Pulp Fiction (1994)

“I do believe Marsellus Wallace, my husband, your boss, told you to take ME out and do WHATEVER I WANTED. Now I wanna dance, I wanna win. I want that trophy, so dance good.”

If I were Butch (Bruce Willis) in the same situation he ended up in, I too would have chosen the Katana out of the different variations of weapons available to him. The choice of said katana shows the eastern influence on writer director Quentin Tarantino. If one thing is absolute with Tarantino, it’s that his use of violence is unlike any other working director and in just two films, Tarantino quickly establishes his own style of storytelling centered around the use of violence but not making it the star just a featured artist. His influence bleeds through his script mixing eastern derived samurai stories with westerns and gunslingers.   

Following a first effort like Reservoir Dogs is easier said than done but his sophomore effort Pulp Fiction may be the director’s best work. Its easily the most endearing, full of iconic moments, characters, and dialogue that still have an impact on pop culture today. So far Tarantino is batting 1000 with zero signs of slowing down. Tarentino uses his brand of shock value to his advantage – some of the more visceral moments in Pulp Fiction are hard pills to swallow but to the stories themselves, they make sense, the verisimilitude of the universe is legitimate.

I firmly believe that two rednecks will own a willing slave boy who is caged in the basement of an electronics store in a gimp suit to use for their sick twisted pleasure when some random person gives them a hard time. In this case its Butch and Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) beating one another to a pulp because Butch screwed over Marsellus with a business deal. Butch is a boxer who was supposed to throw a fight for Marsellus but chose to double cross him instead. Marsellus, the crime boss in this little slice of heaven called a universe, is the wrong person to mess with but he’s totally fair. In Tarantino’s brilliantly distorted mind, these people exist in plain sight, he just points us in the right direction, opening our eyes to the fact. 

Tarantino tells his stories, a collection of 7 different chapters written by him and Roger Avery in a non-linear format. Because of this, storylines crossover which makes the events easy enough to follow but still unpredictable no matter how many times the film is seen. 

I always seem to forget the monologue given by Captain Koons (Christopher Walken) to a young Butch about his fathers time piece. 

It’s not rocket science – Tarantino tells a good story mixed with a healthy dose of blood, violence and gore. Anyone of the major characters that appear can feel like the main character. But the story focuses on 5 – Butch, Marsellus, Marsellus’ wife Mia (Uma Thurman), Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson). All are given equal time to shine and show off some skill sets that you wouldn’t guess was theirs. A couple of needle drops and record scratches introduce Jimmie (Tarantino) and Winston Wolf (Harvey Keitel) to the mix and leave it to Quentin to place equal emphasis on two supporting characters that are vital to the safety of Vincent and Jules’s lives.

If you thought the brilliant Tim Roth was only going to be in one small scene in a 154-minute runtime than guess again.

Mia, for instance is a fantastic dancer, moving to the music as if no one else is in the room put her dancing partner. Vincent isn’t bad himself. One of the 7 stories follows Vincent who takes Mia out at the request of her husband Marsellus. It’s strictly plutonic according to Vincent and the night starts innocent enough but leave it to Tarantino to warp reality to show different personality traits that would never normally see the light of day. This particular story is the most fascinating and easily the most memorable well after viewing. From the dance number to the adrenaline shot and everything In between – Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace are icons. 

Capturing these moments is returning cinematographer Andrzej Sekula (Reservoir Dogs) who puts the camera in the best angles to get the intensity and emotion from just a singular look. Mia looks at Vincent as if they were the married couple and not just friends enjoying a night on the town. Uma is a force of nature giving off this sexual tension and energy and channels it through the scene. If it wasn’t for Jules and his Ezekiel 25:17 monologue, given twice, the dancing would be the best moment in the film.

Pulp Fiction for all its pools of blood, visceral violence, pounds of illegal drugs that could put down an elephant and long contemplative monologues is oddly poetic. I never once thought the journey of a wristwatch would be both disgusting and sentimental. The backstory of an in adamant object is given gravitas to Butch’s entire existence. If it were not for this beautifully tragic retching induced story of a watch being safeguarded in places where the sun doesn’t shine for generations, this man would not be alive. And the story of a time piece ends with Marsellus giving Butch a pass for saving his life from the rednecks who ball gag the two frenemies. 

In just two films, Tarantino has become a household name – a director with talent to keep an eye on. Sure, the stylistic choices are a bit extreme but Tarantino’s shock value of what fills each frame will keep your attention on the screen, hanging off every word spoken, anticipating the next word, sentence, and monologue. Majority of the film is dialogue – it drives these characters from start to finish, saves them from imminent death and justifies their actions with drugs casually used to O.D on for dramatic effect, stray gun shots and a katana blade as the shiny glamour underbelly of life. From the career defining performances to the love letter to Old Hollywood and the re-watchability, Pulp Fiction is timeless – stuck in a capsule but just as relevant today. 

Written By: Quentin Tarantino & Roger Avary

Directed By: Quentin Tarantino

Cinematography: Andrzej Sekula

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Christopher Walken

Release Date: October 24, 1994

Running Time: 2 Hours 45 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

My Score: 5 out of 5

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