“And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.”
Quentin Tarantino – there was a time a few years ago when I would have called him my favorite director without question. I just never found any movies that delighted me so much and got me so excited about cinema as some of his works. I don’t feel any less impressed by him these days, just more uncertain about ranking movies on the whole, and I still have tremendous admiration for the guy. You’d be hard-pressed to find many movies as wildly artistic and purely entertaining as a Tarantino creation. He’s a man with vast knowledge of cinematic history and tremendous skill as a storyteller, and I’m willing to overlook some of his faults for the mind-blowing things he brings to the screen. Pulp Fiction is often considered his seminal work, and it’s a high point of 90s cinema for its stunning visuals, smart script, and fresh ideas that launched Tarantino into a career of widespread success.
You could tell me that any Tarantino film is your favorite of his, and I wouldn’t be able to argue with you. For me, I’d have to go with the Kill Bills. They’ve simply amazed me more than any other film in terms of raw entertainment and wild visuals. Really, though, every Tarantino movie has its own distinct charm while still feeling unified as part of the canon. Pulp Fiction probably gets a lot more buzz because it followed Reservoir Dogs and really showed Tarantino coming into his style as a director. It launched or revitalized the careers of everyone involved, and it’s an offbeat gem that never fails to entertain. The narrative structure, the zany style, the dialogue – this movie is famous for so many aspects. It’s a work of art that will be studied and beloved for years to come, and there are so many ways to talk about it.I suppose I’ll dive into what stuck out with me the most this time around.
I believe this was my 4th time seeing Pulp Fiction, and I really took note of the camera work. While movies like Django or Inglorious Bastards have a smooth, action-oriented style, Pulp Fiction is actually sort of awkward. The famously genuine dialogue is coupled with very simple camera work that brings the action-packed story down to size. The characters don’t feel like larger-than-life action heroes as Tarantino would toy with later on, but they feel like people. The dance scene with Uma Thurman and John Travolta sticks out for me here. Instead of using fancy tracking shots to play up the dance, the camera just sits there for long periods of time. It feels real, like how watching this dance would actually play out. Pulp Fiction is actually a lot more gentle in its style than a lot of people seem to believe. There is still a heavy dose of glorified violence, but this is a personal movie in a lot of ways. It’s probably on the lower end of the Tarantino spectrum in terms of using cardboard caricatures, and it works out great. Amidst the messy plot, the quirky dialogue and offbeat cinematography bring it all down to size for some moments of humanity.
I’m always stunned when I watch this movie by how every second feels necessary. I won’t say it’s a well-paced movie, because it can certainly drag, but it drags in such a cool way that I don’t really mind. You get long breaks to hear the characters make low stakes small talk surrounding serious moments of action, but it’s so engaging. You hang on to every word spoken in Pulp Fiction because it’s all gold. Every character feels fully realized, even those in the movie for just a moment. Everyone has something to say that tells you about who they are or how they see the world, and that’s what the movie is about. How do these stories come together? It’s about the muddled nature of the “good guy” and the unexpected way things can play out. Some chapters certainly stand out more than others (I’m always a bit let down when the Bruce Willis chapter rolls around), but they always end leaving you wanting more. It’s a movie that demands two and a half hours of your time, but it actually feels deserving of this runtime, which is rare in most contemporary releases.
If I were to point out some faults with Pulp Fiction, I guess I’d go to the classic gripes against Tarantino. The excess of violence and cursing is a problem for some people, but I don’t think it deters from the film personally. It gives the characters a fun voice, and the actors always pull it off well, but I understand that this can be an issue. I used to think the movie got too slow in the Bruce Willis section in the hotel room, but I really found a new appreciation for the scene this time around. It’s such a soft moment that slows down the action; it’s awkwardly placed, but the movie is already strange and sloppy, so I buy it. I’m far more open to unconventional directorial choices, so I really applaud Pulp Fiction for a lot of its odder aspects, even if some people are turned off by them.
I’ll go as far as to say that Pulp Fiction is a significant part of our culture. I’ve got the Uma Thurman poster hanging behind me as I write this, not because it’s one of my favorite movies but because it represents something. Whether you like the film or not, it’s a sign of someone getting to make the art they’ve always wanted to make. It’s about spinning convention on its head for a stunning result. Someone got recognized for their talent, and now they get to make more of something people love, and I think anyone can get behind that.
Films Left to Watch: 950