PULP FICTION: FILM REVIEW
Pulp Fiction is my favorite movie of all time, and I think that’s why I remain hesitant to write a review of the film. There is a fear that materializing the elements of this film that allow it to reign as my all time favorite will take away from my instinctual pull to these elements, which often cannot be explained beyond simple admiration. I can’t tell you if it’s Butch and Fabienne’s laughably uncomfortable relationship, the way that the couple who plans to rob the diner call each other “Pumpkin” and “Honey Bunny” or the fact that somehow an extensive shot of Samuel L. Jackson chewing on a Big Kahuna Burger made it into the film. Perhaps it is Tarantino’s sixth sense for style, an aesthetic that he doesn’t follow, but rather creates.
I also have personal memories associated with this film; the friendship between me and one of my best friends to this day began largely because we bonded over our love for Pulp Fiction sophomore year of high school and made it a point to watch it together.
Pulp Fiction’s storyline is anything but linear, making room for three primary narratives. The first revolves around Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Marsellus Wallace’s wife, Mia (Umma Thurman). The second revolves around Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), and the third revolves around Jules Winnfield. Let’s quickly break down the characters. Vincent and Jules work for gangster Marsellus Wallace (Samuel L. Jackson). While Vincent and Jules are on a mission to retrieve Marsellus’ briefcase from a business partner, Marsellus waits for boxer Butch Coolidge to lose his match, which Marsellus bribed him to do for money. Butch, who initially seems like a supporting character, takes on his own narrative as he wins the match, betraying Marsellus. Butch attempts to flee Marsellus’ wrath, dragging his girlfriend Fabienne down with him, and let’s just say, it gets messy. Throughout the film, the narratives of these three protagonists weave in and out, with features from Marsellus’ wife, Mia (Umma Thurman), Lance (Eric Stoltz), and of course, a cameo from Quentin Tarantino himself. However, the film doesn’t rush to drive its plot; Pulp Fiction takes its sweet time, whether its honing in on casual conversations between Vincent and Jules about the meaning of “le royale with cheese” or diving into a tangentially related backstory about how Butch’s most prized possession (a watch) has been passed down from generation to generation, traveling from asshole to asshole for safekeeping.
The flow of Pulp Fiction never ceases to amaze me, as every sequence fits perfectly into place. Tarantino expertly strikes a balance of leaving viewers in the dark and queuing them in just enough so they can follow what’s going on. Even though I’ve watched the film countless times, each viewing presents a new focus and set of criteria to dissect. While I’m no longer surprised at which scene follows another, the film’s meaning changes depending on if I’m paying attention to Vincent, Butch, Marsellus, the briefcase, the film’s allegorical references, or simply vibing with its punk rock sexiness. The elongated, rich dialogue that takes place between characters doesn’t take away from the drive of the film, but rather invests the viewer further in these personalities who have come to life on screen. Each character in Pulp Fiction is unforgettable, even if they’re only in front of you for a few minutes.
Of course, Pulp Fiction would not be complete without Mia Wallace. When I saw Mia Wallace for the first time, I wanted to be her; she appeared as groovy, knowingly desirable, but not plastic in the way that women were portrayed in films I had watched before. Mia comes in the story when she requests Vincent keep her company for a night when Marsellus is out of town. While Vincent tries very hard not to fuck up for the sake of his relationship with Marsellus, Mia ensures that she’s fucked up through the entirety of the date. The date, which takes place at a 50’s themed diner, is spunky and fun -- that is, before they go back to Mia’s apartment, where she overdoses. Of course, the scene would not be complete without Urge Overkill’s “Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” which is a staple track to the film.
Because of the film’s originality, it’s difficult to pinpoint where Tarantino drew inspiration from to create this masterpiece. Pulp Fiction seems to be a blazing collage of moral and religious dilemmas, crime novels, and the romanticization of living every day as if it's your last (and on drugs). The material in Pulp Fiction is so dense that the first viewing only allows room to process the way the film comes together, but not to eternalize the motives of each character and reference.
Then, there’s also the question of the briefcase -- an iconic MacGuffin in film history. What does the briefcase represent, if anything? While theories range from diamonds from Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, to a stolen Oscar, the most popular answer is that it contains Marsellus’ soul. Evidence for this allegory includes the fact ‘666’ is the combination of the briefcase’s lock and that there’s a band aid on Marsellus’ head, which is apparently where the devil steals your soul from. However, there’s no concrete resolution to this question, and it’s even unclear if Tarantino knows. This mystery is so classic of Pulp Fiction, as it features an unanswerable question that acts as the film’s centerpiece and meaning.
Pulp Fiction will forever be an integral part of not only my discovery of film as an art form, but also the beginning of a friendship that I will always cherish. I think it is undoubtedly Tarantino’s magnum opus, because, I’m sorry, but what the hell is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? If anything, watch Pulp Fiction in an attempt to manifest Umma Thurman’s radiating confidence and style, which to this day, remains unmatched.