The Social Construction of Nature and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers
Is Version Of
Oliver Stone’s 1994 film Natural Born Killers was, upon its release, immediately revered and reviled by critics. This story of Mickey and Mallory Knox, two lovers who indulge in a killing spree across the American southwest, are subsequently caught and incarcerated, and then escape from prison in a violent jailbreak, has been celebrated as “a slap in the face, waking us up to what is happening” (Ebert), and dismissed as “an ejaculatory farce, but without satisfaction or rest” (Denby 46). Whether praising or condemning the film, the existing criticism on Natural Born Killers concerns itself almost wholly with two of the movie’s major themes: the perceived proliferation of violence in post-Kennedy America, and the predilection of American mass media for transforming murderers into global celebrities on a par with an Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe. But there exists a third major theme with which the film is intensely interested, but one which regrettably has not been fully analyzed by reviewers or scholarly critics: the ideological role of nature (in particular, of animals) in many arguments exploring the ineluctability of human violence and hence that violence’s amoral essence. Despite whatever shortcomings might prevent Natural Born Killers (henceforth referred to periodically as NBK) from being an entirely insightful analysis or original indictment of American violence or the mass media, this essay argues that it is as a serious interrogation of humanity’s complicated relationship with the natural world and its animal denizens that Stone’s film is redeemed from dismissal.
This is the accepted version of the following article: The Journal of Popular Culture Volume 45, Issue 3, pages 649–662, June 2012, which has been published in final form at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2012.00949.x/full.