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bridwello
May 17, 2004
hey now

5/5
here's a critical essay i wrote on pulp fiction.

Supposed “Pulp Fiction”

Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, Pulp Fiction [1994], is the ultimate tour de force of violence, beautiful dialogue, and wonderful direction. When asked “What is Pulp Fiction about?” one’s response will most likely be a chuckle. This is so because there is no way to explain Pulp Fiction without embarking on a journey into some of the greatest characterization, ever. The shortest complete answer to this famous question is: “a group of people and their interaction and involvement with each other over a period of a few days.” Some may refer to Pulp Fiction as a film noir drama, which it is, in some respects. Where one should draw the line with this definition can been seen at the beginning, with the title sequence.

The title sequence of Pulp Fiction pretty much sums up what the film is about. In this sequence, the title – in very large print – scrolls from the bottom to the middle of the frame; then shrinks into the middle of the screen, allowing the actors’ names to take over the frame. The title sequence explains the film because as the film proceeds, the overall “pulp fiction” plot shrinks away, and the characters take over the film. The film is broken down into six parts: three main scenes (Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife, The Golden Watch, The Bonnie Situation); and 3 introductions to the main scenes (Hunny Bunny and Ringo, Briefcase Pickup, The Story of The Golden Watch). The three introduction scenes serve as, well, introductions. They set the audience up with some character and plot developments as well as background information for the scene following. The three main scenes play out what has been set up by the introduction scene.

The film starts out introducing Hunny Bunny and Ringo, Hunny Bunny to later be revealed as Yolanda. These are a couple of Bonnie and Clyde type robbers; madly in love, making their living off the money they steal. Ringo starts talking about why every place they have robbed so far is a death trap “If it's not the gooks, it's these old Jews who've owned the store for fifteen fuckin' generations. Ya got Grandpa Irving sittin' behind the counter with a fuckin' Magnum. Try robbin' one of those stores with nothin' but a telephone; see how far it gets you.” They even discuss getting out of the business, but to no avail “What then, day jobs?” Eventually, Ringo comes to the conclusion that a diner is the best place to rob. This scene is important to the viewer because it shows that Yolanda and Ringo are not bad people, “I’m not going to kill anyone” (Yolanda), and that they are looking for an excuse to stop their spree; this information comes in handy at the end of the film when there are guns on both Yolanda and Ringo.

After the credits roll, Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega are introduced, though not in a traditional way; Vincent is talking about his recent 3 year stay in Amsterdam. This scene sets up the following scene, Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife (Mia), and also brings into play the famous “what’s in the briefcase?” element. Vincent and Jules come to talk about Vincent’s date with Mia in a very indirect manner. First Vincent asks about her and Jules tells a story about her being on a pilot, which leads to a story about Marsellus almost killing a man because of a foot massage, which leads to a discussion about the erotic undertones of foot massages and why they are so cool. These conversations develop like real conversations people have, not like most other films where the dialogue is completely plot driven; and the addition of the line by Jules “C’mon, let’s get into character” completely reveals that these are in fact regular people, not some breed of hit men whose only purpose in life is to kill.

Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife is the most developed and important scene in the film. What is meant by this is that everything in this scene is done for character and plot development; but because the film is written so well, one does not recognize the importance of the scene unless they break it down. It starts with a lengthy speech given by Marsellus to Butch, a fighter who is to take a dive for cash which is handed to Butch on-screen. Butch then walks over to Vincent and their eyes meet: “You lookin’ at somethin’ friend?” “You ain’t my friend poluko” “What’s that?” “I think you heard me just fine punchy.” This beginning does two things: it sets up the story of Butch enough so the viewer understands what happens when his story comes. This opening sequence also sets up the pseudo-showdown in Butch’s apartment between Butch, Vincent and an Uzi. The next development is Judy talking about all the piercing on her body; this sets up for later in the scene when the famous adrenaline shot sequence takes place. The reaction of Judy to the shot being given “That was fuckin’ trippy” is not just any reaction; her speech about her piercing and how every one on her was “done by a needle” justifies her reaction: she has just seen the ultimate piercing. Vincent’s purchase of heroin is important because when he buys it his dealer is out of balloons, so he puts it in a baggie. This and the combination of the heroin being pure white, not brown, sets up Mia’s OD sequence later in the film while listening to the symbolic song “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon.” Who would get high before picking up their boss’ wife for a date? Vincent Vega. This is the kind of man he is; which is why it is justified that he leaves his Uzi sitting on the counter next to the toaster in the enemy’s apartment. There is a gap in the films development process after he shoots up; part is drug induced, and part is just the characters being nervous. Up until the dance scene at Jackrabbit Slims, there is absolutely nothing going on of any importance; Mia even justifies this by saying “Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable?” … “That’s when you know you’ve found somebody really special: when you can just shut the gently caress up for a minute and comfortable share silence.” What follows is one of the best scenes in modern cinema: the dance off. Armed only with a song, Tarantino creates a character bond, one that will lead to a near death experience for more than one person, if word gets out about it. The first line symbolizes their budding relationship “It was a teenage wedding and the old folks wished them well” and by the end of the song they are acting like they may as well be married. The song is “You Never Can Tell” by Chuck Berry, and the dance sequence is bursting at the seams with style, especially since it resembles a similar sequence in Fellini’s masterpiece about film, 8 ˝ [1963].

The Golden Watch and The Bonnie Situation both contain some character and plot development, but it is not much, and they mostly resolve much of the character and plot build up which was created by the previous scenes in the film. It is also better to focus on them as the film noir part of the story, and this is so because: 1.up to these two stories everything has been set up and is ready to be played out in its glorious finale, 2. the film noir plot (I.E. people being sucked in over their heads) are extremely more evident here than anywhere in the story. Take, for example, the shooting of Marvin in broad daylight on a main street in LA; or even better, a boxer, supposed to throw a fight, betting on his self and winning; thus creating utter chaos in his surrounding world.

Although every situation in Pulp Fiction plays out as a film noir piece, it is Tarantino’s brilliant script, direction and characters that place the film at a higher level than just a simple film noir flick. Pulp Fiction is not just “pulp fiction”, because there is meaning behind the explicit content, it is not just “A magazine or book containing lurid subject matter and being characteristically printed on rough, unfinished paper.” The paper is definitely finished, and the only thing wrong with Pulp Fiction is the title.

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