#94 Pulp Fiction

1994’s Pulp Fiction was my favorite movie growing up, bar none. It came out when I was 16 years old and I’d never seen anything like it. A bizarre gangster mashup of blood and guts, witty dialogue and colorful characters, in rewatching the film I reached the conclusion that it is still the perfect film for a 16 year old boy.

The plot is not chronological, but here is brief synopsis, in the order presented:

Two petty thieves named Yolanda (or Honey Bunny) and Pumpkin (?) are sitting in a diner, discussing how dangerous it is to rob liquor stores. They decide they should rob the diner because the risk is lower.

Cut to Vincent and Jules, two gangsters on a way to a job. They discuss Vincent’s recent time in Amsterdam and the differences between Europe and the US. There is literally too many good lines to repeat here in what is probably the best sequence of the movie. Vincent is nervous because he has been asked to entertain the his boss Marcellus’s wife Mia. They enter the apartment they are headed to, where some geeky guys are hold-up with a suitcase that belongs to Marcellus. They have some more hilarious dialogue and then brutally kill everyone in the apartment except 1 guy, Marvin, who they take with them.

Cut to Marcellus talking to Butch, a boxer past his prime who is taking a payoff to take a dive in his fight. Vincent enters the bar to meet with Marcellus. There is a cold exchange between he and Butch – they clearly don’t like each other.

Next, Marcellus visits his heroin dealer at his house and buys some dope. There is a lot that happens here – discussions about piercings, various grades of heroin, coke versus heroin, cars being keyed and a nasty racial slur. Vincent shoots up the heroin and leave to pick up Mia.

Vincent goes to Mia’s place (presumably also Marcellus’ place) to pick her up. She has him fix himself a drink, then they head out to dinner at a 50’s retro place called Jack Rabbit Slim’s. This is a vehicle for more great dialogue (uncomfortable silences, milkshakes, etc.) that eventually leads to them entering and winning a dance contest there. They return to Mia’s place and Vincent goes to the bathroom to give himself a pep talk to not get sexually involved with Mia. While he is in there giving his speech, Mia finds his heroin, snorts it and overdoses. Quick fun side fact, injection-grade heroin is much purer than the stuff that is snorted, which may explain Mia’s overdose, if that is something Tarantino knew when he made the movie. Vincent comes out to find Mia and rushes her to his drug dealer’s house, in spite of his dealer’s protestations not to do so. There, after some more hilarious dialogue, they give Mia a shot of adrenaline to the heart which snaps her out of her overdose. Vincent takes Mia home where they agree to never let Marcellus know about everything that happened that night.

Cut to a flashback scene where young Butch gets a family watch that his father’s friend smuggled out of a Vietnam prison camp in a most uncomfortable way. Fast forward to “present day” Butch, who did not, in fact throw his fight and in fight kills the other fighter in the ring. Butch sneaks away and finds a cab. At the fight, Vincent and Jules show up and Marcellus puts a hit on Butch. Butch stops at a payphone and we learn that he bet on himself after the odds went up when word got out the fix was in and he has won a fortune. Butch arrives at a hotel, where his girlfriend (or maybe wife, we never know for sure) Fabian is.

After a few scenes of domestic bliss at the hotel, Butch learns that Fabian forgot to pack his family watch when she was packing up the apartment and he heads back to get it. He parks a ways away and walks to the apartment. Inside, he finds a gun and then discovers Vincent in the bathroom. The toaster pops up and it surprised him and he shoots and kills Vincent. He leaves the apartment after getting his watch. While driving back, Marcellus crosses the street right in front of him. He runs into Marcellus. The are both hurt in the crash, but when they both come to, Marcellus starts shooting at Butch and Butch runs. Butch runs into a weird store where he ambushes Marcellus when he comes in. The store owner pulls a gun, separates them and ties them up in his basement. Thus ensues a bizarre scene that involves an anal rape of Marcellus, a gimp (I can’t explain) but ultimately leads to Butch escaping and deciding to return to save Marcellus, killing his captors. They agree that Marcellus will forgive Butch if he leaves LA forever. Fabian and Butch ride off to Tennessee. This is the chronological end of the movie.

Now we flash back to the second scene of the movie, right as Vincent and Jules are killing the kids with Marcellus’ briefcase. After executing what they thought were most of the kids, one more comes out of the other room shooting, but misses them multiple times. Jules concludes it is a miracle while Vincent is skeptical. They continue the discussion in the car where Jules said he is retiring, having seen the miracle. Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin after Jules drives over a speed bump. With a bloody car with a dead body, they head to Jules’ friend Jimmy’s place.

Jimmy flips out at Jules and Vincent – his wife has no idea he knows criminals and she will come how soon. Jules calls Marcellus for help and Jules sends Winston Wolf, his clean-up man. He has Jules and Vincent clean up the car, then he hoses them down in the back yard and fills the cars with sheets and blankets to disguise the blood. They head to a junkyard where the car is destroyed. Vincent and Jules decide to get breakfast.

This is when the weird timeline coverages – they walk into the diner that Yolanda and Pumpkin are about to rob. At breakfast, Jules says he is going to just “walk the Earth” and Vincent pushes back, telling Jules he is going to become a bum. Vincent goes to the bathroom before the robbery takes place. When Pumpkin comes around to collect Jules money he asks to see Marcellus’ briefcase. While he is looking at the briefcase, Jules disarms him and gets a gun pointed at him. Vincent comes out of the bathroom and gets a gun on Pumpkin. Jules convinces Pumpkin and Yolanda to take his money but leave them the briefcase. Vincent and Jules walk out and the movie ends.

What I loved:

  • The dialogue is the best written of any movie I’ve ever seen, bar none. From quarter pounders with cheese, to foot massages, to pot bellies, to uncomfortable silences, the screenplay is just utterly brilliant.
  • The soundtrack is the best movie soundtrack I have ever heard
  • The characters are interesting, colorful, well developed, morally ambiguous and, for the most part, have meaningful character arcs
  • The acting performances, in particular Samuel L Jackson, John Travolta and Uma Thurman are exceptional

What I didn’t like:

  • At the end of the day, this is a movie about nothing. It doesn’t portray anything realistic, tell us a story about history or transport us anywhere real – it is a 16 year-old’s fantasy. But it is the best movie about nothing I’ve ever seen.
  • Quentin Tarantino’s obsession with shocking for the sake of shocking with his use of the n-word is both offensive and an utter distraction. I get “accurate portrayals” – Do The Right Thing (previously reviewed) used the word a ton – in context – by people who would use it. But what does it reveal about a geeky guy helping some gangster out talking about “dead n***** storage”? What’s the use of some shop owners in LA who own a gimp (hard to explain) using it? It’s just being offensive for the sake of being offensive.
  • What exactly was the point of the scene with the gimp? It wasn’t entertaining and didn’t have enough context to make any sense?
  • The out-of-sequence timeline is one of several plot devices that seem like overly self-indulgent film-making. Why hide what’s in the briefcase? Why do the opening dialogue two different ways – once in the beginning and once in the end?

This movie was 94 on the 2007 list and 95 on the 1997 list. I think it is probably still an underrated film. This is a film-makers clinic in making a fantasy film for smart testosterone.

Overall Assessment:

Production Quality 9/10

Screenplay 9/10

Acting 9/10

Rewatch Value 10/10

Overall Score 37/40

Our scores so far (out of 40)

#100 Ben Hur – 27

#99 Toy Story – 28

#98 Yankee Doodle Dandy – 32

#97 Blade Runner – 26

#96 Do The Right Thing – 35

#95 The Last Picture Show – 31

#94 Pulp Fiction – 37

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