21st Century Wire
The 1994 cult film Natural Born Killers, is an examination of media manipulation, archetypal psychology and the violence embedded within American pop culture.
Although it’s been more than two decades since Natural Born Killers (NBK) first shocked viewers with its adrenaline fueled brutality, biting satire and darkly ironic media montages, the enigmatic picture’s overall depiction of the American media complex is just as effective today.
On the film’s jarring surface, we see Micky (portrayed by Woody Harrelson) and Mallory Knox(Juliet Lewis) metaphorically reborn (from their violent past) as outlaw-lovers embarking on a psychopathic cross country murder spree – but as well come to find out, there’s much more to this psychologically challenging piece of cinema.
Over the years, NBK has seen comparisons to Hollywood crime classics such as the Badlands(1973), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), the serial killer ‘mockumentary’, Man Bites Dog (1992), as well as the dystopian mind-bender, A Clockwork Orange (1971). It is also thematically linked to Network (1976), another picture with a scathing appraisal of mass media, as well as the 1960’s road-film Easy Rider (1969), and strikingly similar the dark thriller Kalifornia (1993) which also starred Juliet Lewis playing a near identical role.
In many ways, much of the media driven subtext of NBK has never seemed more relevant than now, as the film recognized mass media’s growing obsession with violence and trashy entertainment all at once. The film also acknowledged the public’s fixation with reality TV in all of its incarnations, perhaps envisaging the multi platform information craze in the age of social media.
To this day, the Oliver Stone directed controversial feature Natural Born Killers (Based on a story by Quentin Tarantino), remains a harsh critique of American media and pop culture, as it casts a spotlight on the lurid agitprop used to steer public perception through various forms of infotainment.
Over the course of this analysis, we’ll explore some of the underlying aspects of Natural Born Killers, as well as contextualize its relation to real-life violence seen in the modern era…
On The Road: Tragedy & Satire
From the outset, sight, sound and mood take precedence over a traditional narrative structure throughout NBK. The film begins with a roadside montage of predatory animals (coyote, eagle rattlesnake) struggling to survive while Leonard Cohen’s classic song ‘Waiting for the Miracle’slowly fades in creeping along to the foreboding imagery. The sequence subliminally conjures the all too familiar eugenics based “survival of the fittest” axiom – something which reflects the ruinous and fractured socio-political environment that has become so pervasive in modern America.
All the while, the action shifts dramatically from grainy black-and-white footage of America’s Southwest, to a red filtered glow, then back to full color, as elliptical-style editing (as well as cross-cutting and parallel) sets the tone for the illusory motion picture magnified by its tension inducing dutch-style camera angles.
18 different film formats were used to create NBK in addition to many unusual lighting techniques– everything from black-and-white to dusty old 8mm, to 16mm, to 35mm stock, to CCTV video and animation.
When the establishing sequence of NBK finally settles inside the 5 to 2 Cafe, we see a television rapidly changing channel to channel – going from the all-american series Leave It to Beaver, to 77 Sunset Strip, a late 1950’s secret agent crime drama, to the resignation speech of President Richard Nixon, which is juxtaposed against an old horror film relic featuring Boris Karloff.
The short panning shot is emblematic of America’s dark evolution during the 20th century and serves as a stark bell weather for the rest the high paced surreal picture. In fact, strategically placed images, products and objects are seen throughout the entirety of NBK, evoking a strong emotional response in the viewer – bringing to mind the psychology behind propaganda.
In the movie’s first scene, the camera slips across the cafe, sliding past a character later revealed to be Owen Traft (Arliss Howard), who is a guardian angel or daemon, linked to the Knox pair. Traft vanishes before our eyes (Traft is later seen in the film’s prison break sequence) while reading a newspaper about the highway ‘666’ murders, prefiguring the dark media frenzy soon to envelop the Knox outlaws.
Celebrating after a fresh deer kill, a pack of foul-mouthed cowboys file into the 5 to 2 Cafe. We then see Mickey order a key lime pie, as his partner in crime Mallory, looking part prostitute, part Pocahontas, seductively dances to the jukebox. Mickey surveys the room and a bright toxic green is contrasted against some of the action within the scene. While some green tones traditionally have a calming restorative quality, the kind used in NBK denotes a sickness inside the mind.
Shortly thereafter, Mallory challenges one of the boozed-up misogynistic buckaroos to hand to hand combat just as L7‘s Shit List kicks in on the jukebox. The cafe scene erupts into chaos as the soon-to-be famous fugitives dispatch all but one person (the pinball cowboy) in the roadside cafe. The pinball cowboy is kept alive to tell the tale of Mickey and Mallory, in a twisted version of the counting game Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
Following the murderous cafe ruckus, the Knoxes ride out into the desert as wild dissolves intertwine with projected news clippings, images of past crimes and the Hydra myth in the form of a monster flick clip. Additionally, there’s a musical schizophrenia to NBK, with a collection of modern and classic songs intermixed with fragmented and atmospheric snippets, signifying a faded, yet stitched together memory in the Trent Reznor/Jane Hamsher selected soundtrack.
Later on during a roadside pit stop, Mallory invokes the Book of Revelations and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as she describes seeing a vision of Mickey riding a red (war) horse, while suggesting the star-crossed lovers might be fallen angels. At that same moment, a floating image of a multi-armed Mallory is seen in the sky, bringing to mind the devouring Hindu goddess Kali.
‘CUPID’S REVENGE’ – NBK’s dingy satire of TV sitcoms of old in “I Love Mallory” serves as a dysfunctional backdrop to Mickey and Mallory’s hard-edged romance.
Oedipal, Electra & the Hidden Order
Continuing by the roadside, the scene drifts into a dream sequence/flashback in the form of a 1950’s style sitcom parody entitled “I Love Mallory.” Here we see Mallory’s dysfunctional family completely controlled by her abusive and incestuous father Ed Wilson (Rodney Dangerfield). The scene is an inversion of the soft TV sitcoms dominating the airwaves in real-life, as the lecherous Wilson unleashes a disturbing diatribe amid a background laugh-track.
During the same scene, a deliveryman named Mickey enters the frame, falling in love with Mallory at first sight. Mickey leaves with Mallory and in the process steals Ed’s car. Later, Mickey is arrested and imprisoned, managing to escape from a prison work farm during a tornado. NBK‘s tornado prison break, may be seen as a reference to the classic film The Wizard of Oz – a storm system which forever alters Mickey’s future world.
Mickey and Mallory return to the Wilson residence, seeking revenge on Mallory’s father and mother, in what could be seen as a loose interpretation of the dark lyrical finish to the enigmatic song The End by The Doors. The Wilson’s are murdered in a shocking home invasion scene and the house is set ablaze, while Mallory’s brother Kevin (Sean Stone) is set free during the inferno.
With each new set of kills, Mickey and Mallory grow closer and after their demented Oedipal/Electra complex resolution at the Wilson residence, the two get hitched in a blood ritual ceremony filmed on the scenic Rio Grande Gorge Bridge in Taos, New Mexico. Here Mickey proclaims the couple’s ‘marriage’ is sanctified because he is god of his world, conjuring Friedrich Nietzsche‘s Overman concept, as well as a Apollonian/Dionysian influence within the killer’s process.
In an analysis entitled, “The Dionysian and the Apollonian in Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy,” by Alexander Gatherer of Cardiff University, we are provided a more detailed look at both the Apollonian and Dionysian philosophical concepts:
“The opposing concepts of the Dionysian (hereon DI) and Apollonian (hereon AP) are central themes within Nietzsche’s first major work, The Birth of Tragedy (hereon BT). His contemplation of such opposing forces of nature are primarily used to analyse Greek culture in general, and Greek art in particular, stating that its role in Greek attic tragedy places these plays at Greece’s cultural pinnacle.”
Continuing, Gatherer’s essay analyzes critical aspects of AP and DI:
“Nietzsche’s concepts of the AP and DI, along with the entirety of BT, were not well received initially: the author himself called the book ‘badly written, ponderous, embarrassing, image-mad and image-confused’ (Sweet, 1999, p.49). However, the ideas have left a notable legacy and are still discussed in matters of ethics, politics and art. Indeed, Michael Motta (1991) likens the opposing forces to mental illness, stating how stages of mania in bipolar artists can be likened to that of the DI (‘The urge to create is great, but the ability to step back, to control the process is reduced’), with depressive phases linked to the AP (‘Critique and reflection take precedence over impulsivity, inhibition holds sway over exhibitionism’).”
With this in mind, we can interpret Mickey and Mallory’s unresolved tension between AP and DI, as a philosophical reason for their dissent into madness.
Although in Stone’s view, Mickey and Mallory are tragically flawed because of a failed system, which frames the prison system, the police system and mass media, as the true American criminals. However, this ideological stance of the film is itself a false paradigm stuck in a social justice vortex, while masked in Carl Jung‘s rebel archetype – pointing to Stone’s sometimes radical political perspective.
Returning to NBK, we see Mickey and Mallory make a blood pact and exchange snake rings presented by Mickey, who is connected to the reptilian realm via his Caduceus chest tattoo. At significant points during NBK, snake imagery is observed, recalling the occult and mythological associations of the serpent. Additionally, there seems to be a Shiva/serpent attachment linked to Mickey as a counterpart to Mallory’s Kali connection, with an underlying current of the symbol of immortality, Ouroboros. Other distorted biblical themes are also echoed during NBK, such as the Book of Genesis and the Garden of Eden – exemplified by Mickey’s assisted escape from prison by a rattlesnake.
Many associations are often seen throughout NBK, which reflect a deeper archetypal presence contained within the film.
In Anton Ehrenzweig‘s The Hidden Order of Art, we can explore a deeper analysis of the unconscious mind – many elements that relate to the main characters in NBK:
“Some evidence of creative work and poemagogic phantasy points to incomplete superego maturation as an important source of mental illness. The ego has not absorbed the death instinct into the mute workings of the creative process so that self-destruction goes rampant to destroy entire itself.”
In other words, Mickey and Mallory lack any mature ethical component, which leads to their shared self-destructive psychosis, which in turn, is acted out in their murderous rage. Ehrenzweig, coined the phrase poemagogic, which is interpreted as an aspect emblematic of inducing the ego’s creativity in a layered dream state. The nightmare/dream state of Mickey and Mallory visually comes to life in the strewn together time-worn scenes of NBK, like fragmented vitriolic memories.
Media Made Political Agitators
When NBK continues, all of the berserker-like chaos is captured by Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.), a ratings consumed tabloid host on the fictitious television series American Maniacs. A show which obsessively covers the violent action of Mickey and Mallory at any cost. Gale is an amalgam of Australian TV’s investigative host Steve Dunleavy and the long time reporter and talk show host Geraldo Rivera.
American Maniacs uses the image of cult leader Charles Manson, University of Texas shooter Charles Whitman, and the sadistic killer Richard Ramirez during its credits, setting the tone for a sordid crime show reminiscent of The Current Affair and Hard Copy. NBK‘s representation of popular true crime programming, gives the film another disturbing art imitates life layer. In one scene, Gale describes the targeted killing of several law enforcement officers at the hands of the Knoxes – which ironically, reflects many real-life crimes we see plastered across today’s headlines in America.
All in all, American Maniacs very well could have been a template for the seedy video-stringer film Night Crawler, while packaged in the marketing gloss of American Gladiators. In a world of news makers, Gale says “repetition works,” and when questioned over reusing reenacted death scenes by producers, he callously exclaims “do you think those nitwits out there in zombieland remember anything.” This is where we see Gale’s mind warping programming taking shape for maximum psychological impact.
This is what Stone’s film is truly about, showcasing the often cold-hearted and calculating nature of mass media’s carefully engineered narrative.
With media analysis in mind, we might also consider this passage from Cult of Distraction in The Mass Ornament by film theorist, sociologist and writer, Siegfried Kracauer:
“Here, in pure externality, the audience encounters itself; its own reality is revealed in the fragmented sequence of splendid sense impressions. Were this reality to remain hidden from the viewers, they could neither attack nor change it; its disclosure in distraction is therefore of moral significance.”
Whether its banal programming intermixed with mass media’s terror lens, the viewer has a choice to accept the media manipulated distractions at wholesale or attempt to unpack them through critical thinking, questioning the very nature of reportage.
As NBK moves forward, we see the media trail and trial of Mickey and Mallory after the duo has been taken into custody. In a mockumentary style scene centered around super-fans and tacit supporters of the Knoxes, there’s a decidedly social justice flair to a series of fictitious man on the street interviews.
The whole segment relates to various political agitator groups that we see today – like Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and the controversial identity focused activism of Black Lives Matter (BLM), as well as the FBI and the CIA‘s various counter-intelligence programs from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Both OWS and BLM alliances, are neo-liberal think-tank/NGO designed gatherings, meant to divide and control participants over class, identity and other socio-political concerns.
NBK‘s court house scene featuring fervid ‘group-think’ supporters, could be seen as another signal of social strife in America at the turn of the century – marked pointedly by the polarizing corruption of the 1992 L.A. riots, the gross federal negligence of both the Ruby Ridge incident and the Waco siege, as well as the heavily publicized Menendez murder case (the strange and salacious trials of Lorena Bobbit and Tonya Harding) and the show trial of O.J. Simpson, an all-time ratings bonanza – not counting the 95 million who watched Simpson’s car chase on live TV.
Interestingly though, the choreographed bombing of the World Trade Center (1993) carried out by FBI handlers and federal informants, was a curiously under reported event at the time. Which could be a reason for its absence from the media montages seen throughout NBK.
The volatility of the 1990’s, proved to be an ideal backdrop for NBK, a picture made during a wave of high-profile sensationalized crime.
Later on in NBK, with symbols fully on display, we see close camera shots of the pair’s tattoos – Mickey’s light and dark Yin and Yang symbol and crudely drawn Christ-like tattoo are contrasted against Mallory’s scorpion ink, as they ride along to abduct a hostage. As they make their way to the neon-lit Log Cabin Lodge, there very well could be a subtle reference to Freemasonary, when we witness the ritualistic behaviour shown at the “Lodge.” Stylistically, the motel resembles something out of the macabre cinematic world of David Lynch.
In the background while Mickey and Mallory are on the motel bed, projected images on a window pane range from clips of raging dictatorships, to a young Mickey haunted by his father’s suicide and a pale horse – recalling the book of revelations once again. All of this takes place while a violent torture scene from the Hollywood film Scarface (written by Oliver Stone) plays out on the TV in front of their hostage.
When love turns dark, Mickey and Mallory argue as time-lapse imagery of a Pray Mantis is seen – symbolizing the need for contemplation during their chaos. The two separate briefly, as shamanic chanting cascades over their turbulent night crimes with visions of terror projected onto the sides of buildings.
Whether its quick cut edits of opposing and often disturbing montages mixing vitriolic live action, clever special effects, absurdly horror filled projections or startling animated graphics reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s The Wall – NBK is a conceptual master work.
As the hallucinogenic and often kinetic film progresses, a massive manhunt for the deranged Knoxes is launched by Detective Jack “Super Cop” Scagnetti, a masochistic vigilante law-man (Tom Sizemore) who has his own repressed demons to contend with, which manifest in his psychotic behavior towards prostitutes.
We later learn that Scagnetti’s mother was gunned down by the infamous shooter Charles Whitman at the University of Texas in 1966.
Shifting mood once again, we hear the haunting piano-driven History Repeats Itself byA.O.S, (named after the 60’s counterculture chemist and sound engineer, Augustus Owsley Stanley III) which atmospherically plays in the background as Mickey and Mallory high on hallucinogens, are lost, out of gas and at odds with one another. This is the first time Mallory questions Mickey and nature of events that led to her becoming a spree killer.
While looking for gas, the Knoxes approach Red Cloud and his grandson, first passing by Jacob (four-horned) sheep, revealing another biblical reference with the presence of the rare breed of sheep guardians. This is another significant scene in NBK, as the sovereign Oglala Lakota activist Russell Means, adds unique depth to the sequence playing the Navajo, Warren Red Cloud (perhaps a reference to US Marine Mitchell Red Cloud).
Once inside Red Cloud’s hut, the inner turmoil of the Knoxes is exposed. We then learn that Red Cloud served in the Vietnam War, reminding one of the staged Gulf of Tonkin false flag that led to the war. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon B. Johnson the ability to militarily engage in a full-scale conflict with North Vietnam, was made possible due to the fabrication of a crime.
During the latter half of the Vietnam War, the development of controversial counter-terrorism techniques was at the utmost importance for then Director of the CIA, William Colby. One such program materialized named The Phoenix Program (Operation Phoenix), which employed various terror tactics to destabilize the North Vietnamese leadership, claiming to have eradicated the Vietcong through the use of psy-ops, extortion, the release of criminals and random targeting of civilians to achieve its aims. Some geopolitical critics believe that this template for destabilization has been used in Afganistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria in recent years.
Given that Stone himself was a Vietnam veteran in the US Army, we can view that the deliberate inclusion of Red Cloud’s service record was a significant aspect to the story, perhaps reflecting the false premise that the Vietnam War was based upon.
‘SKIN-WALKER’ – Mickey’s inner demons come to the surface prior to killing Red Cloud.
The pivotal scene with Red Cloud dramatically altered the emotionally unhinged killers, who were taken on a shamanic journey and forced to face their own reality during a cleansing ritual involving chanting, fire and snakes. Here Mickey’s torment and abuse comes to the surface with vivid drug induced flashbacks and after being haunted by his past, he awakens and shoots Red Cloud. The tragic death of Red Cloud, is the first time both Mickey and Mallory feel the weight of their actions.
With an axe to grind against mass murders Mickey and Mallory, Scagnetti, manages to apprehend the pair in a dramatic shootout at the Drug Zone pharmacy after they were bitten by rattlesnakes following their quasi-spiritual pilgrimage conducted by Red Cloud. While observing the Drug Zone’s logo we see the Caduceus image (winged staff wrapped with two snakes) often inappropriately used in medicine, as it is said to be the conductor of the dead.
This neon green filtered scene also represents the poisonous consumer culture, as Mickey and Mallory, drugged and snake bitten, stalk to store for anti-venom like the walking dead. Mike Smith‘s energetic cartoon animation is also featured, as the pharmacist ID’s the pair while watching Gale’s American Maniacs. Mickey revels in his newfound celebrity catching himself on TV, before he and Mallory are taken in by Scagnetti.
‘WATCHTOWER’ – Charles Whitman opened fire on the 27th story of the University of Texas clock tower on August 1st, 1966 in one of the most well-known mass shootings in American history. (Image Source: dallasnews)
Scagnetti later hatches a scheme to kill Mickey and Mallory with the fast-talking neurotic Warden Dwight McClusky (Tommy Lee Jones), who plans his own twisted brand of justice inside the riotous Batonga Penitentiary. When Scagnetti’s plot fails during NBK‘s prison riot scene, Mallory executes him in her cell.
Scagnetti’s fictitious link to a well-known true crime, merges the illusory world of NBK with the UT shooting, subconsciously grafting fantasy onto a traumatic event. In effect, the concept mimics the way news stories sometimes strangely and unexpectedly overlap within a blended hyper-reality of fact and fiction.
In recent years, there has been a series of surreal and unreal news stories since the Smith-Mundt Act was effectively rendered obsolete by US lawmakers on July 2nd 2013, as confirmed by RT below:
“Until earlier this month, a longstanding federal law made it illegal for the US Department of State to share domestically the internally-authored news stories sent to American-operated outlets broadcasting around the globe. All of that changed effective July 2, when the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) was given permission to let US households tune-in to hear the type of programming that has previously only been allowed in outside nations.”
“The Smith-Mundt Act has ensured for decades that government-made media intended for foreign audiences doesn’t end up on radio networks broadcast within the US. An amendment tagged onto the National Defense Authorization Act removed that prohibition this year.”
There has been an unprecedented increase in propaganda over the years, despite claims that the NDAA provision offered more transparency to the American public.
On another note, there are other uncanny historical elements associated with NBK…
Fresh off his fame from the hit sitcom Cheers, Woody Harrelson was an intriguing choice to play the character Mickey Knox, as it emerged that his father Charles Harrelson, was a contract killer linked to organized crime. Charles was convicted in the murder of a grain dealer named Sam Degelia Jr in 1968. Later in 1981, he received two life sentences for the murder of US District Judge John H Wood.
‘THREE TRAMPS’ – Charles Harrelson (ID’d by forensic experts on the left) is believed to be one of three arrested in Dealey Plaza after JFK’s assassination in 1963. (Image Source: jfkmurdersolved)
It has been stated that after a six-hour ‘suicidal’ standoff with police in 1980, Charles, apparently ‘high on cocaine’ admitted to killing Judge Wood, while also claiming to be involved in President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
When considering the Harrelson-Kennedy connection, the 1989 book Crossfire comes to mind.
Crossfire, written by the well-known researcher Jim Marrs, was also adapted for the highly controversial and successful Oliver Stone film JFK. Below is a passage from Crossfire, as it relates to the apparent Harrelson-Kennedy link:
“Aside from being twice convicted of murder for hire, Harrelson – the father of actor Woody Harrelson – had a long history of involvement with Dallas underworld characters linked directly to Jack Ruby.”
Continuing, the Crossfire also stated:
“The late Fort Worth graphics expert Jack White, who testified before the House Select Committee on Assassinations, already had noticed the resemblance of Harrelson to the youngest tramp.”
In a 1981 interview with Chuck Cook, Harrelson claimed to have the “biggest story” the reporter would ever have, when questioned about Kennedy’s death. Additionally, Jo Ann Harrelson noted the ‘similarities’ between the tramp photos and her husband. All this coupled with the fact Diane Lou Oswald (the mother of Woody), who had also been married to Charles Harrelson in Midland, Texas, made for a strange background concerning the JFK saga.
Throughout 1981, more questions materialized regarding the assassination of Judge Wood in a UPI article, as “Defense lawyers maintained [Charles] Harrelson was framed by police and the informant.” Charles an ex-felon,“…said a friend, Hampton Robinson III, who failed to show up to testify, had driven the car. He suggested someone, possibly federal agents, had planted the guns so he could be arrested. He denied telling [Department of Public Safety agent] Pagel he carried a gun.”
Below, in a KDFW-TV interview in 1982, Charles Harrelson back tracks somewhat on his claims of killing Kennedy – but does point directly to a larger conspiracy concerning the US government’s involvement in the death of Kennedy as well as their alleged link to drug trade in America.
The interview is a startling revelation, adding to the enigmatic JFK mystery and in the process – provides another strange backdrop to NBK…
“Do you believe Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy alone – We’ll get back to that – alone, without any aid from a rogue agency of the US government or at least a portion of that agency? I believe your very naive if you do.” – Charles Harrelson
On Independence Day in 1995, Charles along with two other inmates, Gary Settle and Michael Rivers, tried to escape from Atlanta Federal Penitentiary – later surrendering after warning shot were fired by guards.
‘ENTROPY & ECSTASY ‘- NBK’s mass murder mayhem hits prime time TV.
Fragmented Psyche, Death Drive & Mind Control
When exploring the concept of Sigmund Freud‘s Death Drive and its relation to NBK, we should consider a thoughtful essay by Jon Mills entitled “Reflections on the Death Drive.” Here we can gain a better understanding of the tension at play within the psyche of Mickey and Mallory:
“Freud did not argue that death [thantos] was the only aim of life, only that it maintained a dialectical tension in juxtaposition to a life principle under the ancient command of Eros, yet the two forces of mind remained ontologically inseparable. In this relational age, the death drive appears to be a drowning man.”
Through this analysis, we can see the tug of war within the main characters of NBK – caught within a life and death cycle.
Also observed throughout the nonlinear narrative of NBK, are the media mobs and throngs of onlookers mesmerized by the murderous duo’s violent deeds during the course of the film,arguably revealing a Schadenfreude (joy derived from the misfortune of others).
In essence, the abused become the abusers within the fragmented framework of NBK. This twist to the story pushes the observer into accepting and perhaps identifying with the malevolent turn of the Knoxes because of their own flawed and tragic upbringing. This reality is recognized in the rise against perceived corruption (particularly law enforcement) in the form of social justice group think.
However, this is where the film purposely presents a false paradigm to those subconsciously seeking their own radical retribution – something which further fractures the viewer’s perception by utilizing stereotypical patterns or in this case violent molds to excuse the rampage carried out by Mickey and Mallory Knox.
This type of false paradigm forms a preconditioned response in favor of vigilantism; preventing the viewer’s ability to see things in an unbiased way, which induces a type of cognitive dissonance in passive audiences, blocking one from considering a rational outlook in the aftermath of trauma.
These concepts are central to understanding the nature of NBK, as it stirs questions about morality, societal behavior and the role played by both media and the public in an ongoing celebration of violence. In this sense, we can view NBK’s excessive use of trauma-based imagery as statement about the modern age, a culture perpetually inundated by destructive media programming.
In many ways, mind control abuse is heavily present within the topsy-turvy world of NBK. However, its presence in the film should be seen not necessarily as an indoctrination of the viewer but perhaps as a warning to those unaware of the psychic assault on their senses from all kinds of media.
The film is laced with references to Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), conjuring the CIA’s mind-warping military backed program, MK-Ultra, an illegal project that used hypnosis, sensory deprivation and other forms of torture to coerce an individual psychologically. This is represented in the film’s main characters, as they vacillate between periods of ultra-violent behaviour and delusional wishful daydreaming, something which reflects a complex background of abuse.
Here’s an in-depth ABC news documentary examining Project MK-Ultra and the role played by Scottish-American psychiatrist Donald Ewen Cameron…
The heart of MK-Ultra is also seen in the controversial paper entitled “From PSYOP to MindWar: The Psychology of Victory“, written in part by the avowed satanist Michael Aquino, a high ranking security official, who was stated to have been inspired by Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander’s article on “pyschotronics,” the employment of extrasensory perception, the transmission and reception of information via the mind.
NBK’s use of disturbing content might be best understood through its critique of mass media and the larger role that media has played in forcing trauma-based imagery on the public in a manner similar to that of covert military projects. In other words, NBK‘s volatile imagery is meant to be a savage attack on media itself and should be observed as a critique on media abuse as a whole – not something that overtly supports cruelty.
Other aspects of abuse are also present in NBK, whether it’s Mallory’s unseen abuse by her father Ed, the hostage held captive by the psychotic pair at the ‘Lodge’ motel or Scagnetti’s deranged and vile coping mechanism for his own tragic upbringing.
Towards the end of the film, under a Stockholm Syndrome spell, crack reporter Gale, attempts to transform himself for the sake of Mickey and Mallory. This later leads to his demise, when he discovers he’s not truly a natural born killer. We see the camera capture the action “to tell the tale”of Mickey and Mallory one more time. In the film’s final surreal sequence, we see Mickey and Mallory driving in an RV as parents. The idea here is that the Knoxes represent a future society, a future nuclear family, one without traditional moral values, transformed by the death of American culture. This is something which is echoed by Leonard Cohen’s song The Future at the end of the film.
Cult Crimes & The Daily Shooter
When concerning America’s cult crimes, investigative journalist Maury Terry, and his book The Ultimate Evil, comes to mind. Winding down a dark and treacherous path, Terry’s research uncovered the dark details about the so-called Helter Skelter killings, also known as the Tate-LaBianca murders, the ‘Son of Sam’ shootings and other bizarre ritually crafted murders cascading across America from the 1960’s throughout the 1980’s.
In an article published by Los Angeles Magazine, writer Michael Bendrix, discussed Terry’s controversial book and the ‘web of terror’ surrounding the apparent satanic ritual abuse (SRA) cult cases connected from coast to coast:
“Although Manson and David Berkowitz never knew each other, they both belonged—at different times and on different coasts—to the same umbrella satanic-cult organization, called the Process.”
The Process Church’s dark history (splintered off from Scientology), also recalls the Temple of Set church, a reboot of Anton Levay’s Church of Satan, as well as Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. Interestingly, Jones’ friend Dan Mitrione, was an operative trained in “advanced counterinsurgency techniques,” working with both the FBI and CIA, adding to the prevailing mystery of the Brian Jonestown massacre.
According to the researcher John Judge, Jones, once a poor preacher, started People’s Temple after meeting Mitrione. Judge uncovered much of the media manipulation in the aftermath of the Brian Jonestown massacre. Much of which, was used to besiege the American public through a distortion of facts – something that we see reflected in many high profile cases today.
In the arresting book Programmed to Kill by writer and researcher Dave McGowan, we see an examination of the American media and government agency propelled serial killer saga in a chapter entitled The Myth of the Serial Killer. Here is a passage that directly relates to the narrative of NBK and in some cases, crimes occurring in America today:
“Most Americans are probably familiar with what is considered the classic serial killer ‘profile.’ This was a notion first put forth by the venerable FBI, which coined the term ‘serial killer,’ and pioneered the concept of ‘profiling,’ in an alleged attempt to understand the phenomenon of mass murder. It appears to be the case though the concept of the ‘serial killer profile’ was put forth largely to misinform the public.”
“In the case of Henry Lee Lucas, few if any of the elements of the serial killer profile apply. For instance, serial killers are said to act alone, driven to do so only by their own private demons. So far removed from ordinary behavior are their actions that they would not, indeed could not, share their private passions with others. In Henry’s case, this is a patently false notion. It has been officially acknowledged that Lucas worked with not just one, but at times as many as three accomplices…”
Later, McGowan links the CIA’s politically motivated counter-insurgency campaign within Vietnam (Operation Phoenix) to a domestic version (Operation CHAOS) of terror, featuring serial killings throughout the 1960’s, in order to create a climate of fear to push for a police state crackdown.
The CIA’s Operation CHAOS “collected substantial amounts of information on domestic dissidents from 1967 to 1973,” as admitted by the CIA.
The murders were supposedly refered to as ‘Zebra’, because the radio communications channel that police talked over was channel Z. Reportedly, four Black Muslim men calling themselves the ‘Death Angels’ were spawned from a known cointelpro hangout, Nation of Islam.
The Death Angels were said to have shot future Mayor of San Francisco Art Angos. Some researchers on the subject have suggested that the Death Angels were trained counter-intelligence assassins tasked with fomenting a race war in America.
In the 1990’s the idea of the ‘lone’ serial killer phenomena faded into the background, exploding with the revamped media-driven image of the mass murder around every tabloid corner. When the decade came to a close, tabloid news produced the ratings that networks like ABC, CBS and NBCwere starving for. The news world changed after the O. J. Simpson trial, opening the door for larger outlets to run the type of sensational TV programming previously reserved for popular shows like A Current Affair, Hard Copy and Inside Edition – everything from salacious ‘soft feature’ celebrity pieces, to murder stories and courtroom dramas such as Divorce Court and Judge Judy seeped into regular television fair.
Similarly in the world today, the public has become reprogrammed by the fear-based odyssey of the “War On Terror” era and in more recent happenings such as the barrage of Daily Shooter mass casualty incidents rippling across America and Europe in the form of Gladio-style operations, we see another phase in the assault on reality. These cases have risen to the forefront in media as there is only a passing footnote concerned about serial killings, largely due to the public’s desensitization.
This new kind of ‘crimescape’ injects the collective hive mind with a host of socio-political concerns over race, religion, reform and security, while obscuring the forensic synopsis of a crime itself.
The notion that serial killers have in fact not acted alone under the ‘lone wolf’ banner, coincides with findings about many of today’s mass-shooters, who in a number of cases covered here at21WIRE, have involved multiple suspects, actors and drills. Most recently in America, the events surrounding the Orlando Pulse night club were called into question, as eye-witness accounts suggested multiple suspects in the alleged lone wolf attack and that the authorities themselves may be to blame for some of the apparent deaths.
Additionally, back in 2013, the alleged Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen, was placed under a terror watch list for 10 months (interviewed three times by the FBI between 2013-14) having worked for one of the largest security firms (G4S Secure Solutions, headquartered in Jupiter, Florida) in the US and around the world since 2007. The firm was formerly part of a CIA-linked government contractor and security firm, Wackenhut Corporation. Mateen’s extensive background with G4S, reveals another yet another curious connection between security and terror.
When discussing the mass shooter phenomena as it relates to terror and security, writer and researcher Jay Dyer of Jay’s Analysis, stated the following:
“The purpose of organized black op events is the psychological warfare effect of mass shootings. All warfare is psychological warfare, as the intent of the attacking party or army desires to bring about the acquiescence of the enemy. Warfare itself is merely a tool to bring about the psychological submission of the other side, while the intention of wiping out the enemy forces are secondary. Why deplete one’s own forces and resources if the enemy can be molded to think accordingly?
In this sense, terrorism is the purposeful display of chaos and fear that arises from the radical disturbance of the normal, daily patterns and social routines of the enemy with the intent of achieving an alteration in the psyche of the target populace.”
Indeed, as critical pieces of Daily Shooter events come together – evidence often suggests a highly organized and coordinated event involving many players. Those players then craft the three dimensions of how we are to view the event – carrying out the event are as follows: members of the police and security services, and most crucially, members of the global media. The last and most important group provides the fourth dimension of this reality, and that is you the public.
How you view any questionable event – is the pinnacle for the architects of any impressive psy-op.
A fifth dimension is based on the fourth, which is how the architects and social engineers observe your reactions to the event. From this, data is collected, social media is monitored, then metered, opinions are analyzed, and public reactions are measured. The conclusions will be used to form the baseline and design of future ‘shock and awe’ operations reacting directly to the public’s response.
In an exploratory essay entitled “Critical Theories of Mass Media: Then and Now,” written by Paul A. Taylor and Jan Ll. Harris, we can see clearer role of NBK and how it relates to the modern era:
“The ‘shock’ of the modern urban environment is figured in terms of a welter of new micro-perceptions, disorientating cuts and contingent images–a realm of experience that also characterizes the cinematic experience. Cinema thus trains the sensorium and helps the subject adapt to this new technological social reality.”
While NBK covers some dark and sometimes philosophical territory, it often hints at something much darker than our imaginations can comprehend. In this sense, the viewer feels like a guilty voyeur in a culture of violence, reliving trauma gratuitously through the callous and obsessive lens of mass media.
In the past critics and media have accused NBK itself of giving rise to “copycat” crimes as well as the Columbine High School massacre, and the Dunblane massacre. But interestingly, these two high profile shootings from the 1990’s have a number of questionable elements forensically, such as conflicting eyewitness testimony and how they were apparently carried out.
NBK can be thought of as an ultra or hyper-reality, an unreality more real than reality. While critics of the film cite NBK‘s dangerous content and presentation, it employs a heavy dose of artificial reality in order to inject certain universal truths about the nature of man and media. In an article for Ceasefire magazine, Andrew Robinson deconstructs Jean Baudrillard‘s hyper-reality. A concept prominently observed while watching NBK:
“Hyperreality is a special kind of social reality in which a reality is created or simulated from models, or defined by reference to models – a reality generated from ideas. The term has implications of ‘too much reality’ – everything being on the surface, without mystery; ‘more real than reality’ – too perfect and schematic to be true, like special effects; and ‘para-reality’, an extra layer laid over, or instead of, reality. It is experienced as more real than the real, because of its effect of breaking down the boundary between real and imaginary. It is a ‘real’ without ‘origin or reality’, a reality to which we cannot connect.”
In an informative piece by Randy Laist, Ph. D., entitled, “Murder and Montage: Oliver Stone’s Hyperreal Period,” we see a complex blended reality at play during NBK:
“Mickey and Mallory are the icons of the new reality: the image ripped out of its context, the innocent killer, the fictional character roaming free across the video prairies of the new manmade nature. Natural Born Killers elicits our own complicity with the cultural tendency it satirizes, blending critique with enactment in a way that collapses the border between character and audience as well as between moralistic valuations of guilt and innocence.”
In this perpetual age of terror, highly sophisticated methods are used to alter, distort and reform the public mind. NBK was able to pull back the curtain on mass media’s scripted reign…
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