25th Anniversary Screening
To exist during the first half of the 1990s was to be barraged by an unrelenting, round-the-clock news cycle of war and courtroom spectacle (a prelude to reality TV, or maybe an amuse-bouche). This was an era where the mainstream media doubled-down on the “if it bleeds it leads” ethos, with pervasive, nonstop coverage of criminal court proceedings like the Menendez brothers saga, the Rodney King police brutality legal battle, the Tonya Harding vs. Nancy Kerrigan case, and the Branch Davidian siege, culminating in the ultimate media circus frenzy, the O.J. Simpson murder trial (which, incidentally, caused many judges to banish cameras from their courts in a rare moment of collective self-reflection).
While director Oliver Stone was preparing the project that was to become NATURAL BORN KILLERS, he was struck by the media’s dark influence on these and many other court cases through brute-force omnipresence and the indefatigable peddling of the most violent and sensational stories as ratings bait. And thus one of the bleakest satirical takedowns of the media to ever grace celluloid was born.
NATURAL BORN KILLERS follows Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis)—a pair of abuse survivors bound by mutual love and a passion for murder and mayhem—and a vampiric media personified by Robert Downey, Jr.’s Aussie shock-reporter, Wayne Gale, chronicling the feedback loop frenzy of heightening violence and ratings that come to pass through their symbiosis. Violence begets infamy ad infinitum and everyone wants a piece.
A tale told in four parts, NATURAL BORN KILLERS’ style playfully cranks the vice of media bombardment with skull-crushing intensity: sound bites, commercial jingles, top 40 earworms, jarring rom-com and mock-sitcom intrusions, laughtracks, and bloody images form a sensory assault that mirrors the mindless cycle of content chumming and consumption that persists to this day. The film’s ignition of worldwide controversy and pearl-clutching over what was then seen as nothing more than a vapid and gratuitous hyperglorification of violence and destruction should come as no surprise; ugly, angry, hilarious and boundary-pushing art is never well-received by the masses, especially when it’s equal parts cautionary tale and putrid prognostication of a numbed society gone off the rails in the name of entertainment. No one wants to reckon with their own complicity in this. Which brings us to today and our pocket tyrants, ceaseless notifications and messages, where mass shootings are endlessly scrutinized, debated, and even openly lauded in certain corners of the Internet. Stone and story writer Quentin Tarantino saw what was coming, and here we are.
Follow us down a candy lane of murder and mayhem as we revisit a masterpiece that was far ahead of its time; Beyond Fest is honored to close out our 7th edition in conversation with its visionaries, cinema legends Oliver Stone, Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, and Don Murphy.
Director: Oliver Stone
Hulu Theatre @The Egyptian