Madeleine Gaudin: The poison runs deep

Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - 4:34pm

NOSELL

Miramax

I once heard someone describe the soil in Hollywood as being poisoned, the idea being that the foundations of the industry itself were so toxic that nothing but toxic fruit could grow there. Poison fruit doesn’t always know it’s poison fruit. Such is the case with Quentin Tarantino. 

In an ideal world, I would never hear, say or think the words “Quentin Tarantino,” but I am a film major in 2018 with Internet access. So, here we are. 

By now, we all what the film-boy-fan-favorite put Uma Thurman through on the set of “Kill Bill.” Thurman broke her silence on Weinstein and his frequent collaborator via Maureen Dowd’s melodramatic New York Times profile. I could — for much longer than this column — pick apart the ways in which that piece does not do justice to the story Thurman has to tell. But that is someone else’s job.

If you weed through the white wine and the burning pizza boxes (details that in any other context would make me giddy), the facts of Thurman’s story expand the narrative that has already been set in motion by the #MeToo movement.

While working on the set of “Kill Bill,” Tarantino had Thurman operate a car she did not know how to drive. That alone is controlling and manipulative. But the event ended in a crash, which left Thurman with permanent and painful damage to her knees and neck. We’ve seen how short the shelf-life for a woman in Hollywood is. Because most women get pronounced dead on their 30th birthdays, they are treated with a profoundly dangerous disregard.

This revelation turns the floodlights on an already illuminated — but still willingly ignored — issue. Hollywood does not need women to be people, so it does not treat them as people. The physical and emotional safety of women only matters as long as they are a marketable product. And the second they no longer are, Hollywood has someone else lined up to take their place.

That’s why Tarantino can almost kill one of the greatest living actresses and give an “apology,” in which he never actually apologizes. It’s business as usual.

The problem with Hollywood is serial abusers and monsters like Weinstein. But the problem with Hollywood is also people like Tarantino who have adapted to that world without question, who learned the rules and played by them without question or hesitation.

That’s why it makes sense that this is the moment that Tarantino’s disgusting defense of Roman Polanski has resurfaced. His apology for this one is slightly more convincing, but does not in any way remove him from a crumbling institution of Hollywood masculinity. His defense of Polanski isn’t surprising because it echoes the weak defenses people like Diane Keaton and Alec Baldwin have given for Woody Allen.

Because defending these men isn’t just about upholding their character — it’s about upholding a system that allowed these people to succeed. Tarantino’s success in Hollywood depended on bad and powerful men. The industry that their toxicity created worked for him. Tarantino can see this world is (finally) dying and he’s flailing.

Tarantino’s love affair with the Hollywood culture of the Miramax/Weinstein company era shouldn’t come as a surprise. His films give us the clearest clues as to his internalization of the toxicity of that culture. How deep the poison has seeped, you could say.

There’s a myth that Tarantino’s films are “feminist” or in any way “pro-women.” It’s a myth. They’re not. Not only because they were made with a violent disregard for the safety and well-being of the women who were integral to their creation. The picture they paint of “strong,” “liberated” women is one rooted in violent male fantasy. Women — much like Thurman’s character in “Kill Bill” — are brutalized by men until they break. Only from that brokenness are they allowed to rise, an ascent (if you can ever call it that) that hinges on violent retribution. It’s momentarily satisfying, but thematically empty. These aren’t characters. These aren’t real people. They’re vehicles for Tarantino’s stylistic vision.

Just like Uma Thurman was a vehicle for his narrative. Just like countless women in the industry were means to some man’s end. Tarantino epitomizes a toxic moment in film culture. Every movie he made and every piece of information I learn about him further underscores this point.

But hopefully, that world is dying. And hopefully, Tarantino dies with it. The success of a movement like #MeToo is going to lie in the excavation of people like Tarantino whose offenses aren’t strictly criminal. Tarantino’s not going to jail for anything we currently know about, but he is actively upholding a version of Hollywood whose lifeblood is the exploitation and manipulation of women. Jailing the Weinsteins of the world only does so much when the Tarantinos walk free.

It’s the end of an era. See you in hell, Tarantino.

More like this