Friday, November 20, 2015
(October 1994, U.S.)
This is a real big one for me, so pay attention, people! I'm going to start out by introducing this film in the same manner I once introduced Spike Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING (the single best film of the 1980s!) when I posted it back in 2011. Twenty years ago, if you'd asked me what my single favorite film of the 1990s was, I'd have told you PULP FICTION. Ten years ago, if you'd asked me what my single favorite film of the 1990s was, I'd have told you PULP FICTION. And if you came up to me on the street tomorrow and asked me, "Hey, Eric, what's your single favorite film of the 1990s?", I'd still tell you PULP FICTION! You getting my point?
Before seeing the immortal Quentin Tarantino classic for the first time in a New York City movie theater in 1994, it's obvious that I was completely ignorant to the possibilities of what film and storytelling could be, beyond the conventional bullshit format that every "how to" screenwriting book insists you have to follow religiously in order to get a screenplay made into a movie! PULP FICTION takes everything we know about the unconventional nonlinear story line, bloody violence, ironic humor, casual and eclectic dialogue, pop culture references and stylized film directing and turns it upside down on its ass! The film connects the intersecting stories of Los Angeles mobsters, lightweight fringe players, small-time criminals, and, of course, the mysterious briefcase...but we'll get deeper into that later! Right now, what I really want to focus on is the dialogue of the film, because even before the credits begin, you know the key to PULP FICTION is sitting back and paying strict attention to every word, every pause and every facial expression in between. The beginning is a simple Los Angeles coffee shop and the rather childish plotting between two lovers who are bent on robbing the very coffee shop they're sitting. Even that is supposedly misleading because as the robbery begins, it freezes and then the film begins...really begins!
The narrative of the film is told out of chronological order and follows two main interrelated stories of mob contract killers Vincent Vega (played by John Travolta in his most significant film since GREASE) and Jules Winnfield (played by Samuel L. Jackson) and prizefighter Butch Coolidge (played by Bruce Willis). Following the film's opening credits, we begin with Vincent and Jules who are merely just driving together on their way to do a mob hit while listening to Kool & The Gang on the radio. These are no ordinary mob killers, though. These are thinking men who can not only carry on intelligent conversations with each other (even if the subject is McDonald's food in Europe), but can also engage in theological reasoning and speculation (even if the subject is foot massages). Your immediate reaction to having listened to just this first conversation alone is likely to be, "Oh, man, I love these guys!" You're truly witnessing the notion of the two-sided coin with these two men because you know they're here to do a violent job, but not before they've engaged themselves in deep thought and conversation, particularly Jules, with the very boys they've come to kill. One minute, it's a deep Biblical passage, the next minute it's violent and bloody shotgun action! Sick and so fucking brilliant!
From violence and mayhem, we follow the somewhat lighter side of Vincent Vega as he spends the evening on a platonic "date" with his boss' wife, Mia (played by Uma Thurman). It begins quite innocently with a 1950s-style diner, hamburgers and fries, a five dollar milk shake and then some dancing to top off the experience (yes, we get to see John Travolta dance again!). But even as all seems innocent and lovely, the evening ends with a potential drug overdose and the desperate effort to try and save the big boss' wife so Vincent doesn't get killed himself for allowing it to happen. Honestly, if an image like this one doesn't convince people not to do drugs, then I don't know what will...
Tell me you didn't jump out of your seat the first time you saw this movie when you heard the sound of the needle penetrating Uma's body and then watched her freak out! Still, when it's all over, the sequence practically ends with a "happily ever after" moment that ends with a corny joke about a family of tomatoes and a blown kiss from John Travolta!
The story of Butch the prizefighter is certainly a darker one. He's a man haunted by his past, both in childhood and some of the professional choices he's made with his boxing career. As a child, he learns about his father who died in Vietnam through a family birthright gold watch that is delivered to him after having been up the asses of two men. I have to say with regard to this sequence, that despite all the great work Christopher Walken has done in his career, this brief and brilliant cameo may just be how I'd personally like to remember him! As a man, Butch accepts a high payoff from gangster Marsellus Wallace (played by Ving Rhames) to throw his last professional fight. He fucks everybody by actually winning the fight (and killing the other fighter in the process) and taking off with the cash and the money he'll be paid on top of that through his bookie. In what I can only describe as a twisted case of irony, Butch and Marsellus find themselves together again and almost killed by a couple of sadomasochistic redneck assholes who may as well have been pulled right out of John Boorman's DELIVERANCE (1972). This may be attributed to the chance of (real) bad luck when Butch is trying to retrieve his gold watch, but the true irony lies in the fact that Butch saves Marcellus' life and manages to square away his debt with the gangster. Again, in a rather sick tone, it's an interesting case of the "happily ever after" effect to the telling of this sequence.
By the time we've entered the Epilogue of the film, we're back at the coffee shop and the intended robbery between the two lovers is under way, but now we learn that Vincent and Jules, two men with big guns and big balls of steel, are also there eating their breakfast. The robbery, of course, doesn't happen the way we all thought it would, but the film concludes with some of Jules' deepest, theological thoughts on not only the Bible quote he's been repeating, but also the sum total of his life up until now and how he can possibly redeem it before it's too late. We don't know what will happen to Jules or Butch (we know what happened to Vincent!), but it's the film's ambiguity that's part of its intrigue and true originality!
Okay, so we've talked about the story and it's less-than-conventional textbook structure (fuck all of you so-called "how to" experts who still insist on the traditional bullshit three-act structure!), but now let's talk a little about the questions of PULP FICTION and the issues of the film that force us to use our analytical heads and think! Let's begin with the infamous suitcase and what the fuck is in it and why does it glow?? Everybody's talked about it and everybody's speculated what it could be. There's never been a right answer on the subject, but I'll tell which theory I personally agree with (and I'll bet you do, too!). You've heard it before, so here it is again - the glow inside the suitcase is very likely the soul of mobster Marcellus Wallace and Vincent and Jules are two (very bizarre) angels sent to deliver it. It's a great theory and one that makes the most sense to me. Also, if you've never noticed it before, there's a camera shot that focuses on the back of Marcellus' head that has a Band-Aid on it. This very likely covers the skin cut in which his soul either once left his head or the one in which his soul will return to his head. It's all possible, and it's the great possibilities of the film that are a true treasure to experience. This theory is also backed up by several religious implications that not only include the Biblical passage (Ezekiel 25:17) that Jules loves to repeatedly quote, but have you also noticed that the character of Lance (played by Eric Stoltz) is meant to look just like Jesus Christ, complete with long hair, robe and everything? Is that just a mere coincidence?? I'd like to think not. But here's the one thing in PULP FICTION I still have never figured out - during the scene when Butch is riding in the back of the taxi, have you noticed that the background in the rear windshield is in black and white?? No Joke! Look at it again and you'll see what I'm talking about! What the fuck is up with that? What does it mean? Is it a simple homage to, perhaps, the golden age of black and white Hollywood movies, or is there something more to it that I simply cannot comprehend? People, help me out! When you're done reading this post, please respond to this question because I know the answer must lie with someone! The truth is out there!
And so, let me conclude by thanking Quentin, John, Samuel, Bruce, Uma, Ving, Tim and Amanda for their tremendous efforts of stylized performance and artistic film making. It's been a miraculous revelation in cinema that, every once in a great while, renews my faith in what films can be! As much as I love FORREST GUMP, it's PULP FICTION that should have taken home the Oscar for Best Picture of 1994! It's the single best movie of the 1990s!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jules (after shooting the man on the couch): "Oh, I'm sorry, did I break your concentration? I didn't mean to do that. Please, continue, you were saying something about best intentions. What's the matter? Oh, you were finished! Well, allow me to retort. What does Marsellus Wallace look like?"
Jules: "What country are you from?"
Brett: "What? What? Wh...?"
Jules: "What" ain't no country I've ever heard of. They speak English in What?"
Jules: "English, motherfucker, do you speak it?"
Brett: "Yes! Yes!"
Jules: "Then you know what I'm sayin'!"
Jules: "Describe what Marsellus Wallace looks like!"
Jules (points his gun at Brett): "Say 'what' again! Say 'what' again! I dare you! I double dare you, motherfucke! Say what one more Goddamn time!"
Brett: "He...he's black!"
Jules: "Go on!".
Brett: "He's bald!"
Jules: "Does he look like a bitch?"
Jules (shoots Brett in the shoulder): "DOES...HE...LOOK...LIKE...A...BITCH?"
Jules: "Then why you try to fuck him like a bitch?"
Brett: "I didn't!"
Jules: "Yes you did! Yes you did! You tried to fuck him. And Marcellus Wallace don't like to be fucked by anybody except Mrs. Wallace."