Reel Rewind: Pulp Fiction

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Pulp Fiction Theatrical Release Poster: Miramax

Welcome to the first installment of what will hopefully be a weekly column where we take a look back at Movies from the past.  We will be mainly concentrating on Movies from the 80 and 90s, but if there’s a movie you’d like covered feel free to reach out.

Now I wanted to start Reel Rewind with a bang, so for this weeks post I chose Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp FictionPulp Fiction was the first Independent film to hit it big with a $200 Million box office take, and helped launch Samuel L. Jackson’s career while revitalizing John Travolta’s.   The film which is both written and directed by Tarantino was written while he was sleeping on the couch of his typist Linda Chen, who had to translate his manic and indecipherable handwritten scripts into the finals drafts that were handed into producers willing to invest after the modest success of Reservoir Dogs and the cult following it developed. 

The film itself is a combination of old hollywood dialogue and gratuitous violence, a style that would become synonymous with Tarantino.  Where the 80s saw in influx of action films in which it’s star would speak few words, including a trademark a catch phrase, and just blow things up, Pulp fiction relied on meticulously written dialogue to give you insights into the characters and the situations they put themselves into. The film gives you three brilliantly interwoven stories in which every character plays a part, travels back forth through time to see how some decisions affect the lives of the characters in their ultimate fates.  

Tarantino also takes advantage of the star power he’s gathered in this film, every appearance in the film a memorable moment.  A perfect example is Christopher Walken in his only scene in the film.  Playing a military officer Captain Koons, once a prisoner of war, Walken comes to return a gold watch to a young boy named butch( who goes on to become Bruce Willis’s courageous boxer).  Along with the gold watch comes a speech of the sacrifice the  soldier makes to bring this family heirloom back to the son of his comrade.  The tale then turns quickly comedic, before shifting to the older Butch and his quest to retrieve said gold watch.

Butch an aging boxer tasked with throwing his upcoming bout by Los Angeles Crime Boss Marsellus Wallace, decides not to go through with the fix, a decision(and epiphany) that can be traced back to the lack of respect he’s given by Vincent in their brief encounter at the Wallace’s strip club.  Despite being warned not to let pride interfere with their plans, Butch literally kills his opponent in the boxing match, after betting big on himself after letting it known the fix was in.  While on the run, he turns back to retrieve the Gold Watch Captain Koons went to such great lengths to return to him.  In doing so he runs into Marsellus and chaos ensues, ending with Butch saving Marsellus from sodomizing hillbillies.

Butch’s story is the second of three episodes in which the three main characters have small moments that later determine their fates.   With Butch and Jules having “come to Jesus moments”, while Vincent ignores his own, the characters embark in tales purposely told out of chronological order, trapping its participants in odd and absurd predicaments which are the direct consequences of prior actions. 

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John Travolta(left) as Vincent Vega and Samuel L. Jackson(right) as Jules Winnfield: Miramax

The first episode, “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife,” finds Vincent(Travolta) and his partner, Jules(Jackson) arguing the innocence of a foot rub prior to completing their mission of retrieving a mystery briefcase for their boss Marsellus.  With Vincent having been recruited to entertain Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) while husband Marsellus is out-of-town. It’s been rumored that Marsellus had a man thrown out of a fourth-story window for massaging Mia’s feet.  The ensuing date makes for tension filled night for Vincent, and ultimately  features a drug-related mishap that could have cost Vincent his life if not for the assistance of his heroine dealing pal Lance(played by Eric Stolz) and a literal shot of adrenaline.  It’s the “come to Jesus” moment Vincent ultimately ignores, as his drugged fueled careless leads to his demise at hand of Butch(he left his gun on the table while using the bathroom in Butch’s old apartment).

The third episode, “The Bonnie Situation,” brings in Harvey Keitel playing a suave problem solver named Wolf, whose specialty is unwanted gore. “The Gore is provided by a careless Vincent who accidentally blows off the head of passenger Marvin.   Wolf solves the problem created by Vincent but not before catching some lip for being short when telling Vincent and Jules what need to be done.  It is later in this episode that Jules the more pensive of the two hitmen defines his “come to Jesus” moment when trying to explain the miracle of not being shot earlier in the day despite a gun being unloaded in their direction.  He decides it was a miracle and a sign that he should get out of this line of work, a conviction that Vincent can’t persuade him away from. Ultimately the film with Jules using his newfound clarity to dissuade petty crooks in midst of robbing a diner, from taking the briefcase they procured earlier in the film.  We never do find out what’s in the briefcase, which has become the cause of much speculation, but the film does end leaving the viewer with the thought that it’s something far greater than money.

The film feels 20 years old only because it is over 20 years old.  It does however age well and is just as entertaining and poignant today as it was all those years ago.  Tarantino has since then become a distinct auteur and given us vengeance driven films that highlight his love of film history and incredible eye for details.  As the film that truly launched Tarantino’s career as a writer/director Pulp Fiction is fun, shocking and intelligent in a way audiences hadn’t seen before.

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