'Home Alone' is more disturbing than Tarantino's grisly fiction

Share
Related Topics
'BLOOD is a quite special sort of juice,' said Goethe. Our innards bob about in a warm soup of it; the state is organised in order to save ours and shed theirs; the Christian God is supposed to turn wine into it before the altar.

Blood as metaphor is the juice in which our imagination bobs. We think and dream in blood metaphors, but seldom meet the real stuff except in small, regulated displays like periods or shaving cuts. Britain is not a place where public carnage is often seen - except on motorways. And the more we use blood figuratively, the more shocking it becomes to encounter the thing itself. 'Bloodiness' or 'bloodshed' or 'blood brotherhood' are familiar in speech. But that red outpouring, which triggers uncontrollable reflexes of fear and pity, is something else: gore.

No representation of it really works. The reflexes vibrate, if the art is clever, but do not go into action. I had read dozens of 'realistic' war books when I first saw the blood of a brother-soldier in a puddle on the ground, but nothing prepared me for the flinch, the physical shying away, which the sight and the scent laid on me. Much later, in Algiers, I saw a chuckling torrent of blood running down a gutter and watched two French girls hop across it to avoid messing their shoes without losing a word of their conversation. The reality was unreal. Montrose was a soldier, but how could this be the fluid he meant when he promised his dead king to 'write thine epitaph in blood and wounds'?

I went to see Quentin Tarantino's movie Pulp Fiction the other day, on a rainy Glasgow evening. The audience was young: lads with their girlfriends.

Knowing little of Tarantino's reputation, I had veered into the Odeon simply because it was raining and I had time to kill before a train. At first I sulked. Everyone who appeared on the screen seemed detestable, but there was a hopeful prospect - after the first round of executions - that most of these geeks would wipe one another out. That would be worth waiting for.

Around me the damp audience goggled, uncertain how to react. The appearance of John Travolta created only a faint stir. The first red splatters on walls, and the sight of heroin brewing on a spoon, were greeted with uneasy silence. But then, gradually, the cunning farcicality of the movie began to sink in. These figures, with their guns and wisecracks and drugs, were just that: figures, and no more. Trying to work out who was better or worse was missing the point. These were puppets without qualities. One gunman says to another: 'Let's get into character; let's go to work]' That was it. They had no character except what they did, except what the film did. The young Glaswegians relaxed, sensing that no moral response whatever was asked from them.

They began to snigger. And then, at the scene which is sickening to describe -a woman overdoses heroin and passes out in a muck of blood and spittle, saved from death by a terrified gangster who stabs her in the heart with a syringe of adrenalin - they burst into wild laughter. I found I was laughing too.

From that moment, artful Tarantino had his way with us. It was grisly farce, in which washing blood and brains off two killers and the car in which they had accidentally blown somebody's head off became funny. Only art can do this sort of thing, and Tarantino has diabolical talent. Not that his cleverness always worked. A man dying in agony with his groin blown out was suddenly not funny, and at that instant Tarantino's suspension of human sympathy collapsed. The treatment of blacks (here invariably called 'niggers') as sadistic monsters or destined victims was sinister: a nudge in the ribs of audiences assumed to be racist.

But I left the cinema feeling diverted rather than defiled. Sometimes, after a good film, you find yourself on the pavement in a daze, stunned with images and emotion. This time, as I buttoned up my coat in the drizzle of Hope Street, there was no buzz of any kind. I felt unchanged - much as I went in, but drier. For the last couple of hours, I might as well have been playing a computer game.

Next day, I read some of the reviews. Many were adoring, and they were not very interesting. These critics did not even find the film astonishing. A few reviews were hostile, but seemed to say important things even when, in my view, they were mistaken.

Bryan Appleyard, in the Independent, complained that Pulp Fiction expressed the 'smart young mood of the hour: being authentic, being in the muddy, bloody mess of things, is where it's at'. But there is nothing remotely authentic about Tarantino's movie. It is utter escapism. Nothing could be less like the experience of actual carnage than the experience of sitting in the dark and watching Pulp Fiction. The more scarlet gunk spouts 'realistically' from some human face, the less you are prepared for the moment when (if you are unlucky) you see this in life.

And that is how Tarantino wants it. He is, if the terms can be used as description rather than insult, a nerd and a wanker. In other words, he is entirely committed to simulating rather than doing, to 'virtual reality' rather than reality, to inventing his world on a screen rather than looking at it through the window.

The other impressive attack came from Mary Kenny in the Daily Mail. It was impressive because it was the straightforward protest of traditional Christian moralising. She found the film disgusting and dangerous. It would probably encourage young people to imitate its callous violence, to adopt its modish indifference to human values. It treated human life as trash, reflecting a 'decadent emptiness' in culture. It betrayed art, whose purpose was 'to inspire and ennoble, as well as hold the mirror up to nature'.

I cannot imagine that anyone will go out and try to play Pulp Fiction on the streets. It is a lurid farce, which is funny precisely because it manages to prevent the audience identifying with any of its cardboard characters - it would be like identifying with a Keystone cop, or Bugs Bunny. The films that really did worry me on that imitation count were the Home Alone movies, aimed at children, which constantly suggest that if you smash an iron bar across someone's skull or drop a piece on concrete on him from a roof, he will stagger away more or less intact.

As for art, there is more to it than the art which ennobles or mirrors. Art is every work of imagination which grabs a human being by the skill of its artifice: not just books and paintings, but a circus act, a computer game on disk, even an elegant fraud or a dazzling courtship. They need not have anything to do with nature or moral improvement.

Pulp Fiction certainly has nothing to do with either. But there has to be a bit of the nerd and wanker in every artist who invents a reality. The trouble with Tarantino is that his bit leaves little room for anything else.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
 

Labour's Simon Danczuk is flirting with Nigel Farage, but will he answer his prayers and defect?

Matthew Norman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick