Now that I’m writing about Pulp Fiction, does that make me pretentious film trash? Probably.
Welcome to the world of sex, drugs, and mob violence. Pulp Fiction, directed by Quentin Tarantino, is widely regarded as a piece of postmodern art that you simply must see. This film incorporates drama, violence, and humour into three intertwined stories. The first story follows Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta), two hit men, who are sent to secure a briefcase for their boss, Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). We also find out what happens when Vincent is supposed to be entertaining the boss’s wife, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), while her husband is out of town. The second story follows a former boxer, Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) who is on the run from Marcellus but he must come out of hiding in order to retrieve a valuable personal possession. The third story focuses on Jules and what happens when he makes a mess while trying to clean up another. By breaking the film into chapters and telling these three stories chronologically out of order, Tarantino keeps the audience engaged and on the edge of their seats, wondering what will happen next, which makes this a fun movie to watch.
The majority of this film consists of close-up shots or medium close shots with closed frame composition. Since we don’t get many long shots to view the wider space, we get the sense that the story world is largely self-contained. The idea of a small world is reinforced by the fact that most of the scenes occur in relatively small interior spaces like the diner and Mia’s apartment, which effectively cut off the outside world. This was an interesting choice by Tarantino because most people consider Los Angeles to be a fairly large city but by focusing on just a few characters and on just one part of life in L.A., the world becomes much smaller. By doing this, Tarantino gives the audience some insight into what the characters are like. In this movie, the characters are also playing characters. This is referenced more than once in the film. The first time is when Jules and Vincent are at the apartment going to retrieve the briefcase and Jules says, “Come on, let’s get into character.” While the audience sees Vincent, Jules, and Butch on their own as characters, they are also playing their own role within the larger mob. This theme of duality of character comes up multiple other times throughout the film.
This film also uses music very well. This film incorporates a fun mix of pop, rock and roll, and surf music, which Tarantino uses perfectly in exactly the right scenes throughout the film. For example, the music in the scene at Jack Rabbit Slim’s adds to the atmosphere of the 50s-themed diner and makes it feel like you have gone back in time to an actual diner from the 1950s. The music also adds to the overall feel of the film. Throughout the film there is a feeling of that this is just how things are in this world and that gang violence is completely normal. There’s no implied deeper meaning to this film. It is simply about three guys living a day-to-day life of crime and what that entails. This makes it an enjoyable movie to watch because the audience can take what happens on screen as a given and do not have to assume that the characters’ actions or words are part of something bigger and more meaningful. Another thing that makes this movie seem like it takes place in a relatively normal world is the use of dialogue. Throughout the film, there are places with extensive dialogue that do not seem to advance the plot. The opening scene, for example, when Jules and Vincent are driving to the apartment to get the briefcase, they are talking about McDonald’s hamburgers rather than the job they are about to do. By doing this, we get to know the characters a little bit better and it also reveals that there is no apparent deeper meaning to retrieving the briefcase other than it’s what they were instructed to do. In fact, throughout the film, the audience never learns what is inside the briefcase.
Pulp Fiction is arguably one of the most well-crafted, original movies of its time. Tarantino creates an immersive world infused with pop-culture, humour, crime, and drama. These elements combined in exactly the right way along with the fragmented chronology of the film make it highly entertaining. This movie gives a new perspective to the complicated yet connected relationship between mobs, drugs, and crime as depicted by the interconnected three stories. If you have two hours and thirty-four minutes with nothing to do and you like crime movies and like to laugh, this movie will keep you entertained and captivated from beginning to the end.
Have you seen Pulp Fiction? What are your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments!
**DISCLAIMER** I wrote this piece for a class in the spring but I recently watched Pulp Fiction again so I edited it and thought I’d share because I really do enjoy this movie but that’s why it reads a little differently than normal