains hard and runs and pants and screams, laser-focused on the task before her, often covered in sweat and dirt and blood. Her skills may be larger than life, but she’s a human being through and through, determined and vulnerable.” Why was The Bride such an important figure for you?

Ms. Wilford: I got to be 22 years old and realized that I still didn’t have very good mechanisms for growing or enduring or getting out of a tough spot. There was kind of a learned helplessness that I had acquired. Part of that is just me and my makeup and my personality, but part of that, I think, relates to some of the encultured ideas that I soaked up in my environment.

Ms. Percy: Growing up in a Christian high school, right?

Ms. Wilford: Yeah. It was quite a conservative place — and a place that I do feel indebted to for a lot of things. But there was this thing that they called the “honor code.” And it was this very gendered language, prescriptive charts, almost, of the sort of virtues that they hoped that young men would pursue and the virtues that they hoped young women would pursue. The virtues that they allowed young ladies to pursue, they were more passive. They were verbs of being: “She is gentle. She is kind.” But in the male category, they had all the active ones: “He is courageous” and “He stands up for what he believes.” They had versions of these on the feminine side, but they were always qualified in some way: “She is assertive, but not confrontational.”

It was a tightrope thing. I don’t blame any particular person, but I definitely, through all of the media I consumed and subtle messaging, absorbed the idea that responsibility and courage and toughness and all of these active virtuous qualities are things that men pursue, and women can figure out how to “be” better, but it’s not about “doing.” That kind of thing really got under my skin, to the point where I ended up out of college, an adult, and if something is asked of me that seems too difficult, there’s nowhere to go.

Ms. Percy: All women get this message to a certain extent. It’s not just in religious institutions. But something else that I know you’ve written about is your own struggle with anxiety. I’m curious as to why The Bride was so important to you in that regard.

Ms. Wilford: At the time that I first saw Kill Bill, I was definitely really dealing with seeking therapy for something that had become an increasing problem, which I eventually learned to call panic attacks, which were becoming overwhelmed with anxious emotion to the point where I would have these crying fits and just shake. Yeah, it had gotten quite bad, in that regard.

“Helplessness” is a word I’ll return to for that because that’s how it feels when one of those washes over you. To this day, they happen. They would happen at places like work. I would be at the coffee shop, and I would get too many orders at once and freeze and not feel that there was a way out, and it would…

Ms. Percy: That’s so hard.

Ms. Wilford: Basically, when presented with a task that just felt too difficult or like it overloaded the system, that’s when I would get flooded with these feelings. To bring it back to the character of The Bride and Kill Bill, particularly in Volume 2 when she is, perhaps, in more difficult situations sometimes than she was in the first one, put into a situation that feels impossible and is asked, nonetheless, to do something about it. The part where she’s buried alive…

Ms. Percy: Yeah, that coffin scene.

[excerpt: Kill Bill: Volume 2]

Ms. Wilford: To me, at the time, you put yourself in the shoes of the protagonist, whenever you watch a film, and I sort of think, “Well, I would just die. I would be dead. [laughs] If somebody buries me alive, I will suffocate.” The fact that we go from — her in the coffin is the beginning of the scene, and then we flash back to the entire training sequence with Pai Mei.

Ms. Percy: Where he tells her, “It’s the wood that should fear your hand, not the other way around,” which is such an amazing thing to say. I often repeat that to myself in really hard situations, and I think about her just hitting that coffin, that wooden coffin.

Ms. Wilford: I just got chills when you said it because, like when you said “It’s our Rocky,” I think that we still really lack in our culture for narratives and images of women undergoing really difficult challenges, even specifically physical challenges where they are asked to be better than they think that they can be. Pai Mei is a kung fu, exaggerated version of being tough on somebody, but men have all kinds of those narratives, even…

Ms. Percy: In Karate Kid, Rocky… [laughs] I think of every single sports film. There’s always that teacher.

Ms. Wilford: Right. That teacher who’s tough on you. And for whatever variety of reasons — maybe because my anxiety disorder made people a little leery of being too tough on me, which I understand, [laughs] — I hadn’t developed a sense for what it meant to push yourself.

Ms. Percy: And to prove to yourself that you could do it.

Ms. Wilford: Yeah. My boss at the coffee shop that I was working at, at the time, gave me this performance review that — essentially, he was like, “I don’t know if this is gonna work out for you, but I want it to. I don’t want you to not work here. But you don’t want you to work here, because you’re not on your own side. You’re waiting to watch yourself fail at something, and then once you do, you spend the whole time beating yourself up. That’s where all your energy goes: into self-scrutiny and then self-punishment, flagellation. And then, where is anything left over to give to anybody else, to let yourself fail once and keep going?” It’s something that I’m still very much struggling to learn, but I at least have sort of a category for it now.

Ms. Percy: And then to see The Bride, who, time and time again, is faced with every possible difficulty — literally, is resurrected. That image and the figure of her — I can see why she would be so important to you.

Ms. Wilford: I think that something about her character that was so important to me and that remains so important to me is that Uma Thurman’s performance — she is sort of a consummate badass. There is nothing about her that is not totally intimidating in her power. And yet, that can coexist with absolute vulnerability.

Ms. Percy: Yes, there’s always that balance.

Ms. Wilford: We can see this towering achievement of the fight scene where she slays the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill, Volume 1, to Kill Bill, Volume 2, she gets shot full of rock salt, and when she burst forth from that grave just absolutely caked in mud that is on top of her sweat, and the idea that somebody could be that competent and that sure of what she wants and also that — “vulnerable,” I guess, is the word. “Weak” isn’t the word.

Ms. Percy: No, “vulnerable.”

Ms. Wilford: She’s not weak.

[excerpt: Kill Bill: Volume 2]

[music: “The Chase” by Alan Reeves, Phil Steele, and Philip Brigham] 

Ms. Percy: I hope you’re enjoying my conversation about Kill Bill 2 with Lauren as much as I am. If you haven’t seen the movie, we’d love to give you the gift of watching it. We recently heard from a This Movie Changed Me fan about a previous episode with Now, Voyager. She hadn’t seen the movie, so we sent her our DVD copy. Be the first person to email us at tmcm@onbeing.org about Kill Bill 2, and we’ll be happy to do the same for you. That’s tmcm@onbeing.org. Help us expand our movie-loving empire.

Ms. Percy: One of my favorite scenes, and I think this really exemplifies what you’re talking about, is that last scene that we see. She’s been reunited with her daughter. Her daughter’s watching cartoons, and she’s in the bathroom. She’s crying and laughing at the same time, kind of hysterically. And she’s just saying, “Thank you, thank you.” Then the last words we see on the screen are, “The lioness has rejoined her cub.” I just think about how representative that is of what we as women go through, which is a desire to be strong but not to lose that vulnerability that makes us so powerful.

Ms. Wilford: I think that’s also a great thing about this film, is that motherhood is an important part of who she is, and that that comes at no expense of how incredible of a fighter or an assassin she is.

Ms. Percy: It’s not “either/or.” It’s “and.” She is all of these things.

Ms. Wilford: Right. That pivot that occurs at the very end when she goes into Bill’s house, and she has the gun, and she’s looking real slick. She’s about to assassinate him, and then the “Bang, bang, Mommy!”

[excerpt: Kill Bill: Volume 2]

That moment on Uma’s face, where she has that reaction to first seeing her, and there’s a long pause there. Then she snaps into that performance of “Oh, I’m dead.” In that moment, she flipped from assassin to mother, and those things are all within her: that she’s allowed to fully be a woman in everything that means and all of the possibilities for that, and that neither of those qualities are cut off from her or inaccessible to her.

Ms. Percy: That’s so true. Since the first time that you saw this movie, how do you think that it’s changed for you as you’ve gotten older? How have you grown with it?

Ms. Wilford: I think that initially I responded to the sheer grit of watching a woman have to be as strong and tough as she was. That was such a pure expression of that. That was something I felt that I could tap into when I was having a tough day at my coffee shop job. It was a little more about how badass it was.

Ms. Percy: Yeah, because that’s what you needed then.

Ms. Wilford: It was. There’s a really special thing that happens in Volume 2, where we get the flashback to Bill telling her about Pai Mei and the legendary five point palm exploding heart technique. The flashback — she’s playing younger. They’re by this fireside, and Bill plays her a song. It’s a romantic scene. She’s hanging on his every word.

[excerpt: Kill Bill: Volume 2]

She’s really enraptured with him — “And what is this five-point palm exploding heart technique?” [laughs] He’s clearly getting a kick out of being able to teach her something about it.

To track the whole arc of that story, from when he tells her that, to actually dropping her off at Pai Mei’s place — she’s got her huge pack on, and he’s like, “He’s not gonna go easy on you” — to the final meeting between the two of them, in which she does it on him, and he can’t believe that he would’ve taught it to her. This moment of ultimate respect that Bill has for her in that moment — that those characters are allowed to really regard one another, finally — the arc of that whole thing, that she’s able to come to him as a fully trained fighter, a fully formed adult, an autonomous person outside of that relationship — that’s meaningful.

[excerpt: Kill Bill: Volume 2]

Ms. Percy: I never thought of it that way. I could see the parallels in your own life and how that would be really meaningful.

Ms. Wilford: Yeah, with regard to relationships, I see her in the first scene as me in some of my past relationships, maybe, of playing the girl a little bit more…

Ms. Percy: Yeah, letting your partner be the teacher and stroking the ego. [laughs]

Ms. Wilford: I want to be fully equal in my partnership and to fight hard enough to earn his respect. I’m trying to do that in my life. That’s kind of where I’m at now at 27, as opposed to 22.

Ms. Percy: Still on the journey. I love it.

Ms. Wilford: Yeah, for sure.

[music: “The Demise of Barbara and The Return of Joe” by Ennio Morricone]

Ms. Percy: Lauren Wilford is a senior editor at Bright Wall/Dark Room, an awesome and thoughtful movie magazine that we all frequently devour here at the office. She is also the co-author of The Wes Anderson Collection: Isle of Dogs with Ryan Stevenson. Her fascinating Christ and Pop Culture piece “Killing the Spirit of Fear: How Female Action Heroes Can Help Women Live Courageously” inspired this conversation, so definitely check it out.

Our next episode will be the last of our first season. You don’t want to miss it; I’m going to be talking with the fantastic Amy Choi of The Mash-Up Americans about the movie that changed her life, The Joy Luck Club. Fair warning: It’s a tear-jerker, but it’s worth every single tissue. If you want to check that movie out before the conversation, you can find it streaming in all of the usual places.

[music: “Woo Hoo” by The 5.6.7.8’s]

This Movie Changed Me is produced by Maia Tarrell, Chris Heagle, Tony Liu, and Kristin Lin, and is an On Being Studios production. Follow us on social media if you want to continue the conversation with us after the episode is over. We’re on Twitter @TMCMpodcast or Facebook and Instagram @thismoviechangedme, all one word.

I’m Lily Percy. Excuse me while I go hit a piece of wood over and over again.

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