"Pulp Fiction" is one of the most pleasurable movies I have seen in a great
while, and it will stand as the breakthrough movie of the 90's. It is a love it
or hate it deal - either you admire the artistry of Quentin Tarantino's dark
flourishes or you detest the sickening violence and brutality inherent
throughout. Not only is the title "Pulp Fiction" a household name but so is
Quentin Tarantino, a video store clerk who never went to film school and became
an overnight success directing 1992's gory "Reservoir Dogs." All the attention
is not for naught; "Pulp Fiction" is a great film that breaks new ground, is
politically incorrect and unconventional. Tarantino has not so much reinvented
film as much as he has rejuvenated it - he has brought back the sheer joy we
all share of watching a good movie. The last time this phenomenon occurred was
with the Steven Spielberg masterpiece, "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
"Pulp Fiction" won the Golden Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1994
and won the Best Original Screenplay award at the Oscars. Since the film's
release, "Pulp" has stirred great controversy over its obscenities, short
bursts of bloody violence, racist overtones, sexual abuse and rape, and
misogyny. All of these charges are largely silly because there is more violence
and misogyny in the cartoonish "True Lies" and "Forrest Gump" than in "Pulp"
(all released the same year). What upsets people is that "Pulp" is more open
and subtly honest with these issues, and because the characters only seem cold
and heartless. This is largely a falsity as you will observe. There is truth in
the film but it is mostly an exaggeration, and shouldn't be taken seriously.
John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson play the main characters, Vincent Vega and
Jules, two black-suited hoods who work for the big, black, bald boss Marsellus
Wallace (Ving Rhames). Vincent and Jules are on a mission to retrieve a
mysterious stolen briefcase belonging to Marsellus. Some college roommates are
in possession of the briefcase, and Jules torments and kills two of them with
his gun, but not before ranting and raving a biblical quote from "Ezekiel
Later, Vincent meets Marsellus's wife, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman). He is
supposed to entertain her while the boss is away on business. They go to a 50's
diner restaurant called "Jack Rabbit Slim's" where they do the Bat dance to
Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell." When they come back to her house, Mia has a
heroin overdose where she is treated by an adrenaline needle to the heart
administered by Vincent at a drug dealer's house. By the way, the grungy drug
dealer is hilariously played by Eric Stoltz ("Killing Zoe").
Another story circulates around "The Gold Watch," and this concerns a
hot-headed boxer named Butch (Bruce Willis). He is told to throw a fight by
Marsellus (this subplot reaches as far back as "The Set-Up" and a hundred other
noirish tales). Of course, Butch does not throw the fight and kills the
opponent. He tries to flee with his French girlfriend (Mia De Medeiros) but he
won't leave without his gold watch, which he left at his apartment. When he
tries to retrieve it, he finds Vincent whom he kills without hesitation. Butch
almost gets away scot-free until he confronts Marsellus on the street - they
hit and shoot each other until they are caught and bound by S&M freaks in one
of the most thrillingly gory moments in the history of cinema.
Then we return to the Jules and Vincent predicament involving the roommates and
the mysterious suitcase - this episode is titled "The Bonnie Situation." Jules
and Vincent kill all the roommates except for Marvin. They take Marvin along
with them, and in the car, Jules feels that their survival from death was an
act of God. Just then, Vincent accidentally blows off Marvin's head and,
needless to say, it is a bloody mess. They arrive at Jimmy's house (Jimmy is
played by Quentin Tarantino) where they store the bloody car in his garage
until Winston the Wolf (Harvey Keitel) comes by to help the boys clean up the
mess by telling how to do it. This whole sequence plays like an eerie extension
of th trunk scene from "GoodFellas."
"Pulp Fiction" is great fun and a miraculous movie simply because it plays and
twists with the conventions of at least three different genres - the lurid
atmosphere of film noir, the standard action-oriented melodrama, and your basic
gangster crime picture. The difference is that the characters end up in bizarre
situations that aren't dictated by cliched plot points or mediocre chases.
These characters live and die by doing stupid things! Butch's stupid deed is to
get his precious gold watch back at this apartment where the killers are
inevitably waiting for him. When he arrives, there seems to be no one around.
Ah! But Vincent went to the bathroom and left his silencer on the kitchen
counter thus making it easy for Butch to blow him away!
"Pulp Fiction" has one classic scene after another and my favorite is the
extended sequence with Vincent and Mia on their date at the Jack Rabbit Slim's
restaurant where a facsimile of Buddy Holly (Steve Buscemi) is their waiter.
Their conversation consists of T.V. shows, Mia's supposed foot massage,
five-dollar milk shakes, and "think of something to say"-type language, while
they shoot frequent glances at each other. It is a delightful, entertaining and
wonderful sequence to behold. The philosophical discussions between Vincent and
Jules are also priceless, including the discussion on McDonald's hamburgers in
America versus France, and let's not forget that Jules's favorite burger is the
Big Kahuna burger.
"Pulp Fiction" has been severely criticized for containing foul language,
gratuitous violence, and thoroughly repellent characters whom you couldn't care
less about. Firstly, the violence is not gratuitous, it is explosive and brief
(unlike some of "Reservoir Dogs" more profane passages). Secondly, these
characters are not repellent (except for the nonsensical inclusion of the Gimp)
because Tarantino shows that he cares about them by instilling them with
humanistic touches. Marsellus seems to be a one-dimensional big gangster boss
until you see the hate etched on his face when he is hideously raped by one of
the hillbillys. In fact, Butch goes back to save Marsellus from these hillbilly
freaks even though Marsellus initially wanted him killed. And look at the
conclusion of the film (which is actually the beginning) where Jules decides to
get out of the gangster business after having experienced a case of "divine
intervention," and decides he'll "walk the earth like Caine in 'Kung Fu'."
Finally, don't forget Vincent aiding Mia after a heroin overdose. The scene is
both frightening and hilarious, like most of Tarantino's masterful epic.
Perhaps, this is Tarantino's finest hour, and he may never make another movie
quite like "Pulp Fiction." Some critics have said that he may never make a real
movie about real people in real situations dealing with real emotions. That may
be true, but "Pulp Fiction" is as real a movie as we are likely to get for
sometime. It is also one of the greatest entertainments of the 1990's.
Copyright © 1994 Jerry Saravia