As loud guitar riffs vibrate through the room, giant yellow letters raise slowly on to the screen:“Pulp Fiction.” In 1994, Quentin Tarantino released his second feature film, Pulp Fiction, and made his mark on cinema. It might be hard to imagine what type of impact it made if you were a kid in the nineties, but the elements of its genius are why Pulp Fiction was way ahead of its time. It’s no wonder why Roger Ebert deemed Pulp Fiction the most influential film of the ’90s, and referred to it as, “A film so well-written in a scruffy, fanzine way that you want to rub noses in it — the noses of those zombie writers who take ‘screenwriting’ classes that teach them the formulas for ‘hit films.’”
In this film, Tarantino pushed boundaries and used story telling in a way it had never been used before. He used new techniques that served as a breath of fresh air to movies. Little did he know, his exploitation inspired film would catapult to that of film legend.
- Prologue—The Diner (i)
- Prelude to “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife”
- “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife”
- Prelude to “The Gold Watch” (a: flashback, b:present)
- “The Gold Watch”
- “The Bonnie Situation”
- Epilogue—The Diner (ii)
Pulp Fiction veered from traditional linear story telling and instead ran with something a bit unorthodox: non-linear chronology. It served as the antidote to the predictable and thus created more interest in the simplicity of many scenes. Audiences were able to live in the moment–studying character nuances and events–before their brains subconsciously jumped to the ending. There was no other choice, this film required all of its viewer. And with the audience’s self-discipline came revelations. The story slowly began to add up, like a giant jigsaw puzzle.
“I thought the idea, in the case of Pulp Fiction, that would be kind of cool was to take three separate stories . . . the oldest stories in the book. It was the idea of taking these chestnuts, putting them together, and having the characters intertwine. And [then] just kind of hanging out with them for two days.” – Quentin Tarantino
It’s crazy to think, without this component of story telling, Pulp Fiction might not have turned into the thrill it is. And while it wasn’t the first to attempt non-linear chronology, it is one of the few standing films to have done it successfully.
Another ingredient which made this film so iconic is the relationship Tarantino cultivated between the audience and characters. Both the camera angles and dialogue are fashioned to depict the characters as normal people on the go. The experience is almost as if, we the audience were not watching through a lens, but along for the ride. For instance, hired hitmen, Jules and Vincent, are normalized in their interests and conversation. In the very first scene we meet them they’re having conversations about burgers and dates–things everyone talks about. These roles reversed the direction its cast’s careers. John Travolta (Vincent), who was boxed into hunky heartthrob roles and shadowed by a twelve year slump after Urban Cowboy, pulled off one of the greatest career come backs of all time. Bruce Willis also saw a massive resurgence in his professional life. He went on to acquire roles in hit films 12 Monkeys, The Jackal, The Fifth Element, The Siege, and The Sixth Sense. And our guy, Samuel L. Jackson, hasn’t had any shortage of roles since Pulp Fiction. He’s just about in everything, gracing us with the voice and intimidating demeanor we admire.
Whenever I think about this movie a series of images rotate through my mind. Marvin’s brains being accidentally blasted across Jules’ car, Vincent stabbing Mia with the adrenaline shot, and of course the unforgettable Jack Rabbit Slims scene. Everything about that scene is magical, starting with the arrival of their beautiful red car as it glides in the frame while neon lights reflect on their window. The best part of the Jack Rabbit Slim’s sequence is the dance competition Mia forces Vincent into. Even though that scene lasts about two minutes, it’s one of the most memorable, and apparently, it was almost all spontaneous.
“That was improvised quite a bit,” Travolta toldThe Daily Beast about the dance sequence. “The Twist is what he wanted, but I said, ‘There were other fun dances from that era! I said, ‘Why don’t you film it, and you call it out? We’ll start with The Twist, and then when you get bored with The Twist, throw out something else.’ So he was behind the camera going, ‘The Swim! The Batman!’ He’d mix-and-match.”
Pop Culture References
Part of Tarantino’s appeal is how well versed he is in films. In Pulp Fiction he utilized the admired qualities of his heroes, Godard and Sergio Leone, and seamlessly wove them into his script. This film is bursting with so many pop culture references. Most notably the film’s surf rock opener, “Misirilou” by Dick Dale and his Deltones. And in its own right, Pulp Fiction has become a pop culture phenomenon. From being extremely popular Halloween costume to even making it to Vashtie’s first mixtape, When Thugs Cry! Vashtie dedicated this mix to all the “sensitive thugs & sad bad boys worldwide.” Around 17 minutes into the mix you can hear one of the most crazy in love couples, Bunny and Pumpkin, creep into the song. This so smoothly flows into another couple that’s often deemed as goals, Jay and Bey.
By changing the dynamic of Hollywood film, Tarantino broke way for new Indie filmmakers, while also cementing his status as an elite creative force. What cost him 8.5 million to make, raked in 200 million at the box office and became the most successful independent film up to its release. Like many of other films in Tarantino’s filmography, it’s repeat worthy. You can chill out on the couch and find new easter eggs you somehow managed to miss the last two dozen you watched it. Still fresh at twenty-three years old, Pulp Fiction is a piece we’ve never forgotten.
Written in assistance by Tia.