You’re So Cool
The cops burst in to a once friendly room 211, and the chaos commences. Lee Donowitz’s cocaine dealing side-business has come to an abrupt end. “Police! Police! Get on the ground! Put the fucking guns down! Get on the ground! Put the fucking guns down!” A cacophony of shouts fills the cozy hotel suite as the police, guns drawn, face the body guards, guns drawn, all the while the ‘regular folks’ (minus Clarence who exited a short minute ago to “take a piss”) in the middle, weaponless and scared, raise their arms in surrender. After only a few furious words between the bodyguards and the cops, a group of four mobsters burst in, guns locked and loaded. The face-off expands: cops versus bodyguards versus mobsters — don’t forget about the scared ‘regulars’ in the center of it all. One wrong move from any side will cause explosion. Not a bullet has been fired as of yet; that soon changes when Elliot, Donowitz’s once trusted companion reveals that he has been working hand in hand with the police on a mission to bust Donowitz’s cocaine ring. Elliot squeaks, “Officer Dimes? Officer Dimes? This has nothing to do with me anymore. Can I just leave and you guys just settle it by yourselves?” Upon the revelation of Elliot’s betrayal, Donowitz, hurt and angry, hurls a pot full of hot coffee in Elliot’s direction. Elliot screams as the scorching coffee burns his skin.
Bullets rain down and the shootout begins.
Mutual Assured Destruction
“To continue to deter in an era of strategic nuclear equivalence, it is necessary to have nuclear (as well as conventional) forces such that in considering aggression against our interests any adversary would recognize that no plausible outcome would represent a victory or any plausible definition of victory. To this end and so as to preserve the possibility of bargaining effectively to terminate the war on acceptable terms that are as favorable as practical, if deterrence fails initially, we must be capable of fighting successfully so that the adversary would not achieve his war aims and would suffer costs that are unacceptable, or in any event greater than his gains, from having initiated an attack.”
-President Jimmy Carter, 1980 Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy
The Cold War was a time of heightened tensions and fear of nuclear war. The United States versus Russia. The ‘great arms race’ began out of the fear of being out-weaponized. Who was going to be the first to blow the other up? Who was going to be the one to break the tension and begin the war? For if the tension was broken, a bomb denoted, a nuclear war would surely begin. No side would come out on top; no side would come any close to a sort of victory. Mutual assured destruction was inevitable in this Mexican standoff. Alas, here, the stakes were too high and no one pulled the trigger. The same cannot be said for those in Suite 211 of the Beverly Wilshire.
A Mexican standoff, one of Tarantino’s trademark conflicts, represents a sticky situation in which two or more participants are stuck in a state of danger and tension. They are unable to retreat because doing so would lead them into even more danger; the retreating player would have to turn his back on the posing threat(s) in order to get away. All must stay put until one breaks the tension, causing the fight to begin. This shift in tension could be a result of any number of possible occurrences: a shot is fired, a step is made in the wrong direction, the red button is pressed, or perhaps the revelation that someone who you once “treated as a son” has betrayed you to the police so you decide to throw a pot of hot coffee on him… All are valid tension breakers and could very easily commence the fighting.
Now, specifically in True Romance, the standoff is among the cops, the bodyguards, and the mobsters; each have staked their claim in a portion of the hotel suite. Then, in the middle of all of the commotion, there are the unarmed and panicked who, for the sake of this essay, are called ‘the regulars.’ The regulars consist of Alabama, Dick, Elliot, and Donowitz. (Note the timing importance of Clarence’s bathroom visit. He was the one who created the whole mess, yet he is not there to face the consequences.)
All sides would be better off (and alive) if they would simply walk away or exit calmly, but none are willing to do this because in doing so they would create a higher-risk situation for themselves as well as sacrifice their honor, their dignity, and/or their need for justice. Thus, the plot thickens. As the audience waits for the tension to break, quick, frantic shots mark the mood of this scene; the camera pans among the opposing sides and cuts to specific people for close ups of their faces and bodies. Shown are the darting eyes, furious brows, fearful faces, shouting mouths, and ready-to-fire weapons (or lack thereof) of each opposing force. Just as the characters are on edge, so is the audience. The quickness of the cameras’ shots allows for the simultaneous tension build of both the audience members and the characters in the hotel room. All the while, in the background, the sounds of helicopters and gunshots are heard from Donowitz’s projection of war on the back wall; this seems to produce a bit of insight into what is about to come.
Ironically, it is a member of the scared and unarmed clan in the center who lights the match that starts the hell fire. Out of fear, Elliot pleads to the police to let him go, calling Officer Dimes by name. All take a breather from their screaming as Elliot tries to surrender and Donowitz realizes Elliot’s traitorous actions. The silence of the background builds the tension further and provides great contrast for the explosions that come a few seconds after. If Elliot had never let it be known that he was working undercover for the police, a reaction would never have been stirred up in Donowitz to throw the coffee pot and therefore cause the cops and then everyone else to fire their weapons. Thus, making Elliot the most influential character in the scene.
Justice In Blood
“Justice is an artificial virtue, necessary for civil society, a function of the voluntary agreements of the social contract.”
Justice comes in many forms and fashions because it is entirely subjective to the individual. It is a concept based on personal morals and judgement and therefore is incredibly fluid and difficult to define. There is a general social code for the punishments of doing right and wrong, but it is only particularly fitting when the wrongdoing is taken into the hands of the law, the symbols for societal justice, and sometimes, even then, there are those that believe justice was not served. Often times, it is taken into the hands of the individual through conversation, trial, or revenge rather than through the hands of the authorities. In the world of drug distribution and all other illegal activities, justice can not be had through the police or judges in court because of the illegality of the entire situation; justice is achieved through blood. Each individual character’s need for justice fuels their actions in the final shootout scene of True Romance. The cops want to arrest the dealers; the bodyguards, who “fucking hate the police,” are unwilling to go down without a fight; the mobsters are on a mission to kill Clarence and fetch back their cocaine. The motives for each set of people bring them to the standoff and keep them there; they refuse to leave unless their version of justice is accomplished.
As the shootout progresses and more and more people die, feathers and cocaine engulf the room, coating it in white. This, visually, adds to the confusion and haziness of the scene, yet it seems to provide a protective veil for the blood and death that lies on the hotel room floor. Left are the few still fighting survivors: two cops and a mobster behind the couch. Here is yet another face off. As the mobster “surrenders,” the cops seem to finally think that it is all over. Unfortunately, the mobster gives up a single gun, keeping his second for a final surprise shootout. Now, left in the room alive are Officer Dimes, Borris (a bodyguard), Clarence and Alabama. Everyone else is either dead or in the lobby with their own problems.
The fight for justice is now a personal conquest. Officer Dimes calmly walks over to Borris who is begging for an ambulance. Dimes pulls out his gun and with his life’s last action, unbeknownst to him, kills Borris and growls, “That was for Cody, you sack a shit.” Seconds later, out of rage and fear, Alabama picks up Clarence’s gun and shoots Officer Dimes several times, killing him. No one is left alive in suite 211 except for Clarence and Alabama, the two who created the whole mess.
So what does this say for justice? Was justice had? Well, that goes back to the idea that justice is an entirely subjective concept. Of course, the two who came out on top (alive, really) surely believe that justice was had because they received what they came for after all of the ‘hard work’ they had done. I would be willing to bet, though, for those who paid the ultimate price, their life, they would believe otherwise.
“Sometimes I’m asked by Clarence what I was thinking as we walked a suitcase full of cash under the noses of a hundred cops. I smile and play coy with him and have never yet told him what was going through my mind. Amid the chaos of that day, when all I could hear was the thunder of gunshots, and all I could smell was the violence in the air, I look back and am amazed that my thoughts were so clear and true. That three words went through my mind endlessly. Repeating themselves like a broken record. ‘You’re so cool. You’re so cool. You’re so cool.’”
-Alabama Worley, True Romance