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Romance for the Ruined

Film Review
Ciaran O’Brien

Romance for the Ruined

Tarantino is a man whose reputation varies somewhat depending on who you talk to. To some he’s a legend who’s directed some of the greatest movies of the last thirty years, while to others he’s unoriginal, a plagiarist and peddler of the grotesque. To some he’s a racist because of his unabashed use of that magic word which only black people can say, and to others he’s a race cuck for producing movies like Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight, and Inglourious Basterds.

But Tarantino’s films have, from the beginning of his career to today, been about violence and style first and foremost, something which each of them pulls off spectacularly. They bring the cool factor, though none really have much in the way of a message. Sure, in his later movies, where he undoubtedly chose his side in the culture war, there was a nauseating level of liberal catharsis and anti-white themes, but if we look toward the man’s early screenplays, we find stories with a little more meat, and fewer left-wing themes.

Natural Born Killers offers a tremendous critique of media sensationalism, the violence it promotes, and the impact television and film play upon the American mind. Odd, coming from the man behind Kill Bill. Yet it is another of Tarantino’s screenplays which I believe offers the finest critique of modernity of them all, and perhaps without either Tarantino himself, or the director, having intended it to. It is a film often overlooked, but one which offers not just criticism of modern America, but a path out of the hellish, deviant decadence of our current zombie state.

The film in question is 1993’s True Romance, with a star-studded cast of greats including Gary Oldman playing the ethnically confused Drexl, Christopher Walken as the mobs main man who isn’t best pleased about what his great-great-great grandmother got up to, and Patricia Arquette as the trashy but endearing Alabama, along with Christian Slater as the lead, Dennis Hopper, James Gandolfini, and more.

If you count yourself among the mass who consistently surprise me by not having seen this movie, then do yourself a favour and watch it. It oozes all of the cool and style you’d expect from a Tarantino screenplay, and has an engaging story, fine acting, and one of the best mafia execution scenes you’re ever likely to watch.

The film starts by introducing Clarence (Christian Slater), who dwells in the dystopia that is Detroit. He is an Elvis-obsessed, nineties loser, living alone and working in a comic book store. It’s his birthday and he’s heading to the movie theater for a marathon of kung-fu movies which will be a highlight of his sad, modern life. Now, Slater hardly seems loser material at first. He’s a good looking guy after all, and isn’t overweight or acne-ridden as one might expect for a comic book geek. But he lacks confidence because he’s never been tested, reminding one of so many real-world cases of potentially fine men made soft and driven into awkwardness and inadequacy by the ease of modern living. These men are all around us in the West, and Slater does a fine job in the role.

Enter Alabama (Patricia Arquette), the bleach-blonde sweetheart who accidentally spills popcorn all over Clarence. The two hit it off, sitting together throughout the marathon and then heading off to grab pie in an all-night diner, a charming slice of Americana which has survived the atom bomb of progress that has obliterated the city. While she smokes cigarettes, and he over-sweetens his coffee, the two get to know one another. Alabama is driving the encounter all the way, but Clarence goes with the flow, remaining as composed as he is able. They head to his work, where she’s impressed by his comic book knowledge, and then back to his place where they make love.

Now, if a big-titted blonde coming out of nowhere, swooning over a guy’s Spider Man knowledge, and steering the encounter right to the bedroom sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. Actually, Alabama is a whore, hired by Clarence’s boss to meet him at the theater and show him a good time. Yet, Alabama falls for Clarence and comes clean to him in a moment of vulnerability.

What is immediately striking is the declaration of love the girl makes to him. The bar is not exactly high these days, but far from trying to defend or justify her degenerate lifestyle, she denounces it. It’s important to her that Clarence knows she is not “damaged goods”. She explains that she’s been a call girl for three days, has had four customers, and is completely monogamous when in a relationship.

Eye-watering as those numbers may be, Alabama strikes us as genuine. She doesn’t fit the typical mould of so many women today who sleep around in their twenties and thirties, only to declare themselves “ready to settle down” in middle age. She’s young for a start, and still holds her looks. Her honesty speaks to her character, too. She doesn’t have to tell Clarence the truth, after all, or express shame over her past, but when she does we see that she was a woman without hope, raised in the standardless manner of the modern day, and so lived poorly, a lifestyle which she regrets, and which she accepts Clarence has every right to reject her for.

Clarence accepts her apology, probably because he understands. He too has lived without hope or purpose, growing into his twenties without becoming a man. Now he finds a glimmer of hope in Alabama, and as the girl vows to leave her empty life of whoredom behind to embrace loyalty toward him, he sheds his perpetual adolescence and gives himself to her, the pair of them renouncing the American condition of consumerism, empty pleasures, and worship of self, for a tangible and beautiful good in the form of selfless love.

The two wed at the town hall the next morning and cement the unholy ceremony by getting matching tattoos (this is still a Tarantino screenplay after all). Afterwards, everything should be peachy. Clarence is no longer a lonely nerd, and Alabama is free of her sinful past. They have escaped the postmodern hell and found comfort in one another, but it isn’t enough. The thought that his wife’s pimp is still out there offends Clarence. Driven by pride, chivalry, and a unique madness which sees him talking to apparitions of a murderous Elvis Presley, the former nerd tucks a snub-nosed revolver into his sports sock and goes after the pimp, the aforementioned Drexel (Gary Oldman), to retrieve his wife’s belongings.

Clarence finds Drexel in a whore house and the encounter ends with blood. Not only that but the suitcase which Clarence takes (believing it to belong to Alabama), ends up being full of uncut cocaine which Drexel was selling on behalf of a Mafia boss called Blue Lou Boyle. It is with this cocaine, and with the mob on their tail, that Clarence and Alabama flee, stopping off at Clarence’s father’s trailer as they go.

After the father’s place, the two head for L.A., finding the City of Angels every bit as decadent and dystopian as Detroit, only with the misery bleached out by the sun. Here the couple hope to sell the cocaine at a discounted price so that they might escape the sinking ship of the United States for somewhere where a truer freedom can be enjoyed — the freedom to be left alone to start a family.

This is when things get out of hand. The police get involved, and a big-time Hollywood producer. The father has a showdown with Blue Lou’s main man in one of cinema’s tensest scenes, and the mafia finally catches up to the love struck couple. It all culminates in a cluster of action-packed mayhem with Clarence, Alabama, and a big suitcase full of coke caught in the middle. Throughout the story the pair’s love is tested, and comes through unscathed. It’s a spectacular watch.

But what does the movie say about America, and, less directly, the Western world which has fallen under its spell? Well, it says that it is failing. That the American dream has been poisoned. It paints the end stage of the American experiment, as an inhuman, inhospitable environment which stands against all that’s good and natural. Some, like Drexel and the producer, take to the dystopia, but for the likes of Clarence and Alabama the modern American lifestyle is a depressing affair which they partake in reluctantly, and which they will take great risks to escape.

As a solution True Romance offers love. It’s not just because the man in love becomes a better version of himself for his wife, and vice versa, but because, while modern liberalism promotes worship of the self, love requires that one gives oneself to another, meaning that love, marriage, and the starting of a family are the greatest acts of rebellion which one can muster against this hellish system in which we find ourselves. And while I know an ex-whore and a Schizophrenic comic book enthusiast aren’t exactly iconic right-wing archetypes, the reality is we’re all falling short of our potential until we find someone to love. The important thing with Clarence and Alabama is not their lifestyles before the movie takes place, but their rejection of these lifestyles for one another.

To me True Romance is a movie which, intended or not, sets a blueprint for escape from the emptiness of modern life. It is forgiveness for past weakness, rejection of the self, and the formation of nuclear families again, families which were once the vital building blocks of a better America and a stronger Western world. People say there is no fighting modernity, but True Romance says that love conquers all.

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