Pulp Fiction (1994)
Every once in a while a movie comes along that changes everything. Whenever the film industry went out of ideas & started churning out same, old, boring formulas for too long, there always emerged a new wave of films which defied conventions, pushed the limits of creative filmmaking & injected new life into the dying medium that eventually ended up changing the way we are accustomed to watching & perceiving cinema. Winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes & nominated for 7 Academy Awards in 1994, Pulp Fiction not only became a worldwide phenomenon at its time of release but, in the long run, went on to redefine cinema in every respect. Celebrated for its contribution to independent films, noteworthy for its unconventional narration, eccentric characters & eclectic dialogues and path-breaking for its extensive pop-culture references, Pulp Fiction remains one of the most original & influential works in motion picture history and is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.
Penning down a plot summary of this film without spoiling it a little is a near-impossible task. And even if I do spoil it for you, it still won’t make much of a difference since you’ll be left bewildered by many of the film’s perplexing moments which generally uncover itself on multiple viewings. Pulp Fiction, in a simple summarization, intersects many different segments into one and is narrated in a non-chronological order. Vincent Vega & Jules Winnfield are two hitmen out on a mission to retrieve a mysterious suitcase that belongs to their mob boss, Marsellus Wallace. Wallace has also put Vincent in charge of taking care of his beautiful wife, Mia Wallace, when he is out of town for business. And finally there is an aging but proud boxer, Butch, who is asked by Wallace to drop a fight in exchange for a handsome reward. The lives of these insanely odd characters & their equally weird perspectives on life collide in an unexpected manner, resulting in some truly bizarre, unabashedly hilarious & surprising situations for each one of them.
When it comes to taking a simple narrative structure, twisting it in all directions, infusing it with loads of homages & references, peculiar characters, punchy dialogues and seamlessly balancing all of the above with an ironic mix of graphic violence & splendid humour, there is no director who does it better than Quentin Tarantino. While Reservoir Dogs, an instant masterpiece which was his filmmaking debut, had all his trademarks & signatures, it’s in Pulp Fiction where Tarantino presents a finer control over every single frame with greater audacity that also placed him in the front ranks of American filmmakers. And if Tarantino’s direction is quite stylish, then the script he co-wrote with Roger Avery is even more impressive. Every single line spoken in this film is encapsulated with a pop-culture reference and most of the times the conversations aren’t even related to the plot and yet, without these wisecracking moments, Pulp Fiction wouldn’t really be Pulp Fiction. The amount of focus that went into the smallest of details during scriptwriting is this film’s biggest strength & when it comes to pure screenplay wizardry, Pulp Fiction still has no equals & probably never will.
No matter how good a screenplay is, but if you don’t have an equally amazing cast to bring alive that script on-screen, the film is destined to fail in most cases. For its huge line-up of idiosyncratic characters, Pulp Fiction features a star-studded cast of John Travolta, Samuel L Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Christopher Walken, Ving Rhames, Bruce Willis, & many more, and later turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it ended up revitalizing the faltering careers of many of them. John Travolta stars as Vincent Vega, one of Wallace’s hitmen & makes a fabulous return to form with his smashing performance. Samuel L Jackson plays Jules Winnfield, Vincent’s partner in crime and his work not only turns out to be this film’s best but ends up reincarnating Jackson himself. Marsellus Wallace is one character whose presence looms over the entire film even during his absence & Ving Rhames didn’t disappoint in portraying him. Uma Thurman is absolutely electrifying as Mia Wallace & has stealing moments of her own. Bruce Willis adds a new feather to his acting range as Butch, & beautifully balances the toughness of his boxer character with a soft spot for his wife. Other notable performances include Tim Roth & Amanda Plummer as small time robbers trying to rob a restaurant, Christopher Walken as Captain Koons in for a hilarious monologue about the gold watch that plays a pivotal part in the film, and Harvey Keitel as The Wolf, a character Tarantino wrote specifically for him. Considerable time is devoted to each character to make his/her mark & every actor embraces this opportunity to add a personal touch in their roles.
Other technical aspects of this film often gets overlooked due to the impressive accomplishments it achieved in the directional, writing & acting departments but on a closer look, these aspects do play an important role in successfully creating the atmosphere it needed to evoke a strong response from its viewers. Cinematography gives this film a look of 1950s & employs all the camera tricks that later became Tarantino’s trademarks. Editing intentionally breaks the film into different segments & makes the viewers chase after each one of them which they unquestionably do, thanks to this film’s magnetic grip on their emotions. Two key elements that are highly contrasting in general but, in Tarantino’s universe, work together side by side as if co-dependent on each other is violence & humour. There is a disturbing amount of over the top violence in this film but those violent sequences are also this film’s funniest segments and the addition of hilarity to the brutality significantly neutralizes the entire effect violence alone may have had on its viewers. The soundtrack is a compilation of carefully selected existing surf music, rock n roll & pop songs which apart from counterpointing to the on-screen violence & action also turns Pulp Fiction into a roller-coaster ride of relentless fun & quality entertainment.
Critics & viewers have often pondered over the question; what exactly is the motive of this film & what message it is trying to deliver? And they remain clueless to this date because of one simple fact; There is no message. It’s a film made by a passionate film lover to pay homage to as well as parody the classics of the past along with the subculture Tarantino himself grew up in. It’s a film that deserves to be seen by all although it won’t appeal to every viewer. While some might reject it for being too complex, vulgar or violent for their taste, there will be many who are gonna love it for exactly the same reasons as above in addition to its wicked characters & catchy dialogues. Overall, with its explosive combination of an innovative narrative structure that demands attention from its viewers & keeps them guessing from the very beginning, remarkable screenplay which paves the groundwork for so many unforgettable sequences while also giving us some of the most memorable catchphrases in the last 20 years of cinema, solid performances from its ensemble cast who put up a show-stealing stuff, blistering pace because of which the 154 minutes of tedious runtime is over pretty soon, mesmerizing music that elevates the film’s ongoing events to higher levels and the incredible mix of violence & humour that only Tarantino can pull off with such artistry, Pulp Fiction is a delicious piece of pop culture that thrills & amuses its viewers in a highly stylised manner and a landmark moment in cinema history whose impact on indie filmmaking & several other media can never be forgotten. Strongly recommended. Repeated viewings advised.