When I was 14 years old, I remember seeing the trailer for Inglorious Basterds and being so excited. This got me thinking though: outside of Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Death Proof (2007), I had never seen another Tarantino film. So, to prep for Basterds I decided to watch the classic Pulp Fiction – which I ended up hating. I remember liking Bruce Willis’ segment and the ending scene, but for the most part I found the structure confusing and characters uninteresting. Most of all, I was just bored. Having grown my taste in film and also having seen many more of Tarantino’s films since, one of the few that I still have not revisited is Pulp Fiction. Though this is the first time in the short history of this column that I’ve been excited to rewatch something, I really have a good feeling about it. Let’s take another look at Tarantino’s classic Pulp Fiction.
Pulp Fiction chronicles a chapter in the life of two hitmen (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson), a boxer (Bruce Willis), a gangster (Ving Rhames), his wife (Uma Thurman), and a pair of diner bandits (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer). The four stories of redemption and vengeance intertwine in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 gangster flick.
What’s important to note about this film is that it was written and directed by a very different Tarantino from the one we know today. For example, that great opening scene in the diner perfectly showcases why people praise Tarantino’s dialogue writing abilities. Plus, this is before we got the Tarantino who gets lost in his dialogue. This isn’t to say that Tarantino has become a bad filmmaker, in fact I loved The Hateful Eight. What I mean is that Tarantino nowadays can go off in tangents with his dialogue. In Pulp Fiction, it feels much more grounded and engrossing. Instead of writing dialogue that feels written, this movie is full of conversations featuring natural, compelling dialogue. There’s a reason this is seen as the Tarantino film. It’s not only the fact that it’s a great movie, but every little detail in the script or camera frame is thought out. Every scene has a particular rhythm to it, each rhythm being different but they all suck you into the story.
This isn’t cartoony Tarantino either, which is what we get a lot nowadays. In this, he’s much more tamed in his direction—but all of that attention to detail is still there. It reminds me of why I love something like Reservoir Dogs so much more than Django Unchained.
This is a film that also showcases Tarantino’s ability to direct actors. A lot of that rhythm you see between the actors is due to his ability to push the actors in very different, compelling directions. Even minor characters played by unknown actors – like Butch’s girlfriend, played by Maria de Medeiros. When she’s talking about women and potbellies, it’s such a brilliantly delivered bit. She’s not given much to do, but giving her that as one of her first lines immediately invests you in her character. It helps that these particular actors that he’s working with are genuinely passionate for the material, which you can see in the glowing performances throughout. Especially from the likes of John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman. All three of these actors rule the screen, especially Thurman and Jackson – the scene stealers of the whole piece. In fact, I’d probably say this is both of their best performances. Hell, it’s probably Travolta’s best too. All three of them have enormous amounts of chemistry, bouncing lines off of each other as if they’ve been these characters for years.
I’ll admit, it’s difficult to really break this film down because there’s just so much going on in it that works. When I had seen this, I just wasn’t the film geek that I’ve become today. I was a film geek, but I was young. But now? I found myself geeking out over every frame of this film. This film makes me think back to a scene in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), where an ad for John Carpenter’s original Halloween plays on a TV – calling it an “immortal classic”. When I think of an “immortal classic” Pulp Fiction perfectly fits that bill. 22 years later, even the most quoted lines are still amazing to see on screen, never becoming annoying no matter how many times you’ve seen it. For instance, this may have been only my second time watching this, but I’ve heard that diner monologue a thousand times, either from someone quoting it or seeing it referenced somewhere. No matter how many times I’ve seen or heard that bit, it still glued my eyes to the screen while Jackson delivered it. Same with the O.D. scene; it’s a very famous sequence and I knew it was coming, yet it still caught me off guard when Thurman’s nose begins to bleed. It’s the type of film that I can see myself watching a thousand more times for years to come; there’s just so much to find in each frame.
This film also achieves something that very few do, which is basically be an aimless film, yet still work as a compelling narrative. There are parts of the story that are kind of aimless, like the date between Travolta and Uma Thurman, but it’s one of the few times where that works in it’s favor. I found myself almost tuning out during the whole date sequence, but the film still manages to keep up the great chemistry between actors, quick dialogue and incredible blocking. Why do I give a shit about Vince taking out his bosses wife while he’s away? Because I enjoy watching life unfold in this world, with these interesting, relatable characters. The characters themselves are gangsters and hitmen, yet Tarantino is able to make the audience level with them as humans. They’re people just like us and Tarantino manages to make it totally fascinating to watch. Even the whole out-of-order structure of the plot seems random, but it’s Tarantino’s ambition to do something different and fresh with the gangster tale that makes that so fascinating as well. When I watched it as a young ‘un, I hated this film’s story structure. But now, I totally appreciate it for taking this “day in the life of” story structure and mixing it up to make it different and unpredictable. You can see main characters die in the middle of the film, yet see them come back for major roles later on. It’s that exact method that makes you excited when each vignette starts.
I also love Tarantino’s ability to take actors like Christopher Walken or Harvey Keitel and not unnecessarily beef up their roles just to suit their ego. Everybody is here to serve their purpose and they do so effectively – aside from Tarantino himself. Can we all agree that Tarantino is a brilliant guy, but a terrible actor?
Now, for the big question. After giving Pulp Fiction a second chance, did it redeem itself?
Let’s me honest, was there any worry that I wouldn’t fall for this movie? It’s the type of movie that I can’t stop thinking about, even days later. I can’t wait to watch this film again, which will probably be immediately (all hail Amazon Prime). This is a film nerd’s wet dream; it’s no wonder that Tarantino still has the devout following that he used to. The passion that he puts into his work is undeniable, plus with immortal classics like this and Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino has more than earned his right to a bad movie or two. To be honest, of the films of his that I’ve seen, the only one that I flat out hate is Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003). Although, that’s another film that I saw only once yeeeeears ago (expect to see that in this column at some point). At this point, I’m just trying to avoid gushing over this movie because I could go on for days about how much I love it. I could write about how much I love Butch’s segment alone for an entire article. But I’m not here to tell you what you have already heard a thousand times from your film nerd friends. I’m just happy to be one of the cool kids now, I have seen the error of my ways. In my eyes – like many others – Pulp Fiction is one of the greatest films ever made.
After this very successful episode of Clean Slate, it seems like I’m due for a potential stinker. With next week’s Blair Witch being released (which I couldn’t be more excited for) I figure it’s time for me to revisit a film that I haven’t seen since I was 11 years old: Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows.