I’ve always enjoyed Tarantino’s films. Kill Bill introduced the brand of violence that would become a theme of its own, marking the stylistic brand of the auteur. I’ve seen Django and Inglourious, Reservoir Dogs and The Hateful 8, but there’s none quite like this. Pulp Fiction heralds his astounding work. I thought I loved 1994’s Forrest Gump and Shawshank Redemption but then I finally watched this punchy, bold, milkshake-lovin’, crack snortin’, theological preachin’, motherf*ckin’ movie. I’ve never enjoyed myself so much watching anything in my life. In Marsellus Wallace’s words, I found myself “one smiling motherfuc***” once the movie was done. This is the fifth addition to my Favourite Movies Ever series.
Pulp Fiction by lexical definition, was a type of magazine that was popular before WWII and featured a vast array of fiction stories. Just like these fun-to-read magazines that was cheaply sold but featured a wide array of unique perspectives given that there was low barriers to entry, Pulp Fiction’s splash of narratives pays homage to this. With its linoleum lit bars, backyard drug dealers, soundstage restaurants and a slew of colourful characters, Pulp Fiction is a noir gem whose knack for engaging dialogue is a story ripped straight from the magazine’s page. Each story is so gripping, outlandish and humourous that the deadpan murderous streak in the film is a mere sideshow. It’s non-linear time jumps are an ingenious way to link up storylines and throw us curveballs. I was slightly confused for a while, but it all linked up pretty neatly. What a way to tell a story!
Dialogue in Pulp Fiction cannot simply be brushed over. The audial quality and lyricism of many of the character’s lines are a thing of beauty. It is really because of this that I was so invested the characters. Of course, Tarantino is no stranger to praise for his skill in crafting great conversations right down to each and every line. You’ll notice that not only is it engaging and entertaining, it’s somehow also true-to-life. It’s an exercise in ‘suspension of disbelief’. We can relate to the film in general because sometimes, we witness engaging back and forth dialogue, kind of like small talk between buddies, that balances its over-the-top scenes. I realize I’m using a lot of literary jargon here, but you simply can’t watch it and not notice these things which make it great.
The tone of the film is set; That 1950’s L.A is as banal as it is full of life. Violence is portrayed in a merry light like business as usual, and characters instead fixate on trivialities. From Jules’ (Samuel.L.Jackson) and Vince’s (John Travolta) long conversational conversation about what a Quarter-Pounder with cheese in France is called to just about the most inappropriate talk of tv shows and pilots JUST BEFORE THEY PLAN TO KILL A FEW ASSOCIATES, you immediately get a sense of a misplaced importance to things.
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and goodwill shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”
Of course, Samuel.L.Jackson says this in such a hilariously reverent tone, with such deliberate rhythm, that it makes him look like a pastor gone gangsta. I can’t even describe how funny it was. I was laughing till my stomache hurt moments when Jules slowly coaxed the associates with burger talk and then breaks down the composure of their leader with a ferocity that’s funny beyond belief. Pulp Fiction can be darkly humourous, making us all sinners who chuckle and ride along with Tarantino’s violent streak. But Tarantino isn’t a maniac, at least not here. He’s not afraid to shoot almost superfluous scenes of the mundane and put the action to a complete halt for awhile…for the purposes of making his high-tension scenes more symbolic. Indeed, less is more, because you’ll find Pulp Fiction one of his least violent films. The whole sequence involving Butch the boxer (Bruce Willis) is a prime example. Butch and Marsellus find themselves in an absolutely ridiculous aftermath after a deal gone wrong, and the ending is not very far from classic Tarantino, but a sliver of hope and redemption is found. With quite a lot of narrative skill, he weaves his blood-stained characters into situations that demand more, asking them to reflect on the iniquities of self-interest and the purpose of their existence. Scenes are filled with jazzy soundtracks that make the violence seem blithe and spirited but also wholly cathartic.
It’s an odd film. Now I’ve said this before for other films, but this one different. It’s a film where sometimes I just don’t know why it’s so good; Only that I know it to be so. So let me try to elucidate my thoughts. One distinct characteristic is that it subverts the very notion of extremity and normalcy, by birthing hysterical havoc from the mundane and by downplaying seemingly violent acts. It’s inane comical irony. At the same time, you kind of feel like rooting for all the main characters (Jules, Vince, Butch, Marsellus), which if you think about it, is very rare. All of these guys are either hitman, gangster or killer. Mofos who don’t give the slightest damn. It could be that QT gave us a different look at crime. Instead of romanticizing the hustlings and darkness of the culture like in Goodfellas or just about every other crime film, Pulp Fiction dramatizes not the violence but the life itself; How two people who hate each other meet at a road junction coincidentally, or how having breakfast at a coffeeshop leads one to enlightenment. By completely flipping the genre around, Pulp Fiction makes the mundane the beating heart and centre of it’s comedy-drama mish mash. The outlandish cacophony of events come directly straight from the real life (which we can all relate) and not from some glamourous mafia tale. The result? Outrageously hilarious. And so personable. It kind of makes you feel like a film about you and your buddies just doin’ your thing. Gotta kill some people? Nah, that ain’t gonna stop us from yaking about our fat Samoan friend.
Jules: You remember Antoine Roccamora, half black, half Samoan, used to call him Tony Rocky Horror?
Vincent: Yeah, maybe. Fat, right?
Jules: I wouldn’t go so far as to call the brother fat, I mean he got a weight problem. What’s the n*gger gonna do? He’s Samoan.
An early scene leaves a deep impression on me. It’s between Marsellus’ wife, Mia (Uma Thurman), and Vince whose tasked to keep her company while the big boss is away – Cute. They then talk philosophically about human interaction which soon ensues into the couple ruffling their sexy moves to the groove. It might seem like a cheesy and extraneous scene. But you can never imagine how this delightful scene ringing with the Rock n Roll fervour of “Ces’t La Vie” puts the film into perspective. Alone, it gives the film a contrast to its bloodied imagery; A reluctant Vince soon let’s loose on the dancefloor finds the dance a much needed relief from all the banality. An earlier scene where she sips on a milkshake is one that has imprinted itself even more onto my mind. Do a search and type pulp fiction, look up images, and you’ll find many pictures of Mia Wallace sipping on her five dollar (!!) milkshake as John Travolta gasps in shock (but he won’t think twice when buying expensive drugs). In a flash of a moment, Mia’s introspective and completely puzzling look foreshadows the contemplation that all of Tarantino’s characters will face; A once-in-a-lifetime chance-upon provided by nature or by the divine, that will test their moral capacity for redemption. Perhaps Tarantino does have many things to say about life; Or he just wants us to have a smashing good time.
Mia: Don’t you hate that?
Mia: Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable?
Vincent: I don’t know. That’s a good question.
Mia: That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special. When you can just shut the f*ck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.
Rating: 10/10 Jules and Marsellus are too funny. I can’t even.
Poster by one of the most talented artists around, Flore Maquin. Merci Flore pour moi laisser utiliser votre belle affiche 🙂 *hope I got my french right haha* It’s an absolute bombshell of a poster! This is her awesome website with many more beautiful artworks, I spent hours admiring them!! And you should too. Flore Maquin
I really want to go into more detail, but I won’t do it here for fear of spoiling it for those who haven’t yet seen. I’d love to engage in more discussion in the comments, so feel free to share your thoughts and interpretations!
Featuring: Samuel L Jackson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel and Christopher Walken.
Images credited to A Band Apart, Jersey Films, Miramax Films