Pulp Fiction is Quentin Tarantino’s finest work to date. If there was any Tarantino flick I wanted to see the most, it was Pulp Fiction. Since it’s impact on pop culture is unmistakable. Although my brother watched it long before I did, I still chose to wait until I was older. Plus Reservoir Dogs is really the best way to be introduced to Tarantino. A lot of that film’s ideas were expanded upon in Pulp Fiction. Only with a far longer runtime of 2 hours & 58 minutes.
Pulp Fiction is meant to be a throwback to pulp magazines of a bygone era. As a precursor to comic books, they were known for their cheap paper, often crime filled stories, sensual artwork, and hard hitting dialogue. Hence the frayed edges on the poster. Just like the movie, pulp magazines would often contain multiple stories. Stories I can only talk about separately.
Prologue – “The Diner” – The opening is a heck of way to begin a movie. Similar to Reservoir Dogs, we open on a diner. The first characters we meet are Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. Previous collaborator Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer are a loving small time criminal couple casually discussing why people don’t rob diners. So they do precisely that. Followed by an awesome guitar riff from “Misirlou.”
Prelude to “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife” – Probably the most iconic segment is what immediately follows the title. As it features Tarantino’s best writing by far. There’s even a trunk shot. It’s here we meet the character’s that are arguably the stars of the ensemble. John Travolta reignites his fading star power as Vincent Vega. Who’s actually meant to be the brother of Vic Vega (Mr. Blonde).
Samuel L. Jackson propels his career as Jules Winnfield. Both play hired hitmen sent to retrieve a mysterious briefcase. But first they have serious discussions about McDonald’s in Paris. Like the fact that they call a Quarter Pounder a Royale with cheese. In the most well constructed scene of the movie, Jules and Vincent meet with an associate of their boss Marsellus Wallace. In what is easily Jackson’s best performance, Jules goes from eating burgers to getting frustrated to quoting Ezequiel 25:17 of the Bible.
“Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife” – We then cut straight to Jules and Vincent, oddly dressed in casual clothing, delivering the briefcase to their boss. Who’s currently speaking to a boxer about throwing a fight. As previously stated, Vincent is tasked with keeping Marsellus Wallace’s wife company. Their “date” is the second most iconic part of the movie. As it prominently features a fresh-faced Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace. She’s more than just a sexy trophy wife. Mia has a lot of personality when attending a 50’s restaurant.
They discuss her failed TV pilot (Fox Force Five), $5 shakes, and uncomfortable silences. She also snorts coke right before they participate in a very memorable out of nowhere dance contest. But that’s not even the highlight of the evening. It’s Mia mistaking heroin for cocaine and Vincent getting help from his drug dealer played by Eric Stoltz. Who along with his wife, talks Vincent through sticking her heart with adrenaline. The scene is dark, yet somehow funny…
Vincent Vega (left) and Jules Winnfield (right) take aim
Prelude to “The Gold Watch” – The shortest segment occurs in a flashback. Which features the only scene with Christopher Walken. He’s a Vietnam War Captain telling a story to the child son of one of his deceased soldiers. The story is about a gold watch past down from generations since World War I. The monologue starts off dramatic, then it gets hilarious when it’s revealed where the watch had to be hidden. The scene is brief, but Walken sells it completely.
“The Gold Watch” – We then spring forward to the present day where the boy grows into Bruce Willis at the height of his popularity. The next character we meet is the previously seen boxer Butch Coolidge. We never see his fight, but he goes against Marsellus Wallace by not throwing it. Which puts him in direct conflict with the crime boss. After multiple mostly obscured scenes, Ving Rhames finally takes center stage.
Rather than leave town immediately, Butch is forced to return to his apartment to retrieve his precious gold watch. After his clueless Portuguese girlfriend forgets to pick it up. What follows is quite easily the most demented part of the movie. There’s an unexpected death, Butch literally running into Marsellus, and their fight spilling into the wrong store. By far the hardest scene to watch is everything that occurs when the two enemies are bound and gagged. At least a katana does the trick.
“The Bonnie Situation” – The following segment confirms that the whole story wasn’t told in chronological order. It’s also the funniest in the most twisted way possible. The segment goes back four segments earlier. Right after Jules delivers his Bible verse. Somehow one of the men hiding in a bathroom misses several shots to kill them. So they then discuss whether or not it was divine intervention. The greatest bit of dark comedy occurs when Vincent accidentally shoots the only surviving witness in the face.
So jules takes them to his friend Jimmie. Of course played by Tarantino himself. Delivering the n-word a shocking amount of times. He’s just concerned that his wife (who appears to be black) will show up any moment and see what’s happened. So a cleaner called the Wolfe shows up in the form of Harvey Keitel. He has them clean up the car and dress in dorky outfits. Which explains why they were wearing them in an earlier segment.
Epilogue – “The Diner” – Then the end becomes the beginning when we’re taken back to the diner that started it all. It turns out Jules and Vincent were dining there the same time Pumpkin and Honey Bunny were sticking it up. They collect wallets and hold everyone at gunpoint. All except Jules who sits there nonchalant while Vincent is in the bathroom. We then experience another Mexican standoff with a less deadly outcome. Since Jules gains a greater sense of purpose and decides to let the criminal couple go. They then depart, mysterious briefcase in hand.
In conclusion, Pulp Fiction is one of many great films released in 1994. Some would even argue it’s the absolute best. Quentin Tarantino displayed the full range of his storytelling abilities. By incorporating every bit of pop culture knowledge in his head. Along with all the blood soaked violence he enjoys. All to the tune of a hip soundtrack. He also built his own world full of Red Apple cigarettes and Big Kahuna Burger. This is also when we first see his weird obsession with feet. Since Jules and Vincent talk about giving foot massages and Mia’s bare feet are the first part of her we see. There’s also an intriguing mystery surrounding the film’s mcguffin. We may never know what’s in the glowing briefcase.
Sure parts of Pulp Fiction may go too far, but it’s all part of the experience. Which wasn’t too much for the Academy Awards. As it became the first Tarantino flick nominated for Best Picture. As well as Best Director, Film Editing, Actor for John Travolta, Supporting Actor for Samuel L. Jackson, and Supporting Actress for Uma Thurman. It only won for Best Original Screenplay. Understandable given it’s quotablity. With lines such as “Royale with cheese,” “Say what again!,” Zed’s dead baby,” and “I shot Marvin in the face.” As for the performances, I really believe Tarantino brings out the best in all of his actors. Even the ones who hadn’t done anything noteworthy in years. Pulp Fiction is Quentin Tarantino’s magnum opus that every film buff should experience.
Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega dance