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From the very beginning, Tarantino upends the traditional Hollywood notion of conversation by having Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) engage in casual talk of mundane topics ranging from movies, hamburgers to foot massage as they are on their way to carry out a hit for a dangerous drug kingpin, Marsellus. Jules further illustrates this disconnect by telling his partner to ‘get into character’ before executing the victims.
The film employs a narrative style now famous with Tarantino by splitting the story into three chapters introduced by titles; ‘Vincent and Jules’, ‘The Gold Watch’ and ‘The Bonnie Situation’. This breaks with the linear logic of story-telling from modern films giving mini-narratives where the audience are active participants. The protagonists don’t share their past activities leading to a fragmented narrative and disrupting the cause-and-effect flow prevalent in modern films.
It’s obvious from the film that Tarantino pays homage to an assortment of movie genres; film noir, blaxploitation, horror, Kung Fu films and pulp novels. The influences are exemplified best in the scene where Butch(played by Bruce Willis) is in the pawn shop selecting a weapon. He picks up a hammer, baseball bat, chainsaw before finally settling on a Samurai sword harkening back to martial arts films. There is also a heavy reference to popular culture where characters mention movies and French Big Macs. A major scene is where Mia and Vincent go to a restaurant called ‘Jack Rabbit Slim’s’ which evokes the 1950’s complete with the waiters dressed as famous people from that era – Ed Sullivan, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley – and the booths are classic cars. To top it off, Mia and Vincent dance the twist. This is a nod to Travolta’s earlier role in the disco movie Saturday Night Fever.
Finally, the disjointed nature of the story leaves the film as having no message and there is no resolution of conflict or satisfactory conclusion; what was in the briefcase is not revealed, there are no clear good guys or bad guys, we are not told the significance of the briefcase. The message is secondary to the procession of action and shocks intended to overload the senses.
The filmic genius of Tarantino is undeniable and Pulp Fiction cements its place among the greatest postmodern films produced.
Pulp Fiction. Directed by Quentin Tarantino, performances by John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, Christopher Walken, and Tim Rother, Miramax Films, 1994.
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