CREATING LEGENDARY CHARACTERS WITH QUENTIN TARANTINO
“The way I write is really like putting one foot in front of the other. I really let the characters do most of the work, they start talking and they just lead the way…” – Quentin Tarantino, Creative Screenwriting Magazine, 1998
Quentin Tarantino has created some of the best films of the last 25 years, and one of the reasons for this is his attitude towards cinema: He isn’t making films for the opening weekend, a 72 hour window that Hollywood is obsessed with due to it being where the vast majority of the money is made. He’s making them for people to discover and love in 50 years time, and for when critics compile their ‘Greatest Films of the Decade’ lists.
What makes a Tarantino film? Is it the dialogue? The violence? The darkly comic humour? The soundtrack? The answer is: All of these, but more importantly, it is the characters he creates. Whether they’re vengeful brides, gangsters, ex-boxers or flight attendants, Tarantino writes characters who come to life, due to a mixture of genius (and often left field) casting, superb dialogue and his playwright-like ability to write scenes that are given time to breathe, creating unbelievable tension (especially in the likes of Django Unchained, and even more so, the opening scene and tavern scene in Inglorious Basterds) and classic face-offs.
Tarantino’s confidence in his own ability, and his belief that he is creating films that will stand the test of time, is what makes it almost impossible to place a time period on the majority of his films. Is Pulp Fiction a 90’s crime film? It could easily be set in the 70s or 80s. The same with Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill. It doesn’t matter. We’re invested in the stories, and the characters within them.
The characters that Tarantino creates are so rich, and have so much depth, that almost every film has unanswered questions, open-ended stories, and the potential for various spin-offs. This is the sign of a master filmmaker at work. Just look at the list of characters below, and consider the questions posed by each one:
Vic Vega and Vincent Vega
Tying Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction together, the Vega Brothers don’t mention each other, there are no hints to their past, and they are completely different characters. Vic Vega is a ticking time bomb, and clearly harbouring mental health issues, whereas Vincent is more chilled out and straight-laced, although his professionalism is questionable at times. Tarantino talked up a Vega Brothers movie – a prequel to ‘Dogs’ and ‘Fiction’ – but it never happened.
The classic ‘Where are they now?’ Tarantino character. Jules has so many questions hanging over him, and his story is kinda tragic. We know that he walks away from the gangster world, but in doing so, condemns his best friend Vincent Vega to death. Would Butch have got the upper-hand on Vincent had Jules been on the job with him? Definitely not. Who knows what happened to Jules? Did he just walk the earth like Caine in Kung-Fu? How did he react to Vince’s death? You could debate this for hours, and that was definitely Tarantino’s intention.
Ever wondered how Aldo Raine got the rope-burn on his neck? Charlie Rose did, but when he asked Tarantino about it in an interview back in 2009, it was met with this response. “It’s up to you to supply where that rope burn came from. If you contemplate why there is a rope burn there, and then someone else contemplates why there’s a rope burn there, and then a third person contemplates it, and three people came up with three different reasons, that’s three different movies you all saw.” It takes courage to create that much back story and detail for a character without referencing it within the 150 minutes on-screen, and trusting the audience to fill in the blanks themselves. For the people who get it, they love him for it.
Beatrix Kiddo has got it coming. Tarantino has said so himself. In an interview with Charlie Rose back in 2004, when Kill Bill Vol 2 was being released, Tarantino openly talks about what Vol 3 would be, and that it would take place 10-14 years in the future, when Nicky – the little girl who The Bride spared after killing her assassin mother in front of her – comes for her revenge, which she deserves every bit as much as The Bride deserved hers over Bill and his cronies. Whether or not Tarantino makes Vol 3 (the abandoned Vega Brothers project is evidence that he probably won’t), there are dozens of open-ended character arcs. Does a now-blind Elle Driver get bitten by the snake in Budd’s apartment and die? Or does she become a teacher to Nicky, and train her for her revenge?
Every question for every character is what makes Tarantino’s movieverse a geek heaven. People are going to be discussing these films for decades, and he bloody knows it. Long may it continue.