Sunday, 4 August 2013

Movie Review: Pulp Fiction (1994)


One of the best and most influential films ever made, Pulp Fiction reboots cinema with an injection of cultured adrenaline. Director Quentin Tarantino speeds past all limits of wild action and scathing humour, and finds on the other side a hip movie that redefines cool as a collision between smart irony and bloody gore.

Vincent: And you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
Jules: They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
Vincent: Nah, man, they got the metric system. They wouldn't know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.
Jules: What do they call it?
Vincent: They call it a "Royale with Cheese."
Jules: "Royale with Cheese."
Vincent: That's right.
Jules: What do they call a Big Mac?
Vincent: A Big Mac's a Big Mac, but they call it "Le Big Mac."

In a non-linear narrative, the film consists of several loosely related stories that take place over the course of one day. Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) are assassins who do the dirty work for crime lord Marsellus (Ving Rhames). They pay a visit to the apartment of the criminal Brett (Frank Whalley), who has betrayed Marsellus and is holding on to a briefcase containing a mysterious glowing substance.

Meanwhile, Marsellus has made arrangements for his wife Mia (Uma Thurman) to be chaperoned by Vincent during a night on the town. Mia is a drug addict who can get herself into trouble, and after she and Vincent enjoy a meal and a dance at Jack Rabbit Slim's 1950s-themed restaurant, they head back to Mia's house where she does, indeed, get herself into a whole heap of trouble.

Marsellus is also fixing a boxing fight by paying has-been fighter Butch (Bruce Willis) to take a dive. Instead, Butch double crosses Marsellus and sets about escaping town with the help of girlfriend Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros). But first he has to retrieve his most precious possession, the gold watch left to him by his father. Butch and Marsellus literally collide in the street, resulting in a shared nightmare of an experience in the basement of a little pawn shop of horrors.

Finally, an incredible escape from death convinces Jules that divine intervention has provided him with a second chance at life, and he decides to re-evaluate his purpose. After he and Vincent clean up an unfortunate bloody mess at the house of their friend Jimmie (Tarantino) with the help of The Wolf (Harvey Keitel), they encounter a robbery, with low-life criminals "Pumpkin" (Tim Roth) and "Honey Bunny" (Amanda Plummer) wildly trying to hold up the customers at a restaurant. Jules has to decide when, and how, he will start a new life of solving problems without killing people.

Jules (to Brett): What does Marsellus Wallace look like?
Brett: What?
Jules: What country are you from?!
Brett: What?
Jules: "What" ain't no country I ever heard of! They speak English in "What"?!
Brett: What?
Jules: English, motherfucker! Do you speak it?!
Brett: Yes.
Jules: Then you know what I'm saying.
Brett: Yes.
Jules: Describe what Marsellus Wallace looks like.
Brett: What...?
Jules: [points gun directly in Brett's face] Say "what" again! Say! "what"! again! I dare you! I double-dare you, motherfucker! 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?
Brett: What?
Jules: [shoots Brett in the shoulder; Brett screams] DOES...HE...LOOK...LIKE...A BITCH?!
Brett: No!
Jules: Then why'd you try to fuck him like a bitch, Brett?
Brett: I didn't.
Jules: Yes, you did. Yes, you did, Brett. You tried to fuck him. And Marsellus Wallace don't like to be fucked by anybody except Mrs. Wallace. You read the Bible, Brett?
Brett: Yes.
Jules: Well, there's this passage I've got memorized, sorta fits the occasion. Ezekiel 25:17? "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord... [pulls out his gun and aims it at Brett] ...when I lay my vengeance upon thee."

An independent production written by Tarantino and Roger Avary, Pulp Fiction is a cerebral comedy set against the background of excessive violence. The movie occupies an alternate reality where violence is routine, gory and disproportionate. But for most of the people who occupy this world, the violence is as much a part of their life as oxygen, and they don't as much as blink when the bullets are flying and the bodies are falling. Vince, Jules, Marsellus and Butch expect to live violently and die violently, and they carry on with the business of living while the living is good, conversing deeply about trivialities, and holding sentimental values against a background that is only surreal to others.

Indeed, the turning point for Jules is when the rules of his world are violated. He should be dead; which he accepts. He does not die; which he has difficulty with. And so he decides that he needs to try and step out of the world of bloodshed and into an alternative life where death is an exception, not a profession. Of course, Jules is actually just trying to join the world of normalcy, but for him, it's a grand fork in the tree of life.

The genius of Pulp Fiction resides in the utterly normal conversations, banter and items holding the characters together, before, during and after the extraordinary blood-letting. Pumpkin and Honey Bunny openly debate the advantages and disadvantages of robbing various targets before deciding on a whim to hold up the place where they are having a meal. On their way to Brett's apartment, Vince and Jules have a long conversation about the differences between Europe and the United States, including what a Quarter Pounder with Cheese gets to be called in Paris. They also dissect the appropriateness of Marsellus' actions in dropping a foe from a fourth floor balcony because he gave Mia a foot massage.

The dinner shared between Vince and Mia is filled with the getting-to-know-you awkwardness of a first date that will never lead to a second. The fact that Vince is an assassin and Mia is the drug addicted wife of his mobster boss is irrelevant to their conversation about Mia's brief acting career, which peaked with a failed television pilot.

Mia: Don't you hate that?
Vincent: Hate what?
Mia: Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it's necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable?
Vincent: I don't know. That's a good question.
Mia: That's when you know you've found somebody really special: you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably share silence.

And Butch's entire life is spinning on the dial of a tiny gold watch, delivered to him when he was a child by his Dad's colleague (Christopher Walken, in an unforgettable single-scene role). The agony of what his Dad went through pricks Butch enough to find his spine, and that same watch will alter his fate and lead to the most unlikely of initially unwanted encounters with Marsellus. The dead man in the boxing ring, the assassin that Butch has to dispose of, and the horror in the basement of the pawn shop: they are all overshadowed by that small watch.

Prior to Pulp Fiction, Bruce Willis had suffered through a series of high-priced flops, while John Travolta was considered a has-been, reduced to two Look Who's Talking sequels. Willis and Travolta were celebrated for their roles as Butch and Vince, Willis demonstrating that he is capable of more than just John McClane, and Travolta discovering a whole new persona as a man capable of storing evil, humour and sensitivity in equal measures. Travolta was nominated for a clutch of acting awards, including the Best Actor Academy Award, and Pulp Fiction made appearances by big-name stars in smaller independent productions cool, a trend that never subsequently waned.

The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent, with Jackson and Thurman creating in Jules and Mia two enduring characters, while Harvey Keitel's The Wolf is likely the best in his long like of distinguished supporting roles.

Jimmie: I can't believe this is the same car.
The Wolf: Well, let's not start sucking each other's dicks quite yet.

Tarantino creates an almost unfair number of images and scenes that have become classics among fans of filmdom, and lines of dialogue that are essential cultural icons. The instantly recognizable suits favoured by Vince and Jules; Jules unloading his biblical tirade at Brett; Vince and Mia dancing; Butch encountering an assassin in his home; the entire sequence with The Wolf; and Butch choosing which weapon to take back into battle at the pawn shop.

Marsellus: I'm gonna get medieval on your ass.

Pulp Fiction is an immense achievement, a film as light on its feet as it is deep in its impact, at once a celebration and recreation of all that the movies can offer.

Fabienne: Who's Zed?
Butch: Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead.






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1 comment:

  1. Jules: Describe what Marsellus Wallace looks like.
    Brett: What...?
    Jules: [points gun directly in Brett's face] Say "what" again! Say! "what"! again! I dare you! I double-dare you, motherfucker! 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?
    Brett: What?
    Jules: [shoots Brett in the shoulder; Brett screams] DOES...HE...LOOK...LIKE...A BITCH?!
    Brett: No!
    Jules: Then why'd you try to fuck him like a bitch, Brett?
    Brett: I didn't.
    Jules: Yes, you did. Yes, you did, Brett. You tried to fuck him. And Marsellus Wallace don't like to be fucked by anybody except Mrs. Wallace.



    LOL!

    Literally the best section ever :D (next to Eizekel :D)

    ReplyDelete

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