The second movie I saw where the woman fights back and wins was much tougher to watch than Romancing the Stone. Although it’s been described as a dark romantic comedy, Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance wasn’t up there on the laugh-o-meter. The movie follows Clarence (Christian Slater), who is such an Elvis fan he talks to Elvis’s ghost (Val Kilmer) for guidance (okay, that was funny), and Clarence’s true romance with the call girl Alabama (Patricia Arquette). In a confrontation with Alabama’s pimp Clarence kills the guy, taking a suitcase of Alabama’s clothes that turns out to be a suitcase full of cocaine. To finance their happily-ever-after Clarence decides to sell the cocaine, which leads to trouble with the Mafia and the cops.
When mobster underboss Virgil (James Gandolfini) finds Alabama home alone he beats her up to find out where the cocaine is, but also to feed on her fear. He admits that seeing his victims’ terror is the only time he feels anything, so he holds off killing her even when she fights back (stabbing him in the foot with a corkscrew), because she refuses to be afraid of him. Covered in her own blood, with his gun in her face, she laughs and points at him; when he wants to know what’s funny she says, “You look ridiculous.” Because he’s not getting a response he understands, or the rush he craves, he makes the mistake of looking in the mirror. Then Alabama has the time (and the smarts) to kill him instead, throwing shampoo in his eyes, bashing him over the head with the heavy lid from the toilet tank, setting him on fire with hairspray and a cigarette lighter. She finally shoots him in the chest with a rifle, and then, in frustration that she can’t kill him more, lifts the rifle over her head and howls. Clarence returns to find her straddling a dead killer, bashing him over and over again with the rifle.
In Romancing the Stone, once Joan Wilder has acted like one of her fictional heroines and dispatched the killer she doesn’t seem to know what to do. I haven’t seen the film in awhile, but as I remember she has a moment when she nearly wrings her hands, trying to return to the damsel-in-distress romantic script to keep Jack around, or maybe in a knee-jerk attempt to get back on solid storytelling ground.
In True Romance Alabama isn’t wondering how to behave after she kills the bad guy. She isn’t ‘thinking’ at all, but expressing fury at being threatened and hurt by a brutal man, who has killed other people and enjoyed it. Maybe her fury is even at the kind of world where this happens.