“Unlikable” Women Addendum: Elle Driver

I recently did two things. First, I wrote a short list of “unlikable” women characters – ymmv ofc, who are, arguably, all protagonists. Second, I watched Kill Bill, volumes one and two.

So here’s something about Elle Driver.

Elle is more like a villain than anyone else in the Kill Bill movies. This is my main reason for believing her to be an unlikable woman character who isn’t given her due.

The first time we see her, she’s dressed as a nurse (… sort of) and is whistling away as she makes her way to kill Beatrix. She gets vicious when Bill calls her to call it off, then relaxes because Bill is manipulative and can do whatever he wants, I guess.

In Vol. 2, she tells Budd to make sure Beatrix suffers, then shows up and kills Budd, then calls Bill and tells him Beatrix killed Budd and she killed Beatrix, then fights with Beatrix and tells her that she killed her master, then Beatrix… sort of kills her. Kind of. It’s ironic, I guess.

I enjoy Elle a lot, I’m just not particularly happy that there’s apparently no empathy to spare for Elle, though Beatrix mourns Bill after, and also immediately before, Bill dies. I don’t mind Beatrix being conflicted, it’s just that when you consider Bill and Elle side by side, only one of those people (as far as we know) is an abuser.

Elle participated in the massacre and the beating of pregnant Beatrix, and also judging by her actions in Vol. 2 she just isn’t a very nice person, but Bill, “The Snake Charmer,” is the one with the power. He’s the one who orchestrated it all. He’s the one who set this all up because his 30-years-younger than him favourite blonde took off on him. He’s the one who shoots her in the head, intending to kill her, and the baby she just told him is his.

Bill is paralleled by two other men in this movie, I think. One is Estaban, who gets a short scene in which he tells Beatrix he wouldn’t have murdered her, he’d have just cut her face for her betrayal. Then calls over a young woman whose face is, indeed, cut. Beatrix doesn’t have empathy for him.

Pai Mei is the other Bill parallel. Maybe it’s more dubious, but Pai Mei’s teachings are how Beatrix does the titular thing. Bill is the one who brings Beatrix to him. Pai Mei is abusive as well. Maybe it’s a different kind of abuse… the consensual kind? He’s a martial artist who teaches people by abusing them, and their ability to live with the abuse and succeed anyway is… uh… how they succeed.

Elle tells Beatrix that Pai Mei took her eye because she called him a miserable old fool.

My question is: is it really fair to consider this specific thing consensual abuse? Should Elle have expected that Pai Mei would take her eye out, or do some sort of violence that doesn’t heal on her, if she mildly insulted him?

It doesn’t have an easy answer, in my opinion. I think in the real world Pai Mei would go to jail, and also assassins aren’t this cool. But in the Kill Bill universe, it’s somewhere in between “Elle should have heeded the story about how Pai Mei kills people who don’t nod back to him and kept her defiance to herself” and “men who do damage to women for betrayals large and small are the bad guys in this universe though.”

Anyway, Elle murdered him. I for one can’t really get with Beatrix’s horror and sadness there. Guy got what he deserved, as far as I’m concerned, but the movie, of course, frames this as the big “villain confesses something emotionally devastating to the hero” moment.

I have a couple of other things to say about Elle. I like the part where Beatrix throws Budd’s chewing tobacco byproduct or whatever that’s called (tobacco spit? IDK I’m not looking it up) in her face and she kind of calmly says, “Gross.” I think I like it a lot because it’s a very muted reaction in contrast to what I would have expected her to do in this situation.

I also really like the way she kills Budd. It’s metaphorical and kind of sweet of her. It’s also extremely exploitative of that snake, so, obviously I don’t like that, but as these things all exist in the bizarre realm of killing William, I mostly think it’s a nice touch.

Should be noted that there is no corresponding nice touch from Beatrix’s side of this conflict… and there’s my main problem. Women admiring each other even when there’s professional and personal animosity – not just for the villains, thanks.

Elle, you deserved just one thoughtful sentimentality more in these films.

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