Natural Born Killers: Beyond Good and Evil
Heidi Nelson Hochenedel
Natural Born Killers, directed by Oliver Stone, is a multifaceted film that deals with an array of cultural and philosophical issues, such as the role of media in our culture, the glamorization of violence, free will, and fate. The purpose of this essay is to explore some of these issues from a philosophical perspective to show that the film has a specific philosophical agenda. I will discuss Stone's criticism of the media and his understanding of the relationship between sex and violence, but more importantly, in the second part of this paper, I shall examine the spiritual and philosophical ideas that he addresses. Recent interpretations of NBK have ignored the iconoclastic ideas promoted in this film, preferring instead to focus on the conspicuous and socially admissible anti-media message. We shall see that Stone's commentary goes far beyond criticizing social institutions and generates radical and revolutionary solutions to timeless philosophical riddles such as what it means to be human and how human beings ought to live their lives.
Media and the Trivialization of Human Experience
NBK's parody of sensational journalism is impossible to ignore. In the film, Wayne Gayle, played by Robert Downey Jr., hosts, writes, directs, and produces his own show, "American Maniacs." Gayle makes no secret of the fact that his show is void of real content, referring to it as "junk food for the brain." He nonchalantly repeats the previous evening's show, noting that the "nitwits out in zombie land" will never know the difference. In NBK Gayle symbolizes all media. This point is made clear at the end of the film, when Mickey (played by Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (played by Juliette Lewis) shoot the reporter saying: "Killing you and what you represent is a statement. I'm not a hundred percent sure of what it's saying. Frankenstein killed Dr. Frankenstein." Stone's point seems to be that sensational news media promotes and reflects itself, packaging violence and fear into commodities to be sold to the public.
Sitcoms and cartoons are other targets of satire in NBK. Mallory's home life and her first encounter with Mickey are couched in a T.V. sitcom parody entitled "I Love Mallory." Mallory's father (played by Rodney Dangerfield) is an obvious imitation of Jackie Gleason. In this scene an extremely abusive dialogue is couched in the context of comedy. The music and laugh track distort the content of the exchange and numb the audience to the reality of the situation, trivializing this atrocious scene of incestuous abuse. Sitcoms have a long history of trivializing abuse. In the Honey Mooners, one of the first sitcoms on television, Ralph's constant threat to beat Alice ("to the moon Alice, to the moon!") is treated comically. Similarly, Mallory's sexually abusive father seems less malign in the sitcom context.
The savage violence of Saturday morning cartoons is also parodied in NBK. When Mickey storms into Mallory's house and murders her father, the cartoon sound effects after each slam and slug surround an otherwise grisly scene with an unreal aura. The murder of Mallory's parents (and all subsequent murders) seems no more significant than a fight scene between Coyote and Roadrunner. The couple shows no remorse. Stone suggests that this callousness is due to their desensitization to violence by too much exposure to media. This point is underlined in the shaman's hut when he sees the word "demon" and "too much T.V." projected onto Mickey and Mallory. There seems to be an equation set up between the demon and the media. Stone suggests that desensitization to violence by too much exposure to media creates evil.
Stone also suggests that respected members of the community are to blame for the distortion and trivialization of the human experience. The psychiatrist who is interviewed on "American Maniacs" dismisses Mickey and Mallory's family history as insignificant, speculating that they were probably never the victims of sexual abuse. When asked how he feels about the fact that Mallory wants to kill him, he replies that he never believes what women say, repudiating her threat because she is a woman. Ironically it is precisely Mallory's anger at being dismissed as a sexual object that motivates her to kill. One of the first people to die in this film is the redneck who says, "You call her Mallory, I call her pussy." Stone's point is simple: the consequences of trivializing human experience, and dismissing the violent potential of anger, can be deadly.
While it is true that Stone takes a stand against media and its role in trivializing and distorting life, his film also packages death and violence and sells it to consumers. He, like those he criticizes, trivializes murder by repeating it throughout his film, effectively desensitizing the audience to extremely gruesome scenes. Like Wayne Gayle, Oliver Stone promotes the celebrity status of Mickey and Mallory. In short, Stone's movie is precisely what it claims to oppose. Nevertheless, this is not a weakness of the film. It would be impossible to criticize media's role in trivializing violence without also reflecting this reality. Moreover, Stone is quite aware of what he is doing. During the hotel room scene in which Mickey and Mallory make love, Scarface, a violent film written by Stone, is playing in the background. Mickey says: "I've been thinking about why they're always making these stupid fuckin' movies. - Doesn't anyone believe in kissing anymore?" Stone is quite aware that films, specifically his films, create negative images, which desensitize their viewers and trivialize human experience. In this way he attacks Hollywood in general and himself in particular.
Sex and Violence
One of Stone's greatest achievements in this film is to illustrate the relationship between sex and violence and to show how perpetrators of violence become objects of sexual desire in our culture. In a cheap hotel, as Mickey is kissing her thigh, Mallory attempts to get turned on by watching violent scenes on television. Mickey can only get excited by keeping his eye on the hostage. Clearly, the couple cannot become aroused without violent imagery. After the diner massacre, they passionately embrace and look ready enough for a sexual encounter, yet naked on a bed in a hotel room, they are unable to become aroused. Their physical passion is so confused with feelings of aggression that they cannot feel desire without also experiencing emotions associated with violence. In Stone's view, the media pervert sexual desire by confusing the categories of violence and sex. Mickey and Mallory's arrest illustrates how the media encourages the association of sex and violence by the erotic language the news reporter uses to describe this violent scene. The reporter first relates that Mickey is "quite virile" and wielding a "big gun." Mickey's gun is clearly identified with his penis and his gunfire with ejaculation. When he is finally subdued, she reports that he has been "rendered impotent." The reporter has clearly drawn a relationship between getting murdered and getting laid. At the trial, Mickey and Mallory's fans carry signs that say "Murder me, Mickey." In preparation for his interview with Mickey, Wayne Gayle interviews people around the world, making it clear that Mickey and Mallory have become international sexual icons in a culture that simultaneously condemns and glorifies murder and sex. .
Authenticity, Fate, and the Theology of Mickey Knox
Mickey and Mallory are appealing not only because they are sexual icons but also because they are authentic, or, as Mickey later puts it, "pure." They act without censorship and simply are who they are. Like the news media, Mickey and Mallory are exhibitionists, promoting themselves as shamelessly as Wayne Gayle, which is why they often leave a survivor behind to tell the tale of their latest massacre. The difference between the Knoxes and the media is that they do not portray themselves as something they are not. Mickey and Mallory are murderers, but they have a strong ethic of authenticity. By refusing to dissimilate their actions, they affirm themselves and their choices. The sensational news media, on the other hand, masquerades as objective news coverage selling violence to the public by packaging it as sex. In this way Stone sets up a Sartrian dualism between the Knoxes and the media - between authenticity and bad faith. At one point during the prison interview, Wayne Gayle asks Mickey if his rampage was worth the consequence of being separated from his love for the rest of his life. To this Mickey replies: "You mean was an instant of my purity worth a lifetime of your lies?" Obviously this is a rhetorical question, the answer to which is "yes."
This film resists the traditional categories of good and evil, law and lawlessness; rather it deconstructs them by exploring the criminal natures of the cop and even some of the victims (Mallory's parents for instance). Super-cop Scagnetti, played by Tom Sizemore, for instance, brutally strangles Pinki, the prostitute. Like the Knoxes, Scagnetti is a killer, and like Gayle, he is an inauthentic self-promoter who has recently written a best-selling book, Scagnetti on Scagnetti. NBK also resists the categories of innocence and guilt. Mickey actually talks about himself as "pure" or innocent, and about his victims as guilty. When Wayne Gayle asks Mickey how he could have brought himself to kill 52 innocent people, Mickey asks:
MK: Innocent? Who's innocent? You innocent Wayne? WG: I'm innocent, yes I am. Of murder definitely. MK: It's just murder man. All God's creatures do it in some form or other. I mean you look in the forest. You got species killing other species, our species killing all species including the forest and we just call it industry, not murder. But I know a lot of people who deserve to die. WG: Why do they deserve to die? MK: Everyone has something in their past, some sin, some awful secret thing. A lot of people walking around out there are already dead- just need to be put out of their misery. That's where I come in- fate's messenger.
For Mickey, sin is "some secret awful thing." It is Sartrian bad faith, inauthenticity, the unwillingness to affirm one's actions. The only means of redemption is to acknowledge and validate one's endeavors, which is precisely what Mickey does in this interview. He does not merely confess his deeds, he celebrates them, spending very little time on regret, which he describes as "a wasted emotion." While Mickey makes many references to God in this interview, he never describes human guilt in terms of original sin or the Fall from grace. For Mickey, sin is a feeling caused by a lie, experienced subjectively by the sinner, not judged objectively by God.
In Mickey's view, the notion of sin is based on arbitrary moral standards and exists only in the minds of those who judge. From his perspective, there are no absolute moral truths. As a result, ethical standards must be created, or, more precisely, a perspective from which to view the world must be chosen. From Mickey's vantage point, murder is not a particularly significant act. "It's just murder man. All God's creatures do it in some form or another." For Mickey, murder is a fundamental component of reality, not an anomaly. He clearly suggests that his killing 52 people is no more alarming than humanity's role in destroying the earth under the guise of the word "industry." Death is a necessary component of life. Murder is permissible not because people are sinners, but because traditional morality has no authority in Mickey's life. He is the sole source of meaning in his universe. When he marries Mallory he does so "by the power invested in me as God of my world." Mickey's ethics are beyond good and evil, and are unmistakably Nietzschean. In Twilight of the Idols Nietzsche writes:
My demand of the philosopher is well known, that he take his stand beyond good and evil and leave the illusion of moral fact beneath himself. This demand follows from an insight that I was the first to formulate: that there are no moral facts.(1)
As he puts it elsewhere:
There are no moral phenomena at all, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena.(2)
Because Mickey rejects conventional moral standards and because he and Mallory act on undissimilated desires and intentions, they are innocent or "pure." On the road after a massacre, Mallory says: "Baby, you make everyday feel like kindergarten," suggesting that her life with Mickey is untarnished by bad faith or sin. When Mickey describes his time with Mallory to Wayne Gayle, he says : "It was just like the garden of Eden." Again, the garden of Eden connotes innocence. It is surprising to hear a mass murderer compare himself and his wife to Adam and Eve before the Fall, but such an opinion is entirely consistent with Mickey's world view. He rejects the categories of good and evil and more importantly, embraces fatalism, which, as we shall see, both relieves him from responsibility and redeems him from sin.
Like authenticity, the topic of fate recurs throughout NBK. "Do you believe in fate?" is one of the first things Mickey asks Mallory. During their conversation in the prison after Mickey has been apprehended for grand theft, he tells Mallory that nothing can stop fate. He also describes himself to Wayne Gayle as "fate's messenger." Mickey is a fatalist, which is to say that he accepts all events as inevitable. As a result, he is unburdened by any sense of responsibility for his actions. Because he is unhindered by notions of good, evil, freedom, and responsibility, he can express himself authentically. Nietzsche also rejected free will and joyfully embraced fatalism. In Human all to Human, he writes:
The fable of intelligible freedom: Now one finally discovers that this human nature, too, cannot be accountable, in as much as it is a necessary consequence and assembled from the elements and influences of things past and present: That is to say that man can be made accountable for nothing, not for his nature, nor for his motives, nor for his actions, nor for the effects he produces. One has thereby attained to the knowledge that the history of the moral sensations is the history of an error, the error of accountability which rests on the error of freedom of the will...The proposition is as clear as daylight, and yet here everyone prefers to retreat back into the shadows and untruth: from fear of the consequences.(3)
Like Nietzsche's overman, Mickey embraces fatalism and places himself beyond the categories of good and evil. Needless to say, Mickey is an unsavory example of what denial of free will and personal responsibility might lead to. As Nietzsche points out, the arguments against free will are very convincing, but one is loathe to accept them because of the possible consequences.
For Nietzsche, human beings strive to amplify and intensify their life experience and constantly endeavor to express their own vitality and strength. According to Nietzsche the "will to power" is the great motivator behind the vast variety of human activity in the world.
Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living being seeks above all to discharge its strength- life itself is will to power; self preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results.(4)
The will to power may be expressed in different ways, such as the simple desire for power over others, as it is for the Knoxes; or as power over one's self (i.e. self discipline). A person who authentically expresses his will to power (the overman) would have the following characteristics.
The acme of power is embodied in the perfectly self possessed man, who has no fear of other men, of himself, or of death and whose simple personality, unaided by any props, changes the lives of those who meet him and even imposes itself on the minds of those who encounter him only second hand, in literature.(5)
Mickey and Mallory Knox, while by no means "overmen," do superficially meet Nietzsche's criteria for "higher humanity." Their personalities make a powerful impact on everybody they meet, they are self possessed, and unafraid of life or death. More importantly, they are authentic, truthful, and proud. They represent Nietzsche's notion of "noble" nature. Nietzsche discusses the etymology of the word "noble" in his first essay in On the Genealogy of Morals.
They call themselves for instance, the "truthful" this is so above all of the Greek nobility....The root of the word coined for this, esthlos, signifies one who is, who possesses reality, who is actual who is true...It becomes a slogan and catchword of the nobility and passes over entirely into the sense of "noble," as distinct from the common lying man....While the noble man lives in trust and openness with himself, the man of ressentiment is neither upright, nor naive nor honest and straightforward with himself.(6)
Unfortunately, the will to power can be in direct conflict with the will to be a moral person. Nietzsche describes many forms of morality as a perverse ranking and valuation of human drives that "are always the expression of the needs of a community or herd."(7) In a repressed society, the individual becomes an appliance of the community, or, as Nietzsche calls it, the herd. The individual's will to power is suppressed, while the herd's is expressed. The term "herd" is important because it suggests nonpredatory animals such as cows and sheep. Significantly, Christians often refer to themselves as members of the "Lord's flock." Christian morality clearly places the needs and desires of the community (or the flock) above those of the individual. The antithesis of the herd (or the flock) is the predator, often symbolized by the wolf and in Nietzsche by the lion or bird of prey. The predator is characterized by acting authentically and by expressing his strength and desires, whereas members of the social herd are obliged to compromise their integrity to benefit the community. In short, members of the herd are forced to live in bad faith, whereas predators live authentically. In the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche writes:
That lambs dislike great birds of prey does not seem strange: only it gives no grounds for reproaching these birds of prey for bearing off little lambs...To demand of strength that it should not express itself as strength, that it should not be a desire to overcome, a desire to throw down...is just as absurd as to demand of weakness that it should express itself as strength(8)
Mickey and Mallory are predatory outsiders. The rules of the herd do not apply to them because, as we shall see, Mickey literally considers himself to be a different species of animal. As predators, Mickey and Mallory rise above the moral constraints of the herd. Nevertheless, they do have moral principles, but they are quite different from those of the surrounding community. Their ethics embody what Nietzsche calls "noble morality," and are designed to amplify and intensify their life experience. For Mickey, murder is an expression of his will to power. His behavior is totally congruous with his nature, making him an authentic agent of fate. In a sense, Mickey is "free" because he embraces his nature, yet he recognizes that his life and personality are the results of circumstances far beyond his control.
WG: Mickey Knox, when did you first start thinking about killing? MK: Birth- I was thrown into a flaming pit of scum; forgotten by God. WG: What do you mean by that? MK: I mean I came from violence. It was in my blood. My daddy had it. His daddy had it. It was all just my fate.... The wolf don't know why he's a wolf. The deer don't know why he's a deer. God just made it that way.
Once again the importance of the essential nature of the predator versus that of the prey is underlined. As we have seen, Nietzsche fervently argues that it is unnatural and impossible for predators to express themselves as something they are not. As the audience discovers at the end of the film, Mickey and Wayne are both predators. The difference between them is that Mickey's actions are authentic (noble), stemming from the purity of his nature, whereas Gayle has spent his life trying to dissimilate his motives and actions. Mickey affirms himself, whereas Gayle has (until the riot scene) denied himself. Before his "conversion" to his true nature, when he becomes a homicidal maniac, Gayle is the classic example of bad faith; his business is one of distortion, and his personal life is characterized by deceit and adultery. Mickey is understandably contemptuous.
WG: But was it really worth it? MK: Was what worth it? WG: Was massacring all of those people worth being separated from your love for the rest of your life? MK: You mean was an instant of my purity worth a lifetime of your lies? WG: Please explain to me where is the purity you couldn't live without in the 52 people who are no longer on this planet because they met you and Mallory. What's so fucking pure about that? How do you do it? MK: You'll never understand Wayne. You and me, we're not even the same species. I used to be you then I evolved. From where you're standing you're a man. From where I'm standing you're an ape. You're not even an ape; you're a media person. Media's like the weather, only it's man made. Murder is pure. You're the one made it impure. You're buying and selling fear. You say "why?" I say "why bother?"(9)
In this passage, it is clear that Mickey considers himself a superior form of human being, a Nietzschean overman. He describes an evolution from ape to human, from lies to truth, from impurity to purity. The word "pure" means unmixed and uninfected, but also denotes freedom from sin. Similarly it can mean truth untainted by falsehood. According to Mickey, his actions are pure; they stem from authentic intentions and desires. As a result of his purity, he considers himself superior to Gayle, a "common lying man," a trivializer and a distorter. For Mickey as for Nietzsche, purity is an attribute of the superior soul.
A concept denoting political superiority always resolves itself into a concept denoting superiority of the soul...It is then that "pure" and "impure" confront one another for the first time as designations of station.(10)
Although Mickey often talks about God the creator, he also refers to evolution. The idea that he is a superior and more evolved human being is central to this film. Nietzsche believed that human culture and morality were the result of biological imperatives, and that the strongest and most "evil" individuals were indispensable for the advancement of the human species. He writes:
Preserver of the Species.- It is the strongest and most evil spirits who have up till now advanced mankind the most....- they have awaken again and again the sense of joy in the new, daring, untried, they have compelled men to set opinion against opinion, model against model. Most of all by weapons, by overturning boundary stones, by wounding piety: but also by new religions and moralities!...In truth, the evil impulses are just as useful, indispensable and preservative of the species as the good:- only their function is different.(11)
For Nietzsche, "evil" (e.g. the new and revolutionary) is not merely destructive, it is also a creative force. By questioning and destroying established codes and standards, it creates new, more innovative ethics. In order to create, it is necessary to destroy.
Behold the faithful of all faiths! Whom do they hate the most? Him who smashes their table of values, the breaker, the law breaker- but he is the creator.(12)
Mickey sees himself both as both creator and destroyer. He is both a murderer and a revolutionary social thinker. His destructive actions are the expression of his visionary philosophy. Paradoxically, he is both the creative God of his world and a powerless pawn of fate. His acceptance of fatalism has made him free to invent alternative moral standards. As a result, he views the world from an alternative, more comprehensive point of view. This point is made very clear when he tells Gayle "From where you're standing you're a man, from where I'm standing, you're an ape." Mickey's project as a killer is to question basic moral beliefs and to challenge common assumptions about the value of life and the significance of death. His actions cause people to stand up and take notice, and his words invite reflection. Mickey's life represents an entirely different (if not original) way of thinking about reality. For him, killing is creative. In the interview with Wayne Gayle, he quotes the evangelist John to make this point. "If a kernel of wheat falls to the ground it abideth alone but it bringeth forth much fruit." For Mickey, life and death is a circular process. All living things must die in order to bring forth new life. Death is not a permanent state of non being, but a necessary transition toward becoming.
Free Will, Forgiveness, and Redemption
Do Mickey and Mallory progress or change in this film? Yes and no. Yes, there is an attempt to move on, and no, they fail to do so. Mickey comes out of prison with a clearer understanding of who he is, what he has done, and why he has done it; but this does not fundamentally change him. Although he and Mallory pledge to quit killing after the murder of the shaman, they do not honor their commitment. Mallory's development is different from Mickey's. After her encounter with the shaman, she begins to wrestle with the problem of responsibility.
Mickey and Mallory encounter the shaman after they have run out of gas and are wandering (symbolically enough) in the desert. The shaman sees the demon in Mickey (the word "demon" is projected across his chest), but he welcomes the couple into his home, where he keeps an uncaged rattlesnake in the corner. He then goes on to tell the parable of a woman who finds a frozen snake and nurses it back to health. When the snake strikes and mortally wounds her, she asks him why. The snake replies "You stupid bitch- I'm a snake." The shaman's point is simple: it is in the very nature of a snake to strike. This is the same point that Nietzsche makes in his birds of prey parable; it is in the very nature of some beings to behave agressively. If the woman in the shaman's parable did not know what kind of behavior to expect from her patient, she should have. The fact that the shaman tells this story indicates that he is quite aware of the danger he is in. Significantly, Mickey and Mallory represent themselves to each other as snakes. Their wedding rings are formed in the shape of two snakes intertwined Perhaps they identify with the agressive nature of snakes as they are represented in Genesis. In this story the snake offers Eve fruit from the tree of knowledge, thereby introducing evil into the world. The snake therefor symbolizes knowledge, evil, and free will. The shaman is clearly attracted to Mickey and Mallory just as he is to the snakes with whom he lives.
The shaman represents a kind of Jesus, the willing victim, crucified like a lamb at the slaughter to redeem sinners. Like Jesus, he is both a victim and a prophet of his own death. Just before he dies he tells Mickey: "Twenty years ago I saw the demon in my dreams. I was waiting for you." After the death of the shaman, it becomes clear that Mallory does not (or at least not consistently) share Mickey's fatalistic views. For the first time she accuses Mickey of wrongdoing, screaming "bad, bad, bad- you kill life." When Mickey argues that he killed the shaman accidentally, she retorts "Mickey, there are no accidents." The notion that there are no accidents and that people are always responsible for their actions comes directly from the existentialist tradition as exemplified by Jean-Paul Sartre. He writes:
The essential consequence of our earlier remarks is that man being condemned to be free carries the weight of the whole world on his shoulders; he is responsible for the world and for himself as a way of being. We are taking the word "responsibility" as consciousness of being the incontestable author of an event or of an object. ...Furthermore this absolute responsibility is not resignation; it is simply the logical requirement of the consequences of our freedom....Thus there are no accidents in a life; a community event which suddenly bursts forth and involves me in it does not come from the outside. If I am immobilized in a war, this war is my war; it is in my image and I deserve it. ... For lack of getting out of it I have chosen it.(13)
For Sartre, human beings are incontestably responsible for their actions and experiences because life always involves a choice. In his view, there are no accidents- and, more importantly, there are no victims. Sartre would argue that Mickey and Mallory are no more nor less responsible for the death of their victims than the victims themselves. Significantly, the shaman takes responsibility for his own death, welcoming the venomous snakes into his home. Once again, the image of the Garden of Eden is evident. Sin and death are introduced by the snakes, Mickey and Mallory. For the first time in the movie Mallory takes responsibility for what she and Mickey have done. They are both compelled to wrestle with regret for having killed someone who was trying to help them. The shaman is a redemptive presence in Mickey and Mallory's life. He sees them for who they are and welcomes them anyway. Although he dies like the others, he touches them in a way that no one before ever had, forcing them to acknowledge that they have done something wrong. The shaman represents love, which is an important theme in this film.
Although the demon lives in Mickey, so does love. Appropriately, the Yin and Yang symbol is tattooed on his arm, signifying the duality of his nature. He tells Gayle: "...I'm extreme, dark and light. You know that, I'm light with Mall. " Although Mickey is a fatalist, he feels a need to be redeemed and forgiven. For him, the only means of salvation from the demon and the misery of existence is love. The redemptive power of love is symbolized for Mickey by Mallory.
MK: You know the only thing that kills the demon-love. That's why I know Mallory is my salvation. She was teaching me to love.(Mallory is in the background saying: "I forgive you baby.") It was just like being in the garden of Eden.
Nietzsche also believed in the power of love and the necessity of uttering the "sacred yes" to existence. The ability to say "yes" to life, to find one moment so joyful that one would will it to happen again and again, along with all the pain that occurred before, is what Nietzsche means by the word "redemption". Redemption is linked to his notion of Amor Fati, or love of fate.
To redeem the past and transform every "it was" into "I wanted it thus!"- that alone do I call redemption(14)...
Did you ever say yes to one joy? Oh my friends, then you said yes to all woe as well. All things are chained and entwined together. All things are in love.(15)
In fact, this is how Mickey has lived his life. In his prison cell he writes to Mallory, telling her "I lie in my bed and go over every day, every minute of our happiness...I take it as it comes. They're not just memories. When I get to our first kiss I feel that joy again." The process of reliving past experience resonates with Nietzsche's bizarre notion of eternal recurrence. He believed that every life would be repeated eternally, and that it should be one's highest purpose to experience a moment so joyful that one would will it to happen again and again.
The eternal hour-glass of existence will be turned again and again- and with it you, dust of dust....If this thought gained power over you as you are now, transform and perhaps crush you; the question in all and everything: "Do you want this again and again, times without number?" would lie the heaviest burden upon all your actions.(16)
People do not typically view reality from Mickey's perspective because most media do not represent it in this way. The media, including tabloid news shows, books by philosophers, and sacred texts, are responsible for how we conceptualize the world. The Media provides our perspective of reality. In a very real sense, it creates the world we live in. Mickey is anti-media because he rejects established values and creates his own. Stone's film suggests that there is no privileged vantage point from which to view "Truth." Significantly, Mickey and Mallory are both creations and products of the media. If people did not believe that murder is a profoundly significant act against nature, and that death is to be feared, the Knoxes would not be very intriguing. For this reason Mickey sees himself as a monster created by the media. When he and Mallory kill Gayle, they are symbolically killing their creator.
MK: Killing you and what you represent is a statement. I'm not a hundred percent sure of what it's saying. Frankenstein killed Dr. Frankenstein.
Mickey and Mallory deny conventional values attached to concepts such as life, murder, and death. In short, Mickey and Mallory repudiate all the assumptions perpetrated by modern culture. Mickey sentences Gayle to death because he judges the media and what it represents from his own perspective. He, like Nietzsche's overman, has taken on the role of a creator of values.
Truly men have given themselves all their good and evil. Truly, they did not take it, they did not find it, it did not descend to them as a voice from heaven. Man first implanted values into things to maintain himself- he created the meaning of things, a human meaning! Therefore he calls himself: "Man", that is: the evaluator. Evaluation is creation: hear it, you creative men! Valuating is itself the value and jewel of all valued things. Only through evaluation is there value: and without it the nut of existence would be hollow.(17)
1. Friedrich Nietzsche Twilight of the Idols, "The Improvers of Mankind," 1, in The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: Viking Press, 1954), pg. 501. Nietzsche's quotes are identified by section number.
2. Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil, 108, Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: The Modern Library, 1968), pg. 275.
3. Nietzsche Human, All Too Human 39, in A Nietzsche Reader, trans. R.J. Hollingdale (Penguin Classics, 1977).
4. Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil, 13.
5. Walter Kaufman, "Friedrich Nietzsche" Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1967), pg. 511.
6. Nietzsche On the Genealogy of Morals, I, 5, Basic Writings of Nietzsche, pg. 465.
7. Nietzsche, Gay Science,116, in A Nietzsche Reader.
8. Nietzsche, A Genealogy of Morals, I,13, Basic Writings of Nietzsche, pp. 480-481.
9. Charles Manson discusses the idea that the media attribute an artificial value to murder in a televised interview with Geraldo Rivera in the early 1980's The interview between Wayne Gayle and Mickey Knox is largely based on this interview.
10. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals ,I,6, Basic Writings of Nietzsche,pg. 467.
11. Nietzsche, Gay Science ,4.
12. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra I, Prologue, 9, The Portable Nietzsche, pp. 135-136.
13. Jean Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions (Citadel Press: New Jersey, 1985), 52-54.
14. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra II,"Of Redemption," A Portable Nietzsche, p. 251.
15. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra IV, "The Intoxicated Song 10, A Portable Nietzsche p.435.
16. Nietzsche, Gay Science,134.
17. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
I, "Of the Thousand and One Goals.," A Portable Nietzsche, pg.171.