Monday, June 11, 2018

DEATH PROOF, Incels, and Crybabies

by Patrick Bromley
One of my very favorite car movies is a movie we need right now.

For some reason, Death Proof takes a lot of shit. It is consistently referred to as writer/director Quentin Tarantino's worst movie. The director himself even did the movie dirty by ranking it at the bottom of his filmography. I get that it feels more 'slight' than his other work; after all, it was made to fill out the back half of Grindhouse and designed to function like a 1970s exploitation movie, complete with all the limitations and clunkiness that entails. But I would argue it's QT's more personal film, too, and one of the very best examples of its genre -- as car movies go, it's quite near the top. It's a shame that everyone is so quick to dismiss the film as a lark at best, a stunt at worst. Death Proof is a truly great movie.

It's also a movie that comments on a lot of the toxic shit that's going on right now, in large part because it's the same toxic shit that's been going for years: what was true in 2007 is still true today. But we've seen this ugliness appear in new ways and are calling it out more than before thanks to the #MeToo movement. At the same time, the "Incel" (involuntary celibate) fucks on Reddit -- the ones who think the government should be supplying them with a woman to act as their sexual slave, because this is a thing some men have been emboldened to think and say out loud in 2018 -- have given themselves a label and a philosophy that goes beyond even the usual hatred/fear of women. There is a certain kind of misogyny that has been labeled and codified now, as has the push back against it. Both sides have grown stronger as a result. I know which side is going to win in the end. So does Death Proof.
Stuntman Mike, the murderous antagonist of Death Proof played in a next-level great performance by Kurt Russell, is the Reddit poster boy. The only difference between him and one of these 4Chan dicks is that instead of sitting behind a keyboard, he's sitting behind the wheel of his 1970 Chevy Nova that's been reinforced so it's "100% death proof" -- for him, at least. It's here that he takes out his aggression against women for reasons never made fully explicit, as though a reason would explain such behavior. He is never said to be impotent, but is only able to perform in the driver's seat. Like these incel fucks, Mike believes he is owed something, insisting on collecting on a lapdance that Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier) promised listeners to her radio show would be delivered by visiting friend Arlene/Butterfly (Vanessa Ferlito). In the theatrical cut of Death Proof, he is "denied" even that; Tarantino inserts a "reel missing" gag that jumps ahead to after the dance. The extended European cut, in which Tarantino includes the entirety of the dance (set to The Coasters' "Down in Mexico"), sees Stuntman Mike still unable to close the deal. When he can't have Butterfly or any of her friends -- when he can hardly even relate to any of them -- he chooses to smash into them with his car, killing them all. The metaphor would be far less scary if it wasn't exactly what happened recently in Toronto, or a few years ago in Isla Vista.

And then there is Tarantino himself, who we now know was somewhat complicit in the years of sexual assault committed by Harvey Weinstein (in his own words, he "knew enough to know he should have done more"). He appears in Death Proof as the owner of the bar in which we first meet Stuntman Mike eating his nacho platter. He's also, coincidentally, the one guy familiar with Stuntman Mike. He tells the character played by Rose McGowan -- herself an outspoken real-life victim of Harvey Weinstein -- Stuntman Mike's name. She askes "Who's Stuntman Mike?" He responds "He's a stuntman." He knows who Stuntman Mike is, yet serves him anyway.
Having killed off a group of women who rejected him in Texas, Stuntman Mike turns up next in Tennessee. It's here that we are introduced to our second group of women, all of whom are working on a film set: an actress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a makeup artist (Rosario Dawson), and two stuntwomen (Tracie Thoms and Zoƫ Bell). Mike watches them but won't engage, only confident enough to approach when he's anonymously attacking them from the safety of his weapon of choice. It's telling that he chooses to attack while the women are together and having their own fun, playing a game of Ship's Mast on the hood of a "borrowed" white 1970 Dodge Challenger. ("The Vanishing Point car!") Look at any thread of women talking to one another on Twitter; it's only a matter of time before a man comes along uninvited and fucks it all up.

The difference this time is that this group of women aren't having any of Stuntman Mike's shit. His time, as they say, is up. He runs them off the road but fails to kill them, then gets out of the car and laughs, mistakenly thinking what he was doing was fun or funny. Instead of running away, Tracie Thoms' Kim takes out her gun and shoots him in the arm. He screams and speeds away, terrified to have the tables turned. The whole scenario plays out just like something I observed on Twitter last week, in which some fucking asshole inserted himself into the Twitter feed of a friend, thinking he was being cute or funny. When he was called out and put into his place, he immediately crumbled and fled back to his regular racist, misogynist timeline. Like Stuntman Mike and too many men before and after him, he was not used to being challenged for his shitty behavior. When he was, he retreated like the coward he is. Like the coward they all are.
Therein lies the masterstroke of Death Proof and its indictment of toxic masculinity: Stuntman Mike is a pussy. Kurt Russell is so, so good at creating a character who is all swagger and cool bravado as long as he's calling the shots, but collapses into a screaming, crying baby the second the women fight back. During the second half of what is, for me, the best car chase ever put to film, Stuntman cries and screams "I'm sorry!" all while fleeing the women giving pursuit. I love the way that Kurt Russell, in what is one of my very favorite of his performances, commits to making Stuntman Mike totally weak -- the cowardly side of the killer we never get to see in slasher movies. It's where we are finally seeing so many of the men who have spent years victimizing women as Stuntman Mike has: on the run and completely, totally fucked.

Tarantino, who knows how to deliver a satisfying ending (see also: Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill, and Django Unchained), gives Death Proof the most satisfying ending possible: the women run Stuntman Mike off the road, and while he's trapped and emitting a ridiculous, high-pitched scream, drag his body from the car and beat the shit out of him. Standing him up in the middle of the highway, they each take turns punching and kicking him, Tarantino's camera lingering on every blow to the extent that he occasionally freeze frames on the damage being inflicted. Those women deserve their revenge...and Stuntman Mike deserves to die.
Watching Death Proof in the throes of the #MeToo movement, the ending is especially resonant. We're seeing women who have been preyed upon by a creep and a criminal who has preyed upon a lot of women literally put their boot through his fucking face. They're Rose McGowan. They're Uma Thurman. They're Asia Argento and Mira Sorvino and Amber Tamblyn and every woman, celebrity or not, who has had enough and isn't going to take any more of this shit. If Stuntman Mike is every one of these raging, woman-hating incel assholes, Death Proof comes down decisively on their eventual fate. They're monsters, for sure, but they're also cowards destined to be felled at the boots of the women who are coming for them. If that isn't the message of the time, I don't know what is.

Oh, and the car chase really is super cool.

46 comments:

  1. I admit, first time i saw it i didn't like it at all

    Then i grew a brain, bought a Tarantino blu-ray set, watched it and loved it. I never saw the Grindhouse version, only the extended cut though

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  2. Did Patrick delete my comment?

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    1. "Hopefully I didn't mess it up too bad." You really, really, really did. Horribly. You've twisted a piece about guilt into a piece about self-righteousness. You've taken a piece that was supposed to say "I hate myself for being who I am" into a piece that says "They're like that, but not me or my friends, ladies... you can trust me." It's a piece about cowards by a coward.

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    2. *poltergeist II voice* Theeeeyyyyyyyre BAAAAAAAAACK

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    3. Je ...

      Someone hiding behind an anonymous account calling someone else a coward!

      Oh the irony


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    4. Really, the issue is, that I might as well be watching a Gavin McInnes or Alex Jones video right now instead of reading this. Once personal reaction to a piece of art has been superseded by the impulse to reinforce whatever viewpoint appears to be the appropriate, "moral" reaction... the artwork has been rendered inconsequential. Who needs flexible, ambiguous conversation when we've already decided what's up for debate and what isn't? The cultural climate has been measured... and now our only job is to assess how "correctly" the artwork produced within it conforms to that standard. Glorious free speech, but only in service of the "right" ideas that serve the "right" people. So noble.

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    5. Fuck you, Dennis. I know if I come out here as "myself" I'll either get condescension or belittlement. Don't try to bait me so cheaply and think that I don't know what you're doing. I dare you to say something of substance instead of taking the cheap shot. (& by the way, Patrick, you should expect more of this type of pointless conflict the more you introduce a pointless political angle into your writing. You're baiting people, not voicing dissent on their behalf. The conflict is already out there and HUGE, you're just bringing it somewhere it doesn't belong.)

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    6. I vote for the next article's comment section that we replace this "Anonymous" person, the one who complains about pointless conflict and of course has to bring exactly that rather than simple moving on (hey, whoever you are I'm sure the A*nt*itco*l jabroni's will welcome you with open arms) with Christopher Plummer! ;) ps. Excellent writing as always Patrick!

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    7. I'mma fuck the lymphatic fluid outta CP's sexy-ass toilet-paper ring; his Spacey-hole's gonna look 300 years old after I'm through with it

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    8. The dude started this site. Whatever he wants to write about, whatever he's thinking, that's what belongs here. It sounds like you're the one who doesn't.

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    9. And it sounds like thinking for yourself is a very low priority for you, Chayse.

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    10. Write this on the chalkboard a few times.

      Taking a moral stance on something important is a good thing.
      Taking a moral stance on something important is a good thing.
      Taking a moral stance on something important is a good thing....

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    11. So let me get this straight - you're someone that frequents this site with a "real" name, but every once in awhile you throw down with some very rude, very stupid shit as "Anonymous" because...what? You still want to have a friendly relationship with, say, Dennis or Patrick, but you also want to say "fuck you" to them sometimes? Come on, man, there's gotta be a way to deal with your frustration without trying to hurt people.

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    12. That's what I was thinking?

      Which seems kinda strange as we all enjoy to read other opinions about things and opposing views spoken in an intelligent thoughtfull way are respected here

      No need for hiding behind anonymous accounts

      In fact wouldn't it be a good thing to not allow them if this is what happens ?

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    13. Ha ha! That Bromley motherfucker did it!!! Anonymous posts are no longer an option. McCarthy lives.
      Epler: No, it's not! It's only making a decision about which party you'll join; the worst scene in movie history I can remember is Storm telling Wolverine, "At least I have chosen a side..." If there isn't a side worth choosing, what's the nobility in joining a party you don't believe in?? Don't participate!!!
      Sol/Dennis, aka skateboard alien fuckface: the problem is that I've lost my respect for the writers on the site; but giving them the identifying information they would like from me is only giving them the opportunity to attack who I am as opposed to what I'm saying. I will never have a friendly relationship with Dennis or Patrick (for obvious reasons); but they know that they stand against my opinions, and will use any information made available to them to discredit me. So fuck them; I don't need to give them any help.
      And bravo, Dennis, endorsing censorship of ideas that don't jive with what lets you get along; suppression of dissenting opinions is the surest road to progress, I guarantee it.

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    14. I'm not sure why you think you can separate who you are from what you're saying.

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  3. Michael GiammarinoJune 11, 2018 at 12:57 PM

    I've always felt there was one thing missing from Death Proof -- a coda where the gals rescue Lee and lay waste to Jasper.

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  4. The manbabies will come and throw their tantrums on this piece. Let them cry. You did well, here.

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    1. I remember being here when this was still a movie blog, not a "pass moral judgement on people who may not even exist" blog. Projecting an air of moral superiority during a month dedicated to exploitation film sure feels a little contradictory. It feels like standing in the street handing out trophies for "Most Sympathic White Person" during the Rodney King riots. (Watch Damon Packard's "Night Pulse", btw. It's exactly about this sort of shit.)

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    2. Sympathetic, not "sympathic". Fucking white people can't do anything right.

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  5. I've been a long time defender of Death Proof. Every few years I sit down and watch the theatrical version of Grindhouse, which is how I think the film plays best, and that car chase and ass-beating at the end is such a satisfying way to end the double feature. Great write-up. Now I need to watch it again.

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  6. Love this movie. It didn't click with the first time around and thought of it as a misstep from Tarantino (my favorite director), but upon rewatch, the "talkiness" of it use super interesting and clever, it's beautifully shot, oh and that car chase is pretty damn cool.

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  7. The part where Rosario (I think it was her) says something like "Ohhhhhh! You're sorry; you didn't mean it!!" and then proceeds to continue laying the wood to him.... I got a big chuckle out of it. That woman is a treasure among actors.

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  8. I've always loved the movie

    The smile at camera over The car gets me every time

    But more imporatant than the
    Movie are your words

    Im crying as I type this

    A Brilliant thoughtfully column

    Long may the women get revenge on any of the bullies out there




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  9. Great job, Patrick - my cousin's wife was one of the victims of the Toronto attack and I appreciate the strong language you use about these assholes - too much crazy shit is becoming normalized and this incel bullshit doesn't deserve any kind of soft approach.

    I hadn't thought about how much more relevant Deathproof has become but your analysis in the context of what's been going on lately is spot on. I was going to look for something a bit less mainstream for today's theme but I might have to give it a spin.

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  10. I love this article, Patrick. I'll admit that I didn't like "Death Proof" the first time I saw it, but it is one that I've been meaning to revisit for a while because I felt like I missed the point the first time. Your article has convinced me that I did miss the point, and it's time for a rewatch.

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  11. Is there any website talking about genre movies more intelligently?

    Great piece. I admit I thought Death Proof was just ok, but you've really shined a light on its deeper themes. I'll definitely give it another shot now.

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  12. Patrick "Hold My Beer" Bromley. Nice work.

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  13. Look girls Patrick's on your side! Praise him for being so brave as to turn a mediocre Tarantino film into a rallying cry for women! Let's not talk about how the dialogue is Tarantino trying to copy Tarantino and doing it horribly, how there's some truly god awful performances (Zoe Bell and Tracie Thoms stick out the most) how the second half basically repeats the first half and how the pacing is totally off. But hey it's women killing a man so that means it's good. I find it fascinating that you all give this dude so much credit when it's obvious in his basic writing that he's trying so hard to pander to you and get you to praise him for his political views. Congratulations you're against the horrible treatment of women. We get it and no shit you should be. Don't call attention to yourself for being so awesome when all of us as decent human beings should feel that way. But you'll get people on here stroking your ego so I guess you accomplished your goal for the day huh buddy? That car chase fucking rocks though.

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    1. I’m so very confused by this.

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    2. Nothing to be confused about. That's not Brundlefly, it's the inside-out Baboon.

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    3. So we can all be against misogyny, but we can't actually talk about it? Good to know, and that line of thinking has clearly done wonders for the movie industry thus far.

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    4. That is a really bad take. So a film must be a perfect 10 in order for someone to take meaning from it? And a person who loves both movies and women's rights is only combining the two things in a thoughtful piece in order to massage his own ego?

      Political views aside, this is an excellent example of film analysis. Using the themes and story of the film to apply to an issue that is relevant today is the best of what film analysis can be.

      Patrick, I can only hope you laugh-out-loud when you read comments like that. That person is ridiculous.

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  14. Patrick, you should finish your trilogy of "anonymous hard boys throw hissy fits in the comments" and review Red Pill next month.

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  15. Great article Patrick. This is the only Tarantino movie I haven't seen. We rented it once, but my GF watched it without me, and afterwards said it was terrible, so I gave it a pass. Maybe I'll rectify that tonight, for Carploitation day!

    Also, it'd be real nice if I never read the words "Snowflake", "Incel", or "cuck" ever again. There are days I want to bury my head in sand.

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  16. It's amazing how so many people who apparently really hate this site and really hate Patrick can't seem to stop themselves from reading it everyday. It really is some kind of compulsion they should get checked out.

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    1. I used to love the site... and then it turned into what every movie site I'd already given up on had become already.
      Junesploitation once was "let's watch sleazy stuff whether we're supposed to or not, because it's hilarious and fun!" Now it's "Oh fuck, how could anyone ever have tolerated this sleazy, misogynistic bullshit?! How will watching this help us protect the future for our daughterkins?" Fthismovie has become the Donald Sutherland that points at you, the reader, at the end of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake that has become your life.

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    2. You know dude if all these movie sites you're giving up on keep changing and leaving you behind maybe the problem isn't with them. Just sayin

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    3. You must have insanely low self-esteem if you think a writer advocating for the fair depiction of all people is talking down to you. Also, it's okay to disagree with the things the writers write and it's okay to mention it. But, as we've said before, do it like an adult. Put your name on it, and converse with other adults like an adult.

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    4. Voicing the opinion I have confidence in versus rolling over in the face of the opposition of a group larger than me = low self-esteem, obviously. Fucking idiotic, Brian. I don't need to pretend to have an "adult" conversation with the authors/commenters on this site, because I understand who they are and what they want. They want acceptance, not reason. hibachisocialjustice above you just demonstrated that: the popular idea is the correct idea. Be part of the group or be wrong. I am not interested in helping these scumbags course-correct; it's too late for them. If the words "Trump" or "Clinton" seriously cross your mind when considering the sources of the problems we face, you aren't capable of looking at the reality of who we are as people; you're a sheep in search of a scapegoat. The "conversation" on this site ended a year ago. I'm only hoping that someone might read what I'm writing here and decide to kick this site to the curb too. It's a wasteland now; it's a product, and no one should expect anymore honesty from its message than they would from the Coca-Cola company or from Disney. R.I.P.

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  17. Man, I have not seen this flick yet but I think its a must just so I can see what all the fuss is about.

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  18. Great article. One of your best pieces of film analysis.

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  19. Fuck. Yes. Disappointing even Tarantino doesn't know what he created, well, maybe Kurt Russel did simply by his portrayal. I'll give it to Kurt.

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