Recently, when taking part in one of those round-robin Twitter memes designed to get tweeters chatting, I happened to mention as one of three interesting things about me the fact that I had never seen the film Pulp Fiction. Cue the gasps of horror and disbelief (well, the reactions weren’t quite that extreme, perhaps, but certainly many people were shocked). I can completely understand why. Pulp Fiction was, and still is, such a pop-culture juggernaut, how can it possibly have passed me by?
Well, for starters, I am not nor have I ever been a fan of Tarantino. He is too violent for my tastes, I have issues around his portrayal of women and POC, and his frequent use of racial slurs sits uncomfortably with me. I also feel that he is rather buoyed along in his cult-director status on the basis of the very 1990’s penchant for “the Lad (TM)”. Some of his more recent behaviour might reasonably be described as eccentric, for instance his 2013 interview with Krishnan Guru-Murphy on Channel 4 News (I accept that KG-M was rather over-egging the custard with his relentless repetition and prodding, but as someone who very much dislikes movie violence, I thought it was, essentially, a fair line of questioning for him to pursue.)
However, encouraged by how many people assured me that Pulp Fiction is indeed a fantastic film, I pledged to finally get around to watching it. Moreover, at the behest of the lovely DeviantSuccubus and Darling Nikki , I promised that I would submit a review of the film as my homework assignment 🙂 With that in mind, I visited Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, hoping to locate a copy to stream over the weekend. No luck. However, perhaps spookily guided by unseen forces and the ghosts of Siskel and Ebert (lol! showing my age there), I checked through the weekend’s film listings on the old terrestrial telly-box and, sure enough, Sony Movie Channel came to my rescue. Thus, with a pizza ordered and a bottle of merlot at the ready, I began my odyssey. Here, then, is my review; some 25 years late, but better late than never!
It must be said that, stylistically, the film still stands the test of time. Though at first I lamented that it was borrowing so many familiar tropes, I had to remind myself that, at the time of its release in 1994, it was pretty cutting edge and it is in fact the progenitor of so many of the filmic references we take for granted in 21st century cinema. In an era where the “soundtrack-composed-of-pop-classics” was not the given it is nowadays (see Guardians of the Galaxy, for instance), and where its arguable successor in the genre of tough-guy-gangsters-with-guns-and-drugs-and gangs-and-set-to-an-almost-painfully-cool-retro-soundtrack, Guy Ritchies’ Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was still four years away, Pulp Fiction definitely set the benchmark for cinema in the mid-to-late 90s and beyond. Such is its cult status, it was parodied by ‘The Simpsons’ in the 1996 episode 22 Short Films About Springfield, and you know you’re a pop-culture icon when that happens! (Indeed, it is through that Simpson’s episode that I was already familiar with the infamous “Royale with Cheese” conversation between Vincent and Jules, and the hostage scene in the pawnshop involving Butch, Marcellus, Maynard, Zed, and the guy in the gimp-suit.)
The dialogue is terrific, especially the back and forth between Vincent and Jules. Snappy and slick, it cracks along with great humour even while it provides the traditionally dry task of delivering exposition and back-story. The gorgeous Uma Thurman as Mia is cute as a button, and manages to remain achingly hip and groovy even whilst OD-ing on Vince’s stash of heroin and taking a shot of adrenaline to the heart. The scene where Mia and Vincent dance the twist in a 50s themed restaurant is, deservedly, a classic. Bruce Willis plays, well, he kinda plays Bruce Willis as per usual, but his broody deadpan persona is well-suited to the character of Butch the boxer who runs afoul of Marcellus and his plan to rig an upcoming bout.
But, listen, I really don’t need to tell you about the plot and the characters, do I? Like just about every other human being in the world, you’ve already seen the film, and it is probably firmly lodged in your Top Ten movies of All Time list. What I need to do is to tell you what I made of the film. Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did. Could I always follow what the hell was going on? Fuck, no! Was it as violent and gruesome as I had feared? No, but then I suspect I may owe that to the folks at Sony Movie Channel and their “censored for TV” telecast. Am I glad that I had the foresight to hit the record button and save a copy of the film on my DVR? Unbelieveably so, because I still have questions, and I’m hoping that a repeat viewing or two might help to answer them.
Firstly, the non-linear time structure and circular narrative, whilst very clever, left me confused. Where are we in the broader narrative, for instance, when Butch returns to his home in search of his father’s watch, finds Vince in his bathroom, and shoots him with his own gun? How then is Vincent in the final scene back in the diner where the movie opens? In the course of researching this review (I am nothing if not thorough, non?), I found a wikipedia entry that gives the chronological order of the various stories, and so with this information handily bookmarked for future reference, I intend to watch the film again this weekend. I wonder whether you, lovely reader, also found the chronology difficult to follow when you first saw the movie and, if so, did it take repeat viewing/s to properly follow the narrative?
The other BIG question, and the one that from a cursory Google-search I suspect I’m never going to discover the answer to, is the briefcase. What on earth is in it? The ‘666’ lock combination, when coupled with Jules’ frequent religious references and recitation of a Bible passage, hints at something spiritual or otherworldly, and I have seen amongst some of the debate a fascinating theory that the case contains Marcellus’ soul. Or, are the religious clues a red herring? There are other commentators who argue that the mystery briefcase with the strange orange glow is merely a nodding homage from Tarantino to films such as Kiss Me Deadly (1955), Repo Man (1984) and the unseen supernatural contents of the biblical Ark in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)*. (* for further discussion and full references, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulp_Fiction#The_mysterious_666_briefcase ). Tarantino himself claims that the myserious briefcase is nothing but a plot device. Whatever the case, it is a wonderfully clever motif, and further enticement to me to take another journey into this strange and compelling film.
So, in conclusion, I enjoyed Pulp Fiction more than I had anticipated, and am pleased that through a set of mysterious coincidences and synchronicities worthy of the film itself, I was finally introduced to what is undoubtedly one of the cinematic classics of the last century. And thus, DeviantSuccubus and DarlingNikki, I now submit my completed homework assignment for marking …. 🙂