February 14th, the designated day to celebrate love around the United States and many parts of the world. Lots of people can purport to why we do this. Yes, it’s in honor of St. Valentine, but other than a name, not much else is known. And many of the traditions we practice on this day, like chocolate and flowers, were added on over the centuries. The history of Valentine’s Day is full of mystery and chaos which brings me to one of the most underrated movies to watch on this day of love — Natural Born Killers.
Did I lose you? No? Good. Hear me out. Sure, there are plenty of romantic movies to honor today. Some have already taken care of that. But I’m here to talk about an underrated 90s gem that most ignore as a violent, self-indulgent film. But Natural Born Killers is a rom-com all its own.
To refresh your memory, Natural Born Killers is a 90s action-satire from director Oliver Stone (loosely) based on a script by Quentin Tarantino. The final result is absolutely beautiful cinematic madness. Stone unleashes a storm of techniques to tell the story of Mickey and Mallory Knox, two star-crossed lovers and sociopaths. Imagine a rom-com starring The Joker and Harley Quinn. Mickey, played by Woody Harrelson and Mallory, played by Juliet Lewis are a modern day Bonnie and Clyde, killing and stealing their way across the country and into our hearts.
Turn down the over-the-top violence Stone used to enhance the satire, like an art-house Paul Verhoeven film. Remove the central concept that Mickey and Mallory are murderers. Take away the sleazy drug use and raunchy sex. Replace Harrelson and Lewis with Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock. What remains is a dark rom-com with some action. Robert Downey’s sensationalist journalist fits right in. Tommy Lee Jones’ prison warden continues as the a-hole protagonist.
But don’t take any of that stuff away. Watch the movie as is. It’s satire at its finest with plenty of action for those who need it and a twisted and tragic love story for the more character-driven folk.
Like any great satire, Natural Born Killers exists equally as an action movie and comedy with a streak of social commentary running through it. Obvious observations are how the media rewards murderers or how the public craves darkness. The film is a stark reminder of why “if it bleeds, it leads” is both logical and horrific. But beneath that surface it’s even something more — a love story.
Darker themes aside, I’m selling this as a great movie for Valentine’s Day and here’s why. At its core, if you just live vicariously through the sociopathic leads characters, you’ll find two people enjoying life together to its absolute fullest. Natural Born Killers is about the love of two people. As in any great romance, the relationship is strained by careers, in this case, “serial killing,” and infidelity, but in the end, love holds them together, for better AND definitely for worse.
On a meta-level, the way Oliver Stone filmed Natural Born Killers deserves examination from cinephiles (aka those in love with movies). The wild use of animation, black and white, color, saturation, editing, lighting, serve as a giant, love-letter to film. It’s as if Stone fell in love with all the potential of film all over again. Does it all work? No. But this isn’t a review. And one thing is for sure; there’s nothing else like Natural Born Killers.
Today we celebrate love. You can do it the old fashioned way with a movie that ends with a guy or girl running to catch someone at an airport or taxi. Or you can do it the Natural Born Killers way and hang on for a visceral ride. Nothing says love like a breathtaking adventure with a little murder and mayhem in the mix.