Pulp Fiction (1994)

Whereas Reservoir Dogs, his debut film, was an entertaining, unconventional and largely influencial exercise in style, Pulp Fiction was even more than that. It was transcendent. On their show, Siskel and Ebert exclaimed, they wanted Tarantino to go further with his ideas than he had done in Reservoir Dogs. And he delivered. Pulp Fiction was premiered at Cannes in 1994 and won the Palme d’Or as well as the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay that year. Unlike so many all-time great films, Pulp Fiction was instantly recognized as just that. Maybe that is, because his inventiveness was largely based on dialogues. Dialogues are something that every viewer gets and knows from his everyday life, while the filmtechnical innovations of a Citizen Kane are not immediately visable to the audience. Or maybe it is the fact, that Pulp Fiction was pre-announced by Reservoir Dogs. As a result, it was Reservoir Dogs that received some pushback for being different. Or maybe it’s just that Tarantino’s innovation was so much fun.

In general terms, what he tried to do was to evoke conflicting emotions in us. The most usual approch is turning a in truth horrible incident into a somewhat hilarious moment. Or the other way around, set up a harmless conversation and turn it into a shock moment. Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), two fellas dressed in suits loosely talk about cheeseburgers, TV shows and foot massages, before they turn out to be ruthless gangsters, on their mission to execute a couple of young guys. Tarantino takes everything he did in Reservoir Dogs and turns it up a notch. The realistic, yet excessive dialogues, the violence, more ridiculous than ever and the structure of the film. Whereas in Reservoir Dogs, the nonlinear narrative had been primarily used to reveal important information at the ideal moment in time, Pulp Fiction takes this to the next level. The events are brought into the order, that makes the most sense from a dramatic and narrative stand point, and which archieves the highest impact. If the order was any other way, the emotional impact would have been totally different. We end at the beginning, which, chronologically, is neither at the beginning, nor the end. The viewer has to put the chronological puzzle together himself.

So, what is Pulp Fiction actually about? The title refers to the cheap and hardboiled crime stories, published in so called pulp magazines. As such, the film is a mesh of interlocking stories from the mob life, which largely follow the adventures of hitman Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield. Jules is a bad-ass “motherfucker”, who has an experience. Vincent is that nonchalant guy, who, at the same time, seems destined to screw-up. He can’t even go to the toilet without things going crazy. The film is an oblique cross between black comedy and neo-noir. And it delivers some of the most memorable scenes in film history: Vincent describing to Jules the differences in Fast Food between America and Europe. Christopher Walken depicting the journey of the golden watc. The twist contest and the flirting between Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) and Vincent. The overdose treatment. Mr. Wolf’s occurence. Bruce Willis’ taxi ride. And more…

Pulp Fiction might be the most impactful film of the last 30 years. The deliberately cool characters, the pop culture references and the wisecracking off-topic dialogue have found their way into the mainstream and are what the kids want to see. The problem is the same as with other influential classics, like King Kong (1933), Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977). While the originals might be of high quality, many of the imitators are not. And in his own field of expertise, nobody does it quite like Tarantino.

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Bruce Willis
Genre: Crime, Drama
Rated: R
Runtime: 154 min.
Release Date: // (at Cannes)
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Editor: Sally Menke
Cinematography: Andrzej Sekula
Budget: $8 – 8.5 million

Winner of the 1994 Palme d’Or