Director Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is one of the greatest films of all time, absolutely no question. The title comes from pulp magazines, which get their name from the cheap paper pulp that was used to make them. The film ranges from grotesque depictions of violence, to a cute albeit bizarre dance number. You can feel Tarantino’s dedication and love for film in nearly every scene of the film, mainly due to the fact that he manages to intertwine complex storytelling with a large amount of fun.
Pulp Fiction, similar to Citizen Kane, is told in a nonlinear way that gives the audience the opportunity to not only watch a film, but piece it together. It’s not afraid to force the audience to think about what they had just experienced, in fact, that is arguably it’s entire goal. There are several interconnected story-lines that feature characters that are one way or another mixed up in a dangerous life of crime, whether they be mobsters or just married to a crime boss.
John Travolta stars as Vincent Vega, a gangster who seems content with his occupation. With his partner, Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), the two carry out hits and jobs for Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), a very powerful crime boss. Vega is a character that thinks he knows everything (including the French for select McDonald’s items), but at the same time, he makes many mistakes. Vega is not as experienced as Jules in handling sensitive matters; it’s clear that he cannot take care of himself on missions without the help of his wise partner.
One of Vega’s assignments is to take Wallace’s wife, Mia (Uma Thurman), out while he’s away so she doesn’t feel lonely. It’s here that one of the most memorable moments of the film transpires; the dance at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, a 50’s themed restaurant with celebrity impersonators. Against the music of Chuck Berry, Mia and Vega dance barefoot in a beautiful shot in front of the other restaurant patrons. This scene is attached with a moment of laughter, followed by a sense of confusion in regard to the possible provocative nature of the dance.
In a different storyline, boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) is meant to throw a fight by the request of Marsellus Wallace, but instead, Butch places all bets on himself and wins the fight. This endangers both him and his other half, Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros), prompting them to flee the city. The audience first meets Butch in a flashback where he is a child who is given a watch that had been passed down through his paternal family for generations, in a less than savory way as explained by Christopher Walken. This watch eventually leads to Butch’s downfall, as his obsession with it serves as the catalyst for one of the most disturbing acts in the film.
The cast does an outstanding job and many things can be said for all of them. Travolta’s status as an actor is revitalized thanks to his cynical nature and comic timing. Thurman’s portrays Mia in a happy-go-lucky kind of way that is gracefully balanced by her ability to turn into a damaged and convincingly hurt person. Jackson frequently steals the spotlight as an incredibly likable and spiritually humbled gangster, what else could the audience want from Sam Jackson?
In addition to the films nonlinear storyline, there also is a grand MacGuffin. Several of the main characters come into contact with a mysterious briefcase that belongs to Wallace. All the audience knows about the case is that a gold light shines from within and that the lock combo is “666,” reflecting the sinister nature of the people who want it so badly. The beauty of this MacGuffin is that the audience will never know why the character’s want the case. Its contents are never stated or shown, and the audience must decide what is so precious that people will die for the case.
Tarantino beautifully orchestrated a chaotic puzzle that manages to be both fun and dark, while also prompting the audience to conjure their own conclusions about what the film means. Perhaps it’s a reflection of our societal urges to put ourselves before others, or perhaps it’s merely a statement on Europe’s use of the metric system for fast food burger sizes. No matter what conclusion the audience draws, Pulp Fiction should be remembered as one of the greatest films of all time, complete with great acting, thrills, and funny moments that will leave their mark on pop-culture for all time.