Two Inches Down – Saving Arlene in Tarantino’s Death Proof
Dale Sherman, author of Quentin Tarantino FAQ, provides us with a fan-fiction post exploring what might have been if Arlene had survived in Tarantino’s Death Proof.
Two Inches Down – Saving Arlene in Tarantino’s Death Proof
by Dale Sherman
When writing about Death Proof (2007) in the manuscript for the Quentin Tarantino FAQ, I started writing my own alternate version of the film. Oh, sure, that’s a neat thing to do as a fan; but for the author of a book discussing Tarantino? Here I am telling readers about the history of and ramifications facing a movie and suddenly I go all fanboy on everyone. Fortunately, I saw that I was heading down a … well, not a dangerous road, but a rather useless one for the book – who wants to pay to read fan-fiction, after all – and edited the material out soon after finishing the chapter.
Still, the things that bugged me a bit as a viewer kept rolling around in my head, as I know it does for a certain number of Tarantino fans who never have taken to the film as they have to most of his others. We spend half the film with extremely irritating characters who get bumped off, only to spend even more time with a new group of characters re-enacting the first part of the film. Could there have been a better way of handling it? Why bring our old friend Sheriff McGraw in for exposition that doesn’t really mean much to the rest of the film? Why are we introduced to other movie people, including two stunt-women, who are making a movie in essentially the middle of nowhere but don’t know about Stuntman Mike? What is he doing there anyway? Is he working on the film with everyone else? If so, wouldn’t everyone be creeped out that the stuntman who killed several women with his “death proof” car is working on the picture? The community of stunt people is rather tightly knit, wouldn’t Stuntman Mike be like the John Wayne Gacy of stunt-people? Known, hated, and avoided at all costs by everyone else in the profession? The stunt Zoe performs is neat and nail-biting, but could there have been a better way to get her on the hood of the car rather than “this will be cool”? And after all that, the film’s final image may be satisfying, but it seems almost too quick as well.
As I state in the book, the setup of the women partying in the bar and then being wiped out is obviously a type of Psycho influence on the storyline. In Hitchcock’s film, we’re supposed to side with Marion and even come to identify in some ways with Norman Bates as they have dinner and discuss their problems nearly a third of the way into the film. Then Marion dies and the character the audience identified with is gone, leaving us to take on new characters and go into a new direction with the film.
Same here with Stuntman Mike. We’re supposed to like him a bit in the first half of the film and we’re supposed to feel a connection between him and Arlene (Tarantino has stated he purposefully filmed scenes in such a way to make the audience see Arlene as the girl who survives to the end of the slasher film). Then he kills her off and – boom – the audience has to readjust to new character (Zoe Bell and the gang), while knowing Mike deserves to have something nasty happen to him for what he did. Yet we see that his new car isn’t exactly “death proof” and then there’s the odd way he pranks the women and then heads off as if that would be it, instead of the stalking deaths he caused in the first half of the film. And while we know that he’s a killer, why would the new group of women suddenly be out to kill him? Sure, he’s a jerk as far as they know, and dangerous perhaps, but they have no way of knowing that they need to get him. Because of that, their “roaring rampage” seems to make them out to be crazier than Mike.
Yet what if things had been different?
In the scene midway through the film, where Stuntman Mike kills the women in the other car, we see Arlene lower her head right before impact. The wheel of the car then comes flying through and gets her at the tip of her head, snapping her head back and does a lot more damage as it kills her.
Now suppose that Arlene had lowered her head just an inch or two further down? What if that tire had gone through and missed her by “that much”? Furthermore, with it missing her, there’s not only a possibility that she would have survived, but let’s go one step further – what if she emerged alive and without major injuries?
Here’s Stuntman Mike living, as McGraw states in more provocative terms, his sex life through his “death proof” car. He gets injured, but he’s still the survivor. But now there’s Arlene, the woman who he talks into dancing for him and being her own person, walking away from the wreck. She’s “death proof” without the need of a car. How would that affect Mike? More so, how would Arlene be affected in knowing that Mike intentionally killed everyone with his stunt car?
McGraw can’t be involved, but he can certainly put the thoughts into Arlene’s head that Mike is a deviate who killed her friends “for fun” and will likely do so again. Meanwhile, as in the film, Mike is all banged up and needs to stay in the hospital for several months. Arlene can’t do anything to him there, but she can plot her revenge for when the time comes. With this, you can still bring in Zoe Bell and the other stunt people. Have Arlene train with them to get a better understanding of stunt work, how Mike would build such a car, and how to counteract him when she (or they) get a chance. Sure, in reality there’s no way she’d become an expert at any of that within the six months or so Mike is recuperating, but this is the movies after all. You can even throw in Sheriff McGraw with his own thoughts and actions to help catch Mike (little knowing that Arlene has more in mind than simply catching him “in the act”).
In order words, the movie no longer is simply a twist on the slasher film, but one on the revenge thriller. You avoid the odd chase at the end of the film where Mike puts a scare into everyone and then seems to be happy to drive off into the sunset. Instead, we have a cat-and-mouse game between the obsessed killer, Stuntman Mike, and the obsessed avenger, Arlene. Will she push too far and endanger everyone or will he get his chance to claim his “death proof” girl? Will the others try to get her to do the right thing instead of simply get her revenge? Eventually it would all wind up in the car chase as seen in the film, but you could then add in the extra ‘70s spice of a sheriff in pursuit along with them, just like in so many Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit) type films of the period, along with the uncertainty of who is actually out to get who. Imagine them working on a film with that stunt on the hood of the car, but with Mike as the other stunt person who has now been pushed too far and wants to see them dead. They go “off-script” by continuing the chase past the filming point and into the main roads, while McGraw is in on the chase, trying to bring them all to justice.
I’m not going to kid anyone. I’m sure that many reading this may think that it’s a bad idea, and certainly that what we got is better than what I’m suggesting. After all, there’s no way anyone is going to say, “let’s remake the film your way, Dale!” Still, it’s hard to not look at all the brilliant work put into that film and wonder what “could have been.” That shows that there was certainly something there worth watching in the first place and therefore not the failure that some make it out to be.
And as for the above fanboy rantings? Well, it is a blog, and it is for free. Simply an added bonus for the fans who want to read more about the film and others done by Tarantino in the Quentin Tarantino FAQ. Just be reassured that you won’t find me going off-track like this in the pages of the book, no matter how fun it is to do so here.