There’s a lot to say about Natural Born Killers. Based on a screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, one can expect a certain amount of the bizarre and the violent. This film delivers both in spades. Mickey and Mallory Knox are symbols of everything that’s wrong with America and its obsessions with violence. America definitely has a dark side that most people would rather not talk about, much less remember, acknowledge and feel bad about. Like mass slaughter of the native populations, enforced slavery of a race of people, manifest destiny, civil war, blatant racism, homophobia, physical-sexual-emotional child abuse, pedophile priests, rapists who say “She was asking for it”, open carry gun laws in a country where children are shooting children, so much violence in the media that we’ve become numb to it, religious zealots attempting to shape a country into their idea of what it should be – not the Constitutions idea of what it should be….the list goes on. So how does a controversial film like Natural Born Killers even make a headline? It’s because as I said, we do not want to acknowledge that we have a dark side. This film shoves that dark side right in our faces. It steeps us in so much blood that we’re swimming in it, the whole time masking it in a love story. Now THAT’S AMEERICA!
But what I want to talk about is the literary use of Deus ex machine. Translated it means “God in the machine” and it’s a literary plot device where a seemingly unsolvable problem or situation is suddenly resolved by the introduction of a contrived resolution in the form of an unexpected character, event, or object, or a new ability. It can be used to move the story forward, for comic effect, but usually its contrivance feels forced and doesn’t play well with modern audiences. In a way, it’s a cheat; however in Natural Born Killers it’s probably the only subtle thing in the film.
After Mickey and Mallory are arrested for their 52 person killing spree, a year passes and they are both in the same prison awaiting their trial for sanity and transportation to a psychiatric hospital. There’s a media guy name Wayne Gale (Robert Downey, Jr.) who is going to interview Mickey live after the Super Bowl and the warden of the prison, played by Tommy Lee Jones, is hatching a plan to have M&M killed while being transported. For some unexplainable reason, the live interview is broadcast for the prison inmates to hear and it inspires them to riot, a completely unrealistic turn of events to say the least in what has to be the prison with the most lax security that could only exist in movies. Once the violence begins, it’s chaos and everybody killing everybody and all of them ginning for Mickey and Mallory.
There is apparently no escape for the two who are moving through the prison with the live camera crew still filming. Then they meet Owen Traft played by Arliss Howard. A very soft spoken inmate who happens to have a weapon and just happens to know a way out. Thus he leads them to the front door where they make their escape. Total Deus ex freaking machine!
For a more recent example of this same plot device, Just look at the Harry Potter film where everyone is trapped in the basement of the Malfoy’s home and Dolby the elf appears to whisk them away. I call that Dolby ex machina! So you get the idea…it is a kind of cheat and in a way I guess it’s forgivable because Americans sooooo want their happy endings. And in the end M&M escape and in the credit sequence we see them with kids of their own in an RV living the American Dream!