With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, love is in the air, and on our screens. But this Valentine’s Day, instead of re-watching the Notebook rain-kiss for the umpteenth time, why not rev up the engine of your stolen automobile and take a ride on the wild side? Mickey and Mallory Knox in Natural Born Killers (1994), or the infamous Bonnie and Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) may be killer couples, but they are just as good as any to celebrate on the day dedicated to love.
Very little can match the romance of the lovers-on-the-run trope; the adrenaline, the us-against-the-world mentality, the guilty pleasure of supporting an anti-hero, the undeniable sex appeal of bad boys and killer vixens, the dynamic duo playing with fire, knowing full well they will get burnt and enjoy it.
Is it bad these literally wanted couples seem so cool? Definitely. However, toxic relationships exist all over every genre of cinema. You can’t tell me the Bella/Edward thing is healthy, or that the plot to Pretty Woman isn’t even a little bit problematic. Just like movie violence, movie relationships shouldn’t be simulated in real life – they’re totally different beasts. Though, ironically, Mickey and Mallory and Bonnie and Clyde are all real criminals and real lovers (a potential reason why their love stories are far more powerful narratives than vampiric love sagas).
Bonnie and Clyde and Natural Born Killers, both masterpieces in their own right, while polar opposites stylistically, both provide us with couples guaranteed to affect audiences deeply. In Bonnie and Clyde, Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) meets bored waitress Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) having just got out of jail for armed robbery. He robs a store to impress her, and Bonnie falls for him hard once he offers her a life of excitement with him, away from her tedious existence: “You’re worth more’n that, a lot more, and you know it, and that’s why you come along with me”.
In Natural Born Killers, Mickey (Woody Harrelson) plays a similar role to Clyde, in that he rescues Mallory (Juliette Lewis) from an abusive household. Then again, he does so by killing Mallory’s entire family with her assistance, and they go on to be married, bloodthirsty, serial killers. There’s no doubting Bonnie and Clyde are the more relatable of the two couples: their mission is to steal the American Dream and drive off into the sunset to live it together. On the other hand, the sex-crazed looneys in Natural Born Killers are doing their best to escape it.
Despite this, the concepts of fate and destiny are as beautifully set up in both films as in any classic love story. The lovers count themselves lucky to have met each other, even if it caused them to have exploded into the co-dependent, criminal duos they became. There’s no way to change their fate, and they’ll fight off any obstacle that stands in their way. As the title of the movie suggests, Mickey explains he and Mallory were born to kill – it couldn’t have been any other way. And despite Bonnie envisioning living a “clean” life with Clyde, when asking him what it’d be like, he explains to her how they would still rob banks, just in other states in which they’re unknown. Pairs of star-crossed, villainous lovers indeed.
The course their relationships take is as unavoidable as the initial pairing of the couples. Both pairs want to go places, but Bonnie comes to realize, they’re not “going anywhere”, they’re not “free”, they’re “just going”. What could be more human and relatable than the unchangeability of a person’s nature and circumstances, or the disappointment of reality closing in on your dreams?
These movies don’t just present us with a sensationalized, romanticised portrayal of criminal activity. They give us insight into healthy and unhealthy aspects of relationships, the expectations people have of one another once they’re bonded together, and the highs and lows of overwhelming passion.
Mallory feels special, because Mickey, though a monster, is as sweet as pie to her, and only her. But when he starts to swerve away from monogamy and becomes aggressive toward her, she wonders if she was ever the exception. Is Mickey just bad to the bone? We’re all left wondering if love is in fact for everyone by the end.
Maybe it’s how Mickey tells it: there’s a demon in each and every one of us, and “only love…can kill the demon”. Is love a destructive or a salvific force in the lives of these couples? I guess it’s, unavoidably, a bit of both. But one thing is for certain: it’s all-powerful, alright.