What’s in the briefcase? Doesn’t matter… #sixwordmovies
#95 Pulp Fiction (1994)
“That was trippy,” says the piercing-happy wife of a drug dealer, as Uma Thurman is jolted back from the edge of a fatal overdose with an adrenaline shot dangling from her sternum. I said the same thing twice while watching Pulp Fiction: once when an unlooked for Kathy Griffin shows up in the midst of a Bruce Willis/Ving Rhames shoot-up, and again when a flannel-wearing Julia Sweeney peels off into the sunset with Harvey Keitel. Trippy stuff, indeed.
So Quentin Tarantino has got to know how incredibly cool his movies are, right? That’s got to be why he shows up in the final third of his own film, going on about coffee and calling John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, a couple of dangerous hit-men that have just come off of a morning of killing, “dorks.” He’s got to get in on the action himself, I suppose.
The film doesn’t conform to a traditional narrative. Instead, several vignettes are told out of order, each one revolving around the intersecting lives of half-a-dozen characters. Crime boss Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) is the common link for hit-men Vincent Vega (Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Jackson), Wallace’s wife Mia (Uma Thurman), and boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis). Tarantino manages to keep the disjointed plot flowing, with his humorous, incessant dialogue concerning topics as mundane as blueberry pancakes and foot massages. And it’s really these moments of banality that make the film shine. Tarantino endears his audience to these otherwise vicious killers and lowlifes by making us laugh with them and by humanizing them with an underlying sense of morality. The three main characters all seem to strive to adhere to some kind ethical code. Travolta struggles to maintain his loyalty to his boss by not making a move on his wife, Willis rescues his enemy from the clutches of a couple of sickos, and Jackson perhaps achieves some kind of redemption by the end of the picture. I may be making a bit of a leap here, but I think the shocking, sickening subject matter is softened by the film’s suggestion that there is honor among these thieves.
(Sam is amazing in this movie, as you can see in the above clip. Uma is a delight to watch, also.)
Although entertaining, Pulp Fiction left me feeling empty, unsatisfied. It’s expertly crafted, contains some brilliant performances, but it’s lacking something. At the risk of sounding pedestrian, I think it may be because the film isn’t really about anything. There isn’t a whole lot going on underneath all the blood and drugs and cool music. True to it’s name, it’s flashy and sensational and lurid, but as the advertised 10 cent price tag on the movie poster suggests, it’s also cheap entertainment without much in the way of substance. I’ll need to give Pulp Fiction a second viewing, though. It seems like the kind of film that gets better each time you come back to it.