Thursday, September 2, 2010

Kick-Ass as Anti-Narrative

Centuries ago in internets time Eli posed a question about Kick-Ass, arguably the most convincingly Tarantino-esque film not made by Tarantino himself -- which is not to say it's very Tarantino-esque, only that it comes closer than others that seem to be aiming for that mark -- and despite having watched it recently, I have no answer.

What I have instead is another unanswered question about the film, one that seems to cut directly into its self-stated moral: what is it saying about the intersection of life and fiction?

One of the film's first sequences presents an ordinary person making a fatal miscalculation of his mortal limits, and our narrator informs us he was drawn to this by the events we are about to see unfold. We are, from the first minutes, assured that the film will reveal a clear, bright line between "real life" and "comic book life."

The same precept is repeated a few more times, including a moment when the narrator steps to our side of the fourth wall and reminds us that we should not assume that his voice-over implies he will survive to the end of the tale. He gives the examples of American Beauty, Sin City, and a few other films in which the protagonist is the narrator, and yet the protagonist dies in the end.

Duly warned, the viewer braces for a brutal lesson in how life departs from fictionalized narratives -- the death of Kick-Ass himself, surely? -- only to find, by the tale's end, that a very conventional comic book story arc has unfolded: Kick-Ass is alive and has gotten the girl; Hit-Girl's retirement from superhero status is shown to be temporary; Red Mist is poised to continue the story in the most comic-book-conventional of terms -- he all but looks up from his father's graveside and vows "I shall avenge you!" in exactly the way Kick-Ass mocked earlier in the film.

I leave with my question: in what way did this film break comic book or superhero conventions? I could be wrong, but I say it broke nothing but its own explicit promise to show the limits of those conventions. In this sense, it is a narrative that insists it is not a narrative, proving that telling and showing are very different things, especially in film.

I enjoyed it, but it was not what it said it was -- or rather was precisely what it said it was not. Maybe that's the way it subverts the conventions it is aiming for: it is showing that these narratives lie.

* "Kick-Ass as Anti-Narrative" is a stupid title; arguably it is an anti-title. Please forgive me -- I majored in English, and it rots the mind in a particular way. Pity me.


larryniven said...

Well, the author's answer would probably be, "The bright line drawn between reality and fiction is depicted to the audience in the form of the continuing gulf between Kick-Ass and Big Daddy/Hit Girl"...but I wouldn't buy that. Hopefully the original graphic novel sticks a closer to its word.

Also, I have to ask: why in your mind was this not as Tarantino-esque as it could have been? I have an answer in my own mind, of course, but I'm curious to see if yours matches up.

Dale said...

LN, Mostly I didn't get the same feel or enthusiasm for sharp, witty dialogue in Kick-Ass as we get from Tarantino. The scene in which Big Daddy is in the interrogation/torture seat is the kind of scene that Tarantino would have drawn out by several minutes -- compare with some of the interrogations in Inglourious Basterds, the big one in Reservoir Dogs, and the moments at the back room of Zeke's in Pulp Fiction (etc). QT has a gift for making us cringe and laugh at the same time, but the scene in Kick-Ass was more basic / conventional.