Pulp Fiction is a film so ubiquitous that its hard to chart its impact.
Pulp Fiction drew on so much, and has been in turn so copied, that it becomes almost invisible.
This draws a problem for someone trying to talk about the film. I mean should I mention the dance sequence, that’s shown in countless clip shows, retreads, and parodies? What about the hypo scene? Or the watch speech? Or what Butch and Marsellies find in the basement of the pawn shop. They’ve all entered the lexicon. So well known that they’re almost impossible to see.
This is a fate that befalls all classic movies, but given that so much of Pulp Fiction's acclaim at the time came from how fresh it was its feels even weirder. You mean there was a time when it was considered weird for a movie to mention another movie? You mean there was a time when Tarantino wasn’t a household name? Weird.
Pulp Fiction is a unique film, in Tarantino’s career as well as in general. Tarantino has spent the last decade doing nothing less then creating his own cinematic universe. Inglorious Basterds, Kill Bill, and Grindhouse all take place in their own pocket Tarantinoverse as surely as George Lucas’s films take place in “A long long time ago, in a Galaxy far away.” And the mythologies and rules of Tarantinoverse are no less intricate then the Jedi’s.
Pulp Fiction, despite its many flourishes...
Is still placed in something that resembles the real world. One of my favorite shots in the film is a simple one of Butch cutting through the back Alley to an apartment complex. A shot that anyone who has spent anytime in LA will recognize as it s
omehow manages to look like every single apartment in LA.
Because that’s what people miss about Pulp Fiction. The important thing about it isn’t how, modern and blaise it is. But how retro.
The critics of the time blasted Fiction as being nihilistic and glib. This seems laughably now, partly in thanks to just how many times and just how badly Tarantino’s film was imitated. You couldn’t walk into a movie theater or video store between 1995 and 2000 without being besieged by a cheap imitation waiting to show you what a glib nihilistic crime movie REALLY looked like.
The fact remains, that while Tarantino often did, and still does shock the audience into laughter with violence, he can not be accused of making it not matter. After all, the priniciple action of Pulp Fiction isn’t Marvin getting shot in the face, or Marsellus Wallace getting medival on a “Soon to be living the rest of his short life in agonizing pain ass rapist here.”
No. The principle action in Pulp Fiction is an act of mercy. Its Jules proving to himself and to the other characters that he is better then we think he is. And just because violence is easy and learned, doesn’t mean it can’t be overcome. Tarantino isn’t a scold, which is why the movie ends with Jules and Vincent triumphantly strolling out of the diner, rather then Vincent dying on the toilet seat, after failing to change his ways, the way he would in chronological time. But the message is clear. Call it divine intervention, call it Karma, call it whatever you want, the character who mends his ways walks away. The character who doesn’t pays.
Though its certainly more graphic, I’d argue that Pulp Fiction is easily the most optimistic film I’ve shown so far. The message of all the other films, is “There’s no way out.” Pulp Fiction is about one man simply and defiantly choosing one.