Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Natural Born Killers

Stone vs. Grisham: A Clash of Titans, Part III

Oliver Stone
Oliver Stone

Though not a bestselling author, Oliver Stone's stature in the motion picture industry puts him on a par with Grisham. A two-time Academy Award winner for Best Director (for Platoon, 1986, and Born on the Fourth of July, 1989), Stone has been one of the most successful and controversial film directors of the modern era. Most of his movies have become box-office smashes, even while Stone, himself, has become a lightning rod for criticism from all points on the political compass.

His 1991 film, JFK, winner of two Academy Awards, was blasted by some critics for lending credence to previously discredited conspiracy theories behind President Kennedy's assassination. Many felt his 1996 biopic, The People v. Larry Flynt, which Stone produced, overly glorified the man who proudly calls himself "Mr. Pornographer."

A decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, Stone was never one to back away from a fight, regardless of its source. Intelligent and articulate in defense of the works he has brought to the screen, he is rabid and uncompromising when it comes to issues involving the First Amendment. Indeed, that theme was the basic underpinning of The People v. Larry Flynt. Though claiming to be genuinely remorseful over the consequences that resulted from the viewing of Natural Born Killers, Stone is quick to place blame squarely on the shoulders of the real-life perpetrators, not on the film itself.

"To my mind, almost everything that was important about 'Natural Born Killers' was overlooked amid all that hysteria over the death toll, and all the nonsense about whether or not I was promoting violence or instigating murder," Stone said. "Once you start judging movies as a product, you are truly living in hell. What are the implications for freedom of speech? You wouldn't have any film of stature being made ever again."

Dan White
Dan White

He compared the lawsuit with the infamous case of Dan White, the ex-cop who shot San Francisco City Councilman Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1978. "White used what was known as the 'Twinkie defense.' He said that he had been eating too many (Hostess) Twinkies and that the high sugar content had prompted him to kill. And it worked! He got away with a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter and served five years. But you can't blame the Twinkies in the same way that you can't scapegoat the movies. You can't blame the igniter. People can be ignited by anything. And yet this is something we're seeing more and more of in America today. It's a culture of liability lawsuits. The whole concept of individual responsibility has been broken up and passed around."

Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk
Mayor George Moscone and Harvey

When asked if a film can influence its viewer, Stone replied, "Of course it can. But it's not a film's responsibility to tell you what the law is. And if you kill somebody, you've broken the law ... And yes, people may have been influenced by the film in some way, but they had deeper problems to contend with."

"Natural Born Killers was never intended as a criticism of violence," Stone explained. "How can you criticize violence? Violence is in us — it's a natural state of man. What I was doing was pointing the finger at the system that feeds off that violence, and at the media that package it for mass consumption.

"The film came out of a time when that seemed to have reached an unprecedented level. It seemed to me that America was getting crazier."