Pulp Fiction is a nineties classic. Released in 1994 it sums up the decade for me.
While there were big blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Independence day, there’s something special about Pulp Fiction.
The film was the pendulum swinging back in the other direction. 80s movies were all plot, every scene was in service of the plot.
Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, were a reaction to that. Yes, there was a plot, but the characters didn’t talk about the plot. If Pulp Fiction was released in the 80s Jules and Vincent would only be talking about the briefcase.
Pulp Fiction is a gateway film
Pulp Fiction is one of my all-time favourite films.
To go off on a tangent briefly lemme explain what your favourite movie is. It tends to be something that you see when you’re young. You remember either seeing it multiple times or your first viewing.
I remember the exact first time I saw it.
Was fifteen, babysitting for the kids up to the street and waiting for their parents to come home. I Love 1994 a nostalgia clip show where they get comedians you’ve never heard of to talk about Poggs. You know the deal. As a companion to the show, they would show an iconic film from the year, and that film was Pulp Fiction.
It blew my mind.
How was this film so entertaining? There was no action, no car chases and no special effects. It was people talking to each other. I was riveted, it had me hooked. That weekend I rented it from the local Xtra Vision watched it again. Invited my best friend around. Watched again. I couldn’t get my head around what made it so enjoyable. How did this film have me hooked and wanting more?
It was a significant influence on me. I realised that I wanted to be a storyteller on some level. It taught me that if the script was right, then it didn’t matter how it came together.
Tarantino made me realise my blindspots when it came to movies. He made me understand the importance of the writer, and that not every film needs a big budget.
Pulp Fiction is three stories about one story
As time goes on as Tarantino makes more movies, I no longer see him as the god that I once did. He’s human, after all.
With the release of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood imminent here in the UK, I gave Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction a rewatch (You can read my take on Reservoir Dogs here).
You want to know how Pulp Fiction is a classic?
Whenever you come back to it every couple of years, it feels like the film changes.
Any film that you can get more than one reading out of is something special.
When I was young Pulp Fiction was “cool” (whatever that means). A bunch of gangsters doing some gangster shit. Blowing cats away without a second thought. All the while a cool soundtrack plays in the background.
As someone who has written scripts and filmed one (Thank you Mr Tarantino) I’m obsessed with what makes a script work. I’ll be writing about what I’ve learned in a while, so keep checking in here. Throughout my years of reading and writing scripts, Pulp Fiction remained an anomaly. I had written it off as an outlier and considered it as lightning in a bottle for a hot young filmmaker.
That’s all it was, a fluke, right?
Now, this isn’t my own original theory. It’s been around for probably as long as the film has been. After a recent viewing here was when it finally clicked for me.
The clue to understanding the appeal of the film is right on the first page of the script. The front page says “Pulp Fiction: Three stories about one story”.
When you first read that you think “No d’ uh”. Mr Tarantino could have meant that, but there is a deeper meaning.
Did he also mean the more profound meaning?
What is the deeper meaning?
Pulp Fiction’s mid-point
When I read a film, my first port of call is the mid-point and the endpoint. I’m not going to go too deep into what a midpoint is aside from telling you that it’s a moment of great realisation. The hero realises there are forces bigger than them at work. The rest of the story is about their reaction to this realisation. Do they soldier on regardless (Chinatown) or do they try and get out of Dodge (Bad Day at Black Rock). The mid-point of Pulp Fiction is when Butch escapes the rape dungeon is about to leave but doesn’t. He knows that he is risking his life by not getting out of there. Butch knows he can’t leave someone to be tortured, not even the man who wants him dead.
Butch forgives his enemy, shows mercy and for it is allowed to leave the movie alive. He even rides out on a chopper called Grace.
The next question is, where does it end?
Pulp Fiction’s endpoint
The last scene in Pulp Fiction ends where it began, in the diner. Jules lets Pumpkin and Honeybun leave. Had Jules not experienced “divine intervention” earlier he would have blown them away. Due to his absence in the Gold Watch section, you infer that he has quit the life. He saw the signs and lived, Vince saw the same signs, waved it away and gets gunned down with his own weapon.
Butch makes a mature decision by forgiving Marsellus Wallace. The two have a personal relationship. Jules, in forgiving two people who have robbed him makes his decision an enlightened one.
You’re probably wondering where the hell I’m going with this.
Some of you know what I’m getting at, which camp do you fall into?
Remember, Pulp Fiction is three stories about one story.
Before I tell you my reading lets look at Vince Vega first.
Vince Vega, our man in Amsterdam
Vince is a screw-up. Every time he goes to the bathroom, something terrible happens. He’s not even using the toilet, two times he’s reading. The third time he’s questioning whether he should try and screw a mob bosses wife.
He accidentally shoots a guy in the face. Vince leaves his gun on the counter. He doesn’t even hear Butch entering his apartment, let alone rummaging through it. He aggravates the standoff in the diner.
He’s disrespectful too. When people help him he’s still indignant “A please would be nice”. He almost gets into a fight with Butch at the bar.
One final thing, he’s just back having spent three years in Amsterdam. Do you think it was a holiday or was he laying low for screwing something up?
Even Marsellus doesn’t respect him all that much. Think of the tasks he’s given. He has to go and retrieve a case from some yuppies. Vince is tagging along with Jules, who is a consummate professional. Marsellus gets Vincent to take his wife out for a meal which ends in an overdose. Marsellus leaves Vincent at Butches house. Under most circumstances, the one place that Butch would least likely go.
Do you get what I’m saying?
Vincent is an immature soul. Butch is a mature soul. Jules is an enlightened soul.
Three stories about one story.
Three bodies, one soul.
Oh I’m sorry, did I break your concentration?
Tarantino, in interviews about Pulp Fiction, said that he’d be OK if the film was under the comedy section.
Of course, it’s got funny lines and people getting blown away for laughs.
Again, that’s just a surface-level reading.
Pulp Fiction is a comedy in the same way that the fifth season of The Wire is a comedy. It’s not a laugh riot, but what makes it a comedy is the ending.
I’m sure that I have said this before on this blog, but the difference between a comedy, drama and tragedy is the ending.
Don’t believe me?
Think about these three differences.
Pulp Fiction told chronologically with Vincent as the hero. A man is given many opportunities to learn from his mistakes, doesn’t, dies. That’s a tragedy.
2. Pulp Fiction told in the exact same way only this time Pumpkin tries to take the case causing a shoot out. Jules and Vince survive. “Told you not to reach for the case”. That’s a drama.
3. Pulp Fiction told as it is, with forgiveness and the possibility of redemption for Jules, is a comedy. Heck, even Vince is alive at the end, the dead come back, all is forgiven. That’s a comedy.
This isn’t proof as such, but many of the minor roles are taken by comedians. Kathy Griffin, Phil LeMarr, Julia Sweeney and Frank Whaley.
There’s a chance that I’m reading too deeply, but there are others out there who feel the same way I’m sure.
What do you think?
Pulp Fiction Conclusion
Let’s wrap up.
In my own way, I’m telling you that Pulp Fiction is a classic and my favourite Tarantino film for personal reasons. What I’m also getting at is it’s easy to cast it off as some self-aware pastiche of gangster films. There are also deeper meanings.
What are the deeper meanings:
- Pulp Fiction is about a soul that matures until it reaches enlightenment.
- It’s also a comedy in the sense of that forgiveness is attainable
- Read the signs and show respect
It’s universal, it’s about the human soul, and it’s one of the greatest films ever made.