Stuntman Mike Must Be Made To Repent (or a facsimile thereof)

If you have not seen the film Death Proof and if you don’t like to know the end of a film before you see it, then stop right here.

I want to write about a deeply, viscerally satisfying cinematic moment I recently enjoyed. I admit up front that the sniveling, vengeful, and immature creature within my soul is the one giving voice to my pleasure. But wha, wha, wha, I liked it! …the end of Death Proof, that is. (it’s all SPOILERS from here on out, baby!)

Really, I liked the whole film, but the end, where Stuntman Mike gets what’s coming was wonderful. Now I know that vengeance is God’s and that violence is not a solution, etc., etc. But, being a human and all that, and being someone who grew up in the West – though not so wild anymore – where vigilante justice once had its place, I just couldn’t help myself. My soul resonated with the film’s conclusion.

So I want to lay it all out with a few screengrabs.

Stuntman Mike is not a good person. Here he is, full of mystery and machinamal stalking, watching his future victims like a jungle cat who drives an old stuntcar.

He preys on women. He stalks them and then kills them. He does this to success in the fist half of Death Proof.

He is also from yesteryear. In the antiqued first half of Death Proof he wins. The time is the present, but the world is the past – and that is his world.

But, in the second half of Death Proof Stuntman Mike is out of his element, but he doesn’t know it until it’s too late.

He chases a new foursome of beautiful and free-spirited women, who, when attacked by Mike, turn on him with great vengeance and aplomb. At one point he tries to tell them that it’s all just fun. They shoot him. He drives away, his arm bleeding, and his soul shaken to its core. So shaken, in fact, that Stuntman Mike loses it. He cries, he blubbers, he is full of fear and weakness.

He pulls over and pours whiskey on his wound. He screams in pain. This is truly a great moment in the film – to see the villain reduced to a crybaby. And this is where Kurt Russell’s performance goes from very good to magnificent.

But it’s not over. Stuntman Mike does not know the women have decided to give chase and are now closing in on him.

They crash into him and he takes off in a panic stricken blur of tears and sweat. And they follow – a full speed, classic, old-style car chase.

He watches them in his rearview mirror. He is an animal cornered. His only thought is how to live.

The women pull beside him and taunt him. He tries to say he is sorry, that he didn’t mean any harm – geeze, maybe he just didn’t realize that terrorizing and killing people for fun is wrong. Where are his parents?!

At one point the women fall behind and then disappear. Where did they go? All that Mike knows is that they are gone and he is finally free. He starts to laugh the way someone laughs after a near death experience – that nervous, uncontrollable release of pleasure mixed with relief and gravity. But this is not a moment of reflection or repentance for Mike. He is not that kind of psychopath. This is a moment when the cornered animal thinks it has a way out, to get on with its life as before.

Ah, but what do we have here? Is that a white Dodge Challenger I see?

Aha, it is! And poor little Mike does not see it.

We are all like Stuntman Mike sometimes – blind to the dangers lurking around us (lurking, in this case, at 80 miles an hour). Hopefully that is the only similarity. He laughs with glee. He is free and he feels it.

His head tilts back in the deep release of joy. And then there is a flash of white.

And there goes Mike.

This is the moment of which I speak. That flash of white, that POW of the Challenger slamming into the back of the Charger, and the Charger flipping wildly into the air, that is the moment of satisfaction my heart enjoyed.

Sure, I know I shouldn’t enjoy it. I should long for Stuntman Mike’s rehabilitation. I should understand that he is the product of his upbringing, his society, his biology. I should know that his heart is shackled by the chains of sin. I should forgive. And I do forgive – his soul that is (may God have mercy) – all the while I enjoy the justice. And though my head bows in shame, sinner that I am, me head also bows as I look for the remote so I can see that scene again!

Finally the women drag him from his car and beat the crap out of him. The end.

Satisfaction. Amen.

7 thoughts on “Stuntman Mike Must Be Made To Repent (or a facsimile thereof)

  1. >I saw the film at a media preview, and at that final scene, about half a dozen of us all burst out in hysterical laughter. Great stuff!I know many people criticise Tarantino for various reasons, but I think he always delivers the goods.

  2. >Paul, yes Tarantino is by no means a perfect director. Maybe in time he will be considered one of the greats, but for now I wouldn’t put him there. And yet, like you say, he does deliver the goods, and in this case, it’s just so much fun. I have to admit that this post exists mostly becasue I just wanted to re-live the end of the film.

  3. >I finally saw Death Proof last night, Tuck, and although I found it to be a terribly uneven product (more so perhaps than any other Tarantino film), I did thoroughly enjoy it and I have no doubt that that was Tarantino’s main intent all along. The two car chases that occur in the final twenty minutes of the film were incredibly exhilerating and, like you, I relished Stuntman Mike’s eventual destruction. And yet the movie’s climax mainly resurrected a question that I frequently come back to when watching any sort of good vs. evil struggle (I also just watched Die Hard for about the fiftieth time–a little “Christmas tradition” of mine–and was reminded of it once again): what precisely is the difference between vengeance and justice? I know one is right and the other is not, but sometimes, on the surface, the two can end up looking virtually identical and usually end in the same result. In fact, I would argue that justice can actually be accomplished through vengeance. Is one man’s justice another man’s vengeance and vice-versa? I still haven’t figured out the answers to these questions but, nevertheless, I think there can be something righteously satisfying about seeing/hearing a story where evil get punished… whether it be in a mega-violent Bruce Willis action flick or even in an animated family-friendly Disney fairy tale. The fact of the matter is that, at their cores, there is very little difference between Sleeping Beauty and Die Hard…..and yes, even Death Proof.

  4. >Damian, I don’t really know what separates vengeance from justice. I imagine that justice is a condition of response or outcome to injustice, whereas vengeance is more of an attitude of getting back at someone. In that sense someone could mete out justice through an act of vengeance. If that’s true, then I can imagine someone pursuing vengeance with a black heart, and yet producing an appropriate condition of justice. Maybe that vengeance should belong to God is actually for our own good, for the sake of our souls.It seems to me that Death Proof is all about vengeance and justice. We cheer because of the justice, but we are also along the for the ride of vengeance – and vengeance feels good. That is why the film “works” even though it is a bit uneven and leaves a number of story threads unraveled. I have to admit that Death Proof taps into the basest of natural instincts and that is one of the reasons I liked it, but that may not be giving myself a compliment. If I have a concern it is that Tarrantino is the kind of person who plays around too lightly with heavy themes. I see him as a highly gifted and driven person who has yet to plumb the depths of the human condition with anything other than a sense of camp and kitsch.

  5. >I’m no expert in law, but I think justice is different to vengeance in that the former should be a rational and objective response to a crime in proportion to the offence, and meted out by those with no vested interest.Vengeance is an emotional response by those who feel wronged, and need not be in any way proportional to the alleged offence. For example, you may spit at my feet, and I may kill you because you have offended my honour. Vengeance films work, because they are a kind of fantasy. Like someone cuts us off in traffic and we wish we could blow up their car. It appeals to our base instincts. We see something onscreen, and the cinematic world allows that kind of fantasy to be played out. Tarantino’s films are largely fun, without striving any kind of deep and meaningful dialogue with the audience. For what he sets out to achieve, I think Tarantino is very successful.

  6. >paul, thanks for stopping by. I do think a common aspect of human emotion is to react at say a 8 or 9 (on a scale of ten) to an offense that is actually only a 2 or 3. When we say we seek justice we often want the emotional satisfaction of vengeance. If Death Proof was really about justice it would not be particularly satisfying.

  7. >I really liked Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, that was good casting. I agree with most that the ending, as flawed as it was, ended appropriately. I assume that final kick by Rosario’s character killed him?Anyhoo, it was a fun flick and I liked it, although one more taste of what Stuntman Mike would have been cool, then to see him grovel like a child when he meets his match would be a bit more satisfying.

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