True Romance: Ultimate Desire or Death Sentence?
Smoke-filled lungs burn for air in a room riddled with bullets. Alabama’s blood-soaked hands trace the brow of a corpse that was her living, breathing husband thirty seconds ago. Her delicate fingers are jumping over the place where Clarence’s skull was crushed, pulverized as a bullet tore through his flesh, erasing the memories of his beloved wife and cutting his life string as if it were the fates themselves. She doesn’t care. Her eyes betray her as she walks out of the room, money in hand. True Romance is tragedy at it’s finest. It is Romeo and Juliet without the duality of suffering. It is Clarence taking a bullet to the skull and Alabama rushing away with the riches of his sacrifice, moving on to a new husband after her last has served his purpose.
Quentin Tarantino wrote the original version of True Romance in accordance with his own definition; Alabama’s past costs Clarence his life while Alabama makes off with the cash in pursuit of her next lover to corrupt. Like a parasite, she sucks the life out of anyone that can be used to her benefit. However, the ending was changed when director, Tony Scott, decided that viewers would be too distraught to lose Clarence after fighting so long for the couple’s success. This decision, though in accordance with Scott’s right to artistic freedom, completely alters the definition of true romance that movie puts forth. Tarantino’s ending is one of destruction, selfish ambition, and pride getting in the way of love. In his eyes, True Romance is a death sentence. Scott’s ending, however, promotes love, sacrifice that doesn’t end in death, and the happily-ever-after in which Hollywood so forcefully believes.
While both endings are drastically different in their own accords, it is the reactions of Alabama that are the pivotal factors in each ending’s message. If, perhaps, Clarence had died in the original ending and Alabama had mourned her loss and turned herself in to the police to face the consequences of her actions, the idea of true romance could have been completely different. Alabama has suddenly become the pivotal character in the movie’s entire meaning and definition of true romance.
Like many other female leads, Alabama follows the archetype of a classic character in literature. Identifying which archetypal character that Tarantino originally intended Alabama to represent would define once and for all Tarantino’s intent for his definition of true romance. The options for Alabama’s archetypal base are endless; however, the plot lends itself to three possibilities: Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Juliet from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and the Sirens from the myths of Ancient Greece. The discernment and identification of the true archetype for Alabama is the decisive factor in deciding whether true romance is the fulfillment of happily-ever-after or a death sentence for anyone who dares to come close to its rocky shores.
The Lovely Fool: Ophelia
Shakespeare’s Hamlet features Ophelia as Hamlet’s leading lady that bows to the whim’s of her father and lover alike and who is eventually driven to madness and passive suicide by the words of those around her. Ophelia is constantly stuck between being a sexual object and a pawn in the games of those around her. Much like Alabama, she is the center of the activities that pervade her world, but she is just as often used as piece within these same games. Ophelia follows the orders of Polonius, her father, to the ends of the Earth. She sticks by the side of her beloved Hamlet through the pestilent insults that are constantly slung at her. She sits through crass monologues from her brother, Laertes, that make even the crudest listener squirm. Alabama often undergoes many trials that are similar to these. She is insulted and abused by her pimp, viewed as a sexual object and pawn in the games of her husband, and quite literally thrown around by Virgil.
This, however, is where their similarities end. Ophelia is driven mad by the constant pressure and inconsistency of her life. She struts about the castle muttering phrases and eventually dies by passivity as she drowns in the river simply because she decided not to swim. This is contrary to Alabama’s character; she’s too much of a fighter to die passively. Alabama thrives in the chaos of her life. Through Drexl’s demeaning language, Clarence’s blind ambition, and Virgil’s physical blows, Alabama remains strong and steadfast in her resolve. Therefore, while Ophelia may be an influential presence in respect to situation, she is not accurately representative of Alabama’s base archetype.
The Star-Crossed Lover: Juliet
Alabama and Clarence meet in a dark, shadowy movie theatre with their idenitities secret from one another, until they exit the theatre and come into the light. The whole of their first few hours together is plagued by darkness from their initial meeting to their first sexual encounter. The truth is only revealed when the dawn breaks and Alabama comes forward about her current employment situation and her true intentions during their first greeting at the movie theatre. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet follows closely to this plot line, as the two meet in the night and their identities, once revealed, bring forth the chaos that plagues them until their eventual deaths. While both couples may qualify as star-crossed lovers, it is the intentions of Alabama and Juliet that differ. Juliet is innocent, a virginal girl who delves into her sexuality upon encountering her supposed soul mate. Alabama is a prostitute, paid to be in the company of Clarence upon their first encounter. On the surface, these women could not appear to be more different.
The true difference between these two women and the reason why Juliet cannot be Alabama’s archetypal base is their level of commitment and their response to the death of their lover. Juliet, upon seeing Romeo lying dead beside her in the tomb, realizes her role in his demise and kills herself as a show of her devotion and inability to live without Romeo. Alabama witnesses Clarence’s death, knowing that it was her involvement in his life that drove him to this fate, but there is no sacrifice. She does not thrust a knife into her stomach, embracing the physical pain as a symbol of her shattered heart. She does not throw herself at her husband’s attackers, demanding revenge for his death. She does not even turn herself in to the police and accept responsibility for her actions. Alabama takes the money that cost Clarence his life and moves on as if nothing had ever happened. She cannot possibly be based on the sacrificial love of these star-crossed lovers because there is little love shown by her callous actions after the death of her so-called love.
The Enchanting Seductresses: Sirens of Greece
The Sirens of ancient Greece were handmaids of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter. When Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, Demeter sent the Sirens around the world to find her, equipping them with wings and mandating them to not return until her beloved Persephone was found safely. The Sirens then landed on an island and sang their mourning songs, waiting for Persephone to return home. Since that time, the Sirens have gained a reputation as enchanting temptresses that lure men to their deaths on the rocky cliffs that surround their tiny plot of land purely for their own amusement. This is the depiction of true romance that Quentin Tarantino puts forth with his original ending.
Alabama is a siren. She was beset with a gift of seduction that was bestowed on her from birth, much like the sirens ability to sing. From the moment she met Clarence, she was pulling him further and further into her world, closer and closer to the rocky shores that would eventually take his life. This is Alabama’s classic female archetype: the seductive temptress that uses her gifts to lure in unsuspecting men. Because of this archetypal connection, Tarantino’s original idea of true romance becomes clear. His original ending in which Alabama’s web of lies and violence envelops Clarence and when it kills him, she moves on to her next victim as if nothing has changed.
The decision to change the ending completely altered this definition. Alabama is not cast as the malicious siren and is instead treated as the devoted and caring wife, committed to her husband and their growing family. Tarantino has never been married. He has never experienced the long-term devotion of marriage and therefore views women and love in a different light. Because of this, his original ending of True Romance is more accurate to his definition of what romance truly entails. In the eyes of Tarantino, the definition of true romance is this: a death sentence for all who dare to let themselves in to its grasp.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New Haven: Yale UP, 1947. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. New Haven: Yale UP, 1954. Print.
True Romance. Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino. Warner Brothers, 1993. DVD.
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