Pulp Fiction is a 1994 film by director Quentin Tarantino, who co-wrote the film with Roger Avary. A crime drama with a nonlinear storyline, the film is known for its rich, eclectic dialogue, its ironic mix of humor and violence, and its host of cinematic and pop culture references. The film was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture; Tarantino and Avary won for Best Original Screenplay. It was also awarded the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. A major commercial success, it revitalized the career of its leading man, John Travolta, who received an Academy Award nomination, as did co-stars Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman.
The film's title refers to the pulp magazines and hardboiled crime novels popular during the mid-20th century, known for their graphic violence and punchy dialogue. Pulp Fiction is self-referential from its opening moments, beginning with a title card that gives two dictionary definitions of "pulp". The plot, in keeping with most of Tarantino's other works, is presented out of chronological sequence. The picture's self-reflexivity, unconventional structure, and extensive use of homage and pastiche have led critics to describe it as a prime example of postmodern film. Pulp Fiction is viewed as the inspiration for many later movies that adopted various elements of its style. The nature of its development, marketing, and distribution and its consequent profitability had a sweeping effect on the field of independent cinema. A cultural watershed, Pulp Fiction's influence has been felt in several other popular media.
The old-time noir passions, the brooding melancholy and operatic death scenes, would be altogether out of place in the crisp and brightly lit wonderland that Tarantino conjures up. Neither neo-noir nor a parody of noir, Pulp Fiction is more a guided tour of an infernal theme park decorated with cultural detritus, Buddy Holly and Mamie Van Doren, fragments of blaxploitation and Roger Corman and Shogun Assassin, music out of a twenty-four-hour oldies station for which all the decades since the fifties exist simultaneously.Nicholas Christopher similarly calls it "more gangland camp than neo-noir". Foster Hirsch also suggests that its "trippy fantasy landscape" characterizes it more definitively than any genre label: Set "in a world that could exist only in the movies", Pulp Fiction is "a succulent guilty pleasure, beautifully made junk food for cinéastes".
In keeping with writer-director Quentin Tarantino's trademark of nonlinear storytelling, the narrative is presented out of sequence. Pulp Fiction is structured around three distinct but interrelated storylines—in Tarantino's conception, mob hitman Vincent Vega is the lead of the first story, prizefighter Butch Coolidge is the lead of the second, and Vincent's fellow contract killer, Jules Winnfield, is the lead of the third. Although each storyline focuses on a different series of incidents, they connect and intersect in various ways. The film starts out with a diner hold-up staged by "Pumpkin" and "Honey Bunny", then picks up the stories of Vincent, Jules, Butch, and several other important characters, including mob kingpin Marsellus Wallace, his wife, Mia, and underworld problem-solver Winston Wolf. It finally returns to where it began, in the diner: Vincent and Jules, who have stopped in for a bite, find themselves embroiled in the hold-up. There are a total of seven narrative sequences—the three primary storylines are preceded by identifying intertitles on a black screen:
If the seven sequences were ordered chronologically, they would run: 4a, 2, 6, 1, 7, 3, 4b, 5. Sequences 1 and 7 partially overlap and are presented from different points of view; the same is true of sequences 2 and 6. The narrative course, with all its detours, is virtually circular, as the final scene overlaps and resolves the interrupted first scene. Reflecting on the film, Tarantino says, "One thing that's cool is that by breaking up the linear structure, when I watch the film with an audience, it does break [the audience's] alpha state. It's like, all of a sudden, 'I gotta watch this...I gotta pay attention.' You can almost feel everybody moving in their seats. It's actually fun to watch an audience in some ways chase after a movie."
In a virtually empty cocktail lounge, aging prizefighter Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) accepts a large sum of money from Marsellus (Ving Rhames), agreeing to take a dive in his upcoming match. Butch and Vincent briefly cross paths as Vincent and Jules—now inexplicably dressed in T-shirts and shorts—arrive to deliver the briefcase. The next day, Vincent drops by the house of Lance (Eric Stoltz) and Jody (Rosanna Arquette) to score some high-grade heroin. He shoots up before driving over to meet Mrs. Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) and take her out. They head to Jack Rabbit Slim's, a 1950s-themed restaurant staffed by lookalikes of the decade's pop icons. Mia recounts her experience as an actress in a failed television pilot, "Fox Force Five."
After participating in a twist contest, they return to the Wallace house with the trophy. While Vincent is in the bathroom convincing himself not to act on his growing attraction to his boss's wife, Mia finds Vincent's stash of heroin in the pocket of his coat. Mistaking it for cocaine, she snorts it and overdoses. Vincent finds her and fearfully rushes her to Lance's house for help. Together, they administer an adrenaline shot to Mia's heart, reviving her. Before parting ways, Mia and Vincent agree not to tell Marsellus of the incident, fearing what he might do to them.
Butch drives away but while waiting at a traffic light, Marsellus walks by and recognizes him. Butch rams Marsellus with the car and another automobile then collides with his. After a foot chase the two men land in a pawnshop. Butch is about to shoot Marsellus, when the shopowner, Maynard (Duane Whitaker), captures them at gunpoint and ties them up in a half-basement area. Maynard is joined by Zed (Peter Greene); they take Marsellus to another room to rape him, leaving a silent masked figure referred to as "the gimp" to watch a tied-up Butch. Butch breaks loose and knocks out the gimp. He is about to flee when he decides to save Marsellus. As Zed is raping Marsellus on a pommel horse, Butch kills Maynard with a katana. Marsellus retrieves Maynard's shotgun, shooting Zed in the groin. Marsellus informs Butch that they are even with respect to the botched fight fix, so long as he never tells anyone about the rape and departs Los Angeles forever. Butch agrees and returns to pick up Fabienne on Zed's chopper.
Forced to remove their bloodied car from the road, Jules calls upon the house of his friend Jimmy (Quentin Tarantino). Jimmy's wife, Bonnie, is due back from work soon and he is very anxious that she not encounter the scene. At Jules's request, Marsellus arranges for the help of Winston Wolf (Harvey Keitel). Wolf takes charge of the situation, ordering Jules and Vincent to clean the car, hide the body in the trunk, cover the bloody seats with linens, dispose of their own bloody clothes, and change into T-shirts and shorts provided by Jimmy. He pays Jimmy generously from a wad of cash for his help. They drive the car to a junkyard, from where Wolf and the owner's daughter, Raquel (Julia Sweeney), head off to breakfast and Jules and Vincent decide to do the same.
Tarantino and Avary decided to write a short, on the theory that it would be easier to get made than a feature. But they quickly realized that nobody produces shorts, so the film became a trilogy, with one section by Tarantino, one by Avary, and one by a third director who never materialized. Each eventually expanded his section into a feature-length script....The initial inspiration was the three-part horror anthology film Black Sabbath (1963), by Italian filmmaker Mario Bava. The Tarantino–Avary project was provisionally titled "Black Mask", after the seminal hardboiled crime fiction magazine. Tarantino's script was produced as Reservoir Dogs, his directorial debut; Avary's, titled "Pandemonium Reigns", would form the basis for the "Gold Watch" storyline of Pulp Fiction.
With work on Reservoir Dogs completed, Tarantino returned to the notion of a trilogy film: "I got the idea of doing something that novelists get a chance to do but filmmakers don't: telling three separate stories, having characters float in and out with different weights depending on the story. Tarantino explains that the idea "was basically to take like the oldest chestnuts that you've ever seen when it comes to crime stories—the oldest stories in the book.... You know, 'Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace's Wife'—the oldest story about...the guy's gotta go out with the big man's wife and don't touch her. You know, you've seen the story a zillion times." "I'm using old forms of storytelling and then purposely having them run awry", he says. "Part of the trick is to take these movie characters, these genre characters and these genre situations and actually apply them to some of real life's rules and see how they unravel.
Tarantino went to work on the script for Pulp Fiction in Amsterdam in March 1992. He was joined there by Avary, who contributed "Pandemonium Reigns" to the project and participated in its rewriting as well as the development of the new storylines that would link up with it. Two scenes originally written by Avary for the True Romance screenplay, exclusively credited to Tarantino, were incorporated into the opening of "The Bonnie Situation". The notion of the crimeworld "cleaner" that became the heart of the episode was inspired by a short, Curdled, that Tarantino saw at a film festival. He cast the lead actress, Angela Jones, in Pulp Fiction and later backed the filmmakers' production of a feature-length version of Curdled. The script included a couple of made-up commercial brands that would feature often in later Tarantino films: Big Kahuna burgers (a Big Kahuna soda cup appears in Reservoir Dogs) and Red Apple cigarettes. As he worked on the script, Tarantino also accompanied Reservoir Dogs around the European film festivals. Released in the U.S. in October 1992, the picture was a critical and commercial success. In January 1993, the Pulp Fiction script was complete.
Tarantino and his producer, Lawrence Bender, brought the script to Jersey Films, the production company run by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, and Stacey Sher. Before even seeing Reservoir Dogs, Jersey had attempted to sign Tarantino for his next project. Ultimately a development deal worth around $1 million had been struck—the deal gave A Band Apart, Bender and Tarantino's newly formed production company, initial financing and office facilities; Jersey got a share of the project and the right to shop the script to a studio. Jersey had a distribution and "first look" deal with Columbia TriStar, which paid Tarantino for the right to consider exercising its option. In February, Pulp Fiction appeared on a Variety list of films in preproduction at TriStar. In June, however, the studio put the script into turnaround. According to a studio executive, TriStar chief Mike Medavoy found it "too demented". There were suggestions that TriStar was resistant to backing a film featuring a heroin user; there were also indications that the studio simply saw the project as too low-budget for its desired star-driven image. Bender brought the script to Miramax, the formerly independent studio that had recently been acquired by Disney. Harvey Weinstein—co-chairman of Miramax, along with his brother, Bob—was instantly enthralled by the script and the company picked it up. Pulp Fiction, the first Miramax project to get a green light after the Disney acquisition, was budgeted at $8.5 million. It became the first movie that Miramax completely financed. Helping hold costs down was the plan Bender executed to pay all the main actors the same amount per week, regardless of their industry status. The biggest star to sign on to the project was Bruce Willis. Though he had recently appeared in several big-budget flops, he was still a major overseas draw. On the strength of his name, Miramax garnered $11 million for the film's worldwide rights, virtually ensuring its profitability.
The Pulp Fiction shoot commenced on September 20, 1993. The lead offscreen talent had all worked with Tarantino on Reservoir Dogs—cinematographer Andrzej Sekula, film editor Sally Menke, and production designer David Wasco. According to Tarantino, "[W]e had $8 million [sic]. I wanted it to look like a $20–25 million movie. I wanted it to look like an epic. It's an epic in everything—in invention, in ambition, in length, in scope, in everything except the price tag." The film, he says, was shot "on 50 ASA film stock, which is the slowest stock they make. The reason we use it is that it creates an almost no-grain image, it's lustrous. It's the closest thing we have to 50s Technicolor." The largest chunk of the budget—$150,000—went to creating the Jack Rabbit Slim's set. It was built in a Culver City warehouse, where it was joined by several other sets as well as the film's production offices. For the costumes, Tarantino took his inspiration from French director Jean-Pierre Melville, who believed that the clothes his characters wore were their symbolic suits of armor. Tarantino cast himself in a modest-sized role as he had in Reservoir Dogs. One of his pop totems, Fruit Brute, a long-discontinued General Mills cereal, also returned from the earlier film. The shoot wrapped on November 30. Before Pulp Fiction's premiere, Tarantino convinced Avary to forfeit his agreed-on cowriting credit and accept a "story by" credit, so the line "Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino" could be used in advertising and onscreen.
Estella Tincknell describes how the particular combination of well-known and obscure recordings helps establish the film as a "self-consciously 'cool' text. [The] use of the mono-tracked, beat-heavy style of early 1960s U.S. 'underground' pop mixed with 'classic' ballads such as Dusty Springfield's 'Son of a Preacher Man' is crucial to the film's postmodern knowingness." She contrasts the soundtrack with that of Forrest Gump, the highest-grossing film of 1994, which also relies on period pop recordings: "[T]he version of 'the sixties' offered by Pulp Fiction...is certainly not that of the publicly recognized counter-culture featured in Forrest Gump, but is, rather, a more genuinely marginal form of sub-culture based around a lifestyle—surfing, 'hanging'—that is resolutely apolitical." The soundtrack is central, she says, to the film's engagement with the "younger, cinematically knowledgeable spectator" it solicits.
On October 14, 1994, Pulp Fiction went into general release in the United States. As Peter Biskind describes, "It was not platformed, that is, it did not open in a handful of theaters and roll out slowly as word of mouth built, the traditional way of releasing an indie film; it went wide immediately, into 1,100 theaters." In the eyes of some cultural critics, Reservoir Dogs had given Tarantino a reputation for glamorizing violence. Miramax played with the issue in its marketing campaign: "You won't know the facts till you've seen the fiction", went one slogan. Pulp Fiction was the top-grossing film at the box office its first weekend, edging out a Sylvester Stallone vehicle, The Specialist, which was in its second week and playing at more than twice as many theaters. Against its budget of $8.5 million and about $10 million in marketing costs, Pulp Fiction wound up grossing $107.93 million at the U.S. box office, making it the first "indie" film to surpass $100 million. Worldwide, it took in nearly $213 million. In terms of domestic grosses, it was the tenth biggest film of 1994, even though it played on substantially fewer screens than any other film in the top 20. Popular engagement with the film, such as speculation about the contents of the precious briefcase, "indicates the kind of cult status that Pulp Fiction achieved almost immediately." As MovieMaker puts it, "The movie was nothing less than a national cultural phenomenon. Abroad, as well: In Britain, where it opened a week after its U.S. release, not only was the film a big hit, but in book form its screenplay became the most successful in UK publishing history, a top-ten bestseller.
The response of major American movie reviewers was widely favorable. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times describing it as "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.' Richard Corliss of Time wrote, "It towers over the year's other movies as majestically and menacingly as a gang lord at a preschool. It dares Hollywood films to be this smart about going this far. If good directors accept Tarantino's implicit challenge, the movie theater could again be a great place to live in. In Newsweek, David Ansen wrote, "The miracle of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction is how, being composed of secondhand, debased parts, it succeeds in gleaming like something new. "You get intoxicated by it," wrote Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, "high on the rediscovery of how pleasurable a movie can be. I'm not sure I've ever encountered a filmmaker who combined discipline and control with sheer wild-ass joy the way that Tarantino does." "There's a special kick that comes from watching something this thrillingly alive", wrote Peter Travers of Rolling Stone. "Pulp Fiction is indisputably great. Overall, the film attained exceptionally high ratings among U.S. reviewers: a 96% score at Rotten Tomatoes and a Metascore of 94 on Metacritic.
The Los Angeles Times was one of the few major news outlets to publish a negative review on the film's opening weekend. Kenneth Turan wrote, "The writer-director appears to be straining for his effects. Some sequences, especially one involving bondage harnesses and homosexual rape, have the uncomfortable feeling of creative desperation, of someone who's afraid of losing his reputation scrambling for any way to offend sensibilities. Some who reviewed it in the following weeks took more exception to the predominant critical reaction than to Pulp Fiction itself. While not panning the film, Stanley Kauffman of The New Republic felt that "the way that [it] has been so widely ravened up and drooled over verges on the disgusting. Pulp Fiction nourishes, abets, cultural slumming. Responding to comparisons between Tarantino's film and the work of French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, especially his first, most famous feature, Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader wrote, "The fact that Pulp Fiction is garnering more extravagant raves than Breathless ever did tells you plenty about which kind of cultural references are regarded as more fruitful—namely, the ones we already have and don't wish to expand." Observing in the National Review that "[n]o film arrives with more advance hype", John Simon was unswayed: "titillation cures neither hollowness nor shallowness".
Debate about the film spread beyond the review pages. Violence was often the theme. In the Washington Post, Donna Britt described how she was happy to not see Pulp Fiction on a recent weekend and thus avoid "discussing the rousing scene in which a gunshot sprays somebody's brains around a car interior". Some commentators took exception to the movie's frequent use of the word "nigger". In the Chicago Tribune, Todd Boyd argued that the word's recurrence "has the ability to signify the ultimate level of hipness for white males who have historically used their perception of black masculinity as the embodiment of cool". In Britain, James Wood, writing in The Guardian, set the tone for much subsequent criticism: "Tarantino represents the final triumph of postmodernism, which is to empty the artwork of all content, thus avoiding its capacity to do anything except helplessly represent our agonies.... Only in this age could a writer as talented as Tarantino produce artworks so vacuous, so entirely stripped of any politics, metaphysics, or moral interest.
Around the turn of the year, Pulp Fiction was named Best Picture by the National Society of Film Critics, National Board of Review, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Boston Society of Film Critics, Southeastern Film Critics Association, and Kansas City Film Critics Circle. Tarantino was named Best Director by all six of those organizations as well as by the New York Film Critics Circle and Chicago Film Critics Association. The screenplay won several prizes, with various awarding bodies ascribing credit differently. At the Golden Globe Awards, Tarantino, named as sole recipient of the Best Screenplay honor, failed to mention Avary in his acceptance speech. In February 1995, the film received seven Oscar nominations—Best Picture, Director, Actor (Travolta), Supporting Actor (Jackson), Supporting Actress (Thurman), Original Screenplay, and Film Editing. At the ceremony the following month, Tarantino and Avary were announced as joint winners of the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The furor around the film was still going strong: much of the March issue of Artforum was devoted to its critical dissection. At the British Academy Film Awards, Tarantino and Avary shared the BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay, with Jackson winning for Best Supporting Actor.
the violent intensity of Pulp Fiction calls to mind other violent watershed films that were considered classics in their time and still are. Hitchcock's Psycho , Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde , and Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange . Each film shook up a tired, bloated movie industry and used a world of lively lowlifes to reflect how dull other movies had become. And that, I predict, will be the ultimate honor for Pulp Fiction. Like all great films, it criticizes other movies.Ken Dancyger writes that its "imitative and innovative style"—like that of its predecessor, Reservoir Dogs—represents
a new phenomenon, the movie whose style is created from the context of movie life rather than real life. The consequence is twofold—the presumption of deep knowledge on the part of the audience of those forms such as the gangster films or Westerns, horror films or adventure films. And that the parody or alteration of that film creates a new form, a different experience for the audience.In a widely covered speech on May 31, 1995, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole attacked the American entertainment industry for peddling "nightmares of depravity". Pulp Fiction was soon associated with his charges concerning gratuitous violence. Dole had not, in fact, mentioned the film; he cited two less celebrated movies based on Tarantino screenplays, Natural Born Killers and True Romance. In September 1996, Dole did accuse Pulp Fiction—which he had not seen—of promoting "the romance of heroin".
Paula Rabinowitz expresses the general film industry opinion that Pulp Fiction "simultaneously resurrected John Travolta and film noir". In Peter Biskind's description, it created a "guys-with-guns frenzy". The stylistic influence of Pulp Fiction soon became apparent. Less than a year after the picture's release, British critic Jon Ronson attended the National Film School's end-of-semester screenings and assessed the impact: "Out of the five student movies I watched, four incorporated violent shoot-outs over a soundtrack of iconoclastic 70s pop hits, two climaxed with all the main characters shooting each other at once, and one had two hitmen discussing the idiosyncrasies of The Brady Bunch before offing their victim. Not since Citizen Kane has one man appeared from relative obscurity to redefine the art of moviemaking. Among the first Hollywood films cited as its imitators were Destiny Turns on the Radio (1995), in which Tarantino acted, Things To Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995), and 2 Days in the Valley (1996). It "triggered a myriad of clones", writes Fiona Villella. Pulp Fiction's effect on film form was still reverberating in 2007, when David Denby of The New Yorker credited it with initiating the ongoing cycle of disordered cinematic narratives.
Its impact on Hollywood was deeper still. According to Variety, the trajectory of Pulp Fiction from Cannes launch to commercial smash "forever altered the game" of so-called independent cinema. It "cemented Miramax's place as the reigning indie superpower", writes Biskind. "Pulp became the Star Wars of independents, exploding expectations for what an indie film could do at the box office. The film's large financial return on its small budget
transform[ed] the industry's attitude toward the lowly indies...spawning a flock of me-too classics divisions.... [S]mart studio executives suddenly woke up to the fact that grosses and market share, which got all the press, were not the same as profits.... Once the studios realized that they could exploit the economies of (small) scale, they more or less gave up buying or remaking the films themselves, and either bought the distributors, as Disney had Miramax, or started their own...copy[ing] Miramax's marketing and distribution strategies.In 2001, Variety, noting the increasing number of actors switching back and forth between expensive studio films and low-budget independent or indie-style projects, suggested that the "watershed moment for movie stars" came with the decision by Willis—one of Hollywood's highest-paid performers—to appear in Pulp Fiction.
And its impact was even broader than that. It has been described as a "major cultural event", an "international phenomenon" that influenced television, music, literature, and advertising. Not long after its release, it was identified as a significant focus of attention within the growing community of Internet users. Adding Pulp Fiction to his roster of "Great Movies" in 2001, Roger Ebert called it "the most influential film of the decade". Four years later, Time's Corliss wrote much the same: "(unquestionably) the most influential American movie of the 90s".
Several scenes and images from the film achieved iconic status; in 2008, Entertainment Weekly declared, "You'd be hard-pressed, by now, to name a moment from Quentin Tarantino's film that isn't iconic." Jules and Vincent's "Royale with Cheese" dialogue became famous. The scene of Travolta and Thurman's characters dancing has been frequently homaged, most unambiguously in the 2005 film Be Cool, starring the same two actors. The image of Travolta and Jackson's characters standing side by side in suit and tie, pointing their guns, has also become widely familiar. In 2007, BBC News reported that "London transport workers have painted over an iconic mural by 'guerrilla artist' Banksy.... The image depicted a scene from Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, with Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta clutching bananas instead of guns. Certain lines were adopted popularly as catchphrases, in particular Marsellus's threat, "I'm 'a get medieval on your ass. Jules's "Ezekiel" soliloquy was voted the fourth greatest movie speech of all time in a 2004 poll.
Pulp Fiction now appears in several critical assessments of all-time great films. In 2008, Entertainment Weekly named it the best film of the past quarter-century. That same year, the American Film Institute's "Ten Top Ten" poll ranked it number 7 all-time in the gangster film genre. In 2007, it was voted 94th overall on the AFI's "100 Years...100 Movies" list. In 2005, it was named one of Time's "All-Time 100 Movies". As of June 2008, it is number 9 on Metacritic's list of all-time highest scores. The film ranks very highly in popular surveys. In a 2007 poll of the online film community, Pulp Fiction came in at eleventh all-time. In a 2006 readers' poll by the British magazine Total Film, it ranked as the number 3 film in history. It was voted as the fourth greatest film of all time in a nationwide poll for Britain's Channel 4 in 2001. As of October 2008, it ranks sixth on the IMDb Top 250 List.
The movie's host of pop culture allusions, ranging from the famous image of Marilyn Monroe's skirt flying up over a subway grating to Jules addressing "Pumpkin" as "Ringo" because of his English accent, have led many critics to discuss it within the framework of postmodernism. Describing the film in 2005 as Tarantino's "postmodern masterpiece...to date", David Walker writes that it "is marked by its playful reverence for the 1950s...and its constantly teasing and often deferential references to other films". He characterizes its convoluted narrative technique as "postmodern tricksiness". Calling the film a "terminally hip postmodern collage", Foster Hirsch finds Pulp Fiction far from a masterpiece: "authoritative, influential, and meaningless". Catherine Constable takes the moment in which a needle filled with adrenaline is plunged into the comatose Mia's heart as exemplary. She proposes that it "can be seen as effecting her resurrection from the dead, simultaneously recalling and undermining the Gothic convention of the vampire's stake. On this model, the referencing of previous aesthetic forms and styles moves beyond...empty pastiche, sustaining an 'inventive and affirmative' mode of postmodernism.
Mark T. Conard asks, "[W]hat is the film about?" and answers, "American nihilism. Hirsch suggests, "If the film is actually about anything other than its own cleverness, it seems dedicated to the dubious thesis that hit men are part of the human family." Richard Alleva argues that "Pulp Fiction has about as much to do with actual criminality or violence as Cyrano de Bergerac with the realities of seventeenth-century France or The Prisoner of Zenda with Balkan politics." He reads the movie as a form of romance whose allure is centered in the characters' nonnaturalistic discourse, "wise-guy literate, media-smart, obscenely epigrammatic". In Alan Stone's view, the "absurd dialogue", like that between Vincent and Jules in the scene where the former accidentally kills Marvin, "unexpectedly transforms the meaning of the violence cliché.... Pulp Fiction unmasks the macho myth by making it laughable and deheroicizes the power trip glorified by standard Hollywood violence." Stone reads the film as "politically correct. There is no nudity and no violence directed against women.... [It] celebrates interracial friendship and cultural diversity; there are strong women and strong black men, and the director swims against the current of class stereotype."
Where Stone sees a celebration, Kolker finds a vacuum: "The postmodern insouciance, violence, homophobia, and racism of Pulp Fiction were perfectly acceptable because the film didn't pretend seriousness and therefore didn't mock it." Calling it the "acme of postmodern nineties filmmaking", he explains, "the postmodern is about surfaces; it is flattened spatiality in which event and character are in a steady state of reminding us that they are pop-cultural figures. According to Kolker,
That's why Pulp Fiction was so popular. Not because all audiences got all or any of its references to Scorsese and Kubrick, but because the narrative and spatial structure of the film never threatened to go beyond themselves into signification. The film's cycle of racist and homophobic jokes might threaten to break out into a quite nasty view of the world, but this nastiness keeps being laughed off—by the mock intensity of the action, the prowling, confronting, perverse, confined, and airless nastiness of the world Tarantino creates.Henry A. Giroux argues that Tarantino "empties violence of any critical social consequences, offering viewers only the immediacy of shock, humor, and irony-without-insight as elements of mediation. None of these elements gets beyond the seduction of voyeuristic gazing...[t]he facile consumption of shocking images and hallucinatory delight.
Everybody thinks that I wrote this scene just to have John Travolta dancing. But the scene existed before John Travolta was cast. But once he was cast, it was like, "Great. We get to see John dance. All the better."... My favorite musical sequences have always been in Godard, because they just come out of nowhere. It's so infectious, so friendly. And the fact that it's not a musical, but he's stopping the movie to have a musical sequence, makes it all the more sweet.Jerome Charyn argues that, beyond "all the better", Travolta's presence is essential to the power of the scene, and of the film:
Travolta's entire career becomes "backstory", the myth of a movie star who has fallen out of favor, but still resides in our memory as the king of disco. We keep waiting for him to shed his paunch, put on a white polyester suit, and enter the 2001 Odyssey club in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where he will dance for us and never, never stop. Daniel Day-Lewis couldn't have woken such a powerful longing in us. He isn't part of America's own mad cosmology.... Tony Manero [is] an angel sitting on Vince's shoulder.... [Vince and Mia's] actual dance may be closer to the choreography of Anna Karina's shuffle with her two bumbling gangster boyfriends in Bande à part, but even that reference is lost to us, and we're with Tony again....Estella Tincknell notes that while the "diner setting seems to be a simulacrum of a 'fifties' restaurant...the twist contest is a musical sequence which evokes 'the sixties,' while Travolta's dance performance inevitably references 'the seventies' and his appearance in Saturday Night Fever.... The 'past' thus becomes a more general 'pastness' in which the stylistic signifiers of various decades are loaded in to a single moment." She also argues that in this passage the film "briefly shifts from its habitually ironic discourse to one that references the conventions of the classic film musical and in doing so makes it possible for the film to inhabit an affective space that goes beyond stylistic allusion."
The pivotal moment in which Marsellus crosses the street in front of Butch's car and notices him evokes the scene in which Marion Crane's boss sees her under similar circumstances in Psycho. Marsellus and Butch are soon held captive by Maynard and Zed, "two sadistic honkies straight out of Deliverance" (1972), directed by John Boorman. Zed shares a name with Sean Connery's character in Boorman's follow-up, the science-fiction film Zardoz (1974). "Zed's dead" is one of the last lines spoken in that movie; in terms of the narrative chronology, it is the final utterance in Pulp Fiction. When Butch decides to rescue Marsellus, in Glyn White's words, "he finds a trove of items with film-hero resonances". Critics have identified these weapons with a range of possible allusions:
At the conclusion of the scene, a portentous line of Marsellus's echoes one from the 1973 crime drama Charley Varrick, directed by another of Tarantino's heroes, Don Siegel; the name of the character who speaks it there is Maynard.
David Bell argues that far from going against the "current of class stereotype", this scene, like Deliverance, "mobilize[s] a certain construction of poor white country folk—and particularly their sexualization...'rustic sexual expression often takes the form of homosexual rape' in American movies. Stephen Paul Miller believes the Pulp Fiction scene goes down much easier than the one it echoes: "The buggery perpetrated is not at all as shocking as it was in Deliverance.... The nineties film reduces seventies competition, horror, and taboo into an entertainingly subtle adrenaline play—a fiction, a pulp fiction. Giroux reads the rape scene homage similarly: "in the end Tarantino's use of parody is about repetition, transgression, and softening the face of violence by reducing it to the property of film history. In Groth's view, the crucial difference is that "in Deliverance the rape created the film's central moral dilemma whereas in Pulp Fiction it was merely 'the single weirdest day of [Butch's] life.'
Neil Fulwood focuses on Butch's weapon selection, writing, "Here, Tarantino's love of movies is at its most open and nonjudgemental, tipping a nod to the noble and the notorious, as well as sending up his own reputation as an enfant terrible of movie violence. Moreover, the scene makes a sly comment about the readiness of cinema to seize upon whatever is to hand for its moments of mayhem and murder." White asserts that "the katana he finally, and significantly, selects identifies him with...honourable heroes." Conard argues that the first three items symbolize a nihilism that Butch is rejecting. The traditional Japanese sword, in contrasts, represents a culture with a well-defined moral code and thus connects Butch with a more meaningful approach to life.
Talking about his generation, one that came of age in the '70s, Tarantino has commented that the "number one thing we all shared wasn't music, that was a Sixties thing. Our culture was television." A random list of the TV programs referenced in Pulp Fiction confirms his observation: Speed Racer, Clutch Cargo, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, The Avengers, The Three Stooges, The Flintstones, I Spy, Green Acres, Kung Fu, Happy Days, and last but not least, Mia's fictional pilot, Fox Force Five."The above list, with the possible exception of The Avengers," writes Miklitsch, "suggests that Pulp Fiction has less of an elective affinity with the cinematic avant-gardism of Godard than with mainstream network programming." Jonathan Rosenbaum had brought TV into his analysis of the Tarantino/Godard comparison, acknowledging that the directors were similar in wanting to cram everything they like onscreen: "But the differences between what Godard likes and what Tarantino likes and why are astronomical; it's like comparing a combined museum, library, film archive, record shop, and department store with a jukebox, a video-rental outlet, and an issue of TV Guide."
Sharon Willis focuses on the way a television show (Clutch Cargo) marks the beginning of, and plays on through, the scene between young Butch and his father's comrade-in-arms. The Vietnam War veteran is played by Christopher Walken, whose presence in the role evokes his performance as a traumatized G.I. in the 1978 Vietnam War movie The Deer Hunter. Willis writes that "when Captain Koons enters the living room, we see Walken in his function as an image retrieved from a repertoire of 1970s television and movie versions of ruined masculinity in search of rehabilitation.... [T]he gray light of the television presiding over the scene seems to inscribe the ghostly paternal gaze." Miklitsch asserts that, for some critics, the film is a "prime example of the pernicious ooze-like influence of mass culture exemplified by their bête noire: TV." Kolker might not disagree, arguing that "Pulp Fiction is a simulacrum of our daily exposure to television; its homophobes, thugs and perverts, sentimental boxers and pimp promoters move through a series of long-take tableaux: we watch, laugh, and remain with nothing to comprehend."
The combination of the mysterious suitcase is 666, the "number of the beast". Tarantino has said that there is no explanation for its contents—it is simply a MacGuffin, a pure plot device. Originally, the case was to contain diamonds, but this was seen as too mundane. For filming purposes, it contained a hidden orange light bulb that produced an otherworldly glow. In a 2007 video interview with fellow director and friend Robert Rodriguez, Tarantino "reveals" the secret contents of the briefcase, but the film cuts out and skips the scene in the style employed in Tarantino and Rodriguez's Grindhouse, with an intertitle that reads "Missing Reel". The interview resumes with Rodriguez discussing how radically the "knowledge" of the briefcase's contents alters one's understanding of the movie.
Despite Tarantino's statements, many solutions to this "unexplained postmodern puzzle" have been proposed. A strong similarity has often been observed with the 1955 film noir Kiss Me Deadly. That movie, whose protagonist Tarantino has cited as a source for Butch, features a glowing briefcase housing an atomic explosive. In scholar Paul Gormley's view, this connection with Kiss Me Deadly, and a similar one with Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), makes it possible to read the eerie glow as symbolic of violence itself. To Susan Fraiman, the unseen contents represent "defended, mystified, male interiority. Much valued, much vaunted, and never finally shown, this radiant, indefinable softness is locked within a hard, exterior shell. Even Jules, who wants to lose the baggage of a barricaded self, walks out of the movie clutching it still.
The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and goodwill shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.
The second version is identical except for the final line: "And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you."
While the final two sentences of Jules's speech are similar to the actual cited passage, the first two are fabricated from various biblical phrases. The text of Ezekiel 25 preceding verse 17 indicates that God's wrath is retribution for the hostility of the Philistines. In the King James version from which Jules's speech is adapted, Ezekiel 25:17 reads in its entirety, "And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them. Tarantino's primary inspiration for the speech was the work of Japanese martial arts star Sonny Chiba. Its text derives from an almost identical creed used in either or both the Chiba movies Bodigaado Kiba (Bodyguard Kiba or The Bodyguard; 1973) and Karate Kiba (The Bodyguard; 1976). In the 1980s television series Kage no Gundan (Shadow Warriors), Chiba's character would lecture the villain-of-the-week about how the world must be rid of evil before killing him. A killer delivers a similar biblical rant in Modesty Blaise, the hardback but pulp-style novel Vincent is shown with in two scenes.
Two critics who have analyzed the role of the speech find different ties between Jules's transformation and the issue of postmodernity. Gormley argues that unlike the film's other major characters—Marsellus aside—Jules is
linked to a "thing" beyond postmodern simulation.... [T]his is perhaps most marked when he moves on from being a simulation of a Baptist preacher, spouting Ezekiel because it was "just a cool thing to say...." In his conversion, Jules is shown to be cognizant of a place beyond this simulation, which, in this case, the film constructs as God.Adele Reinhartz writes that the "depth of Jules's transformation" is indicated by the difference in his two deliveries of the passage: "In the first, he is a majestic and awe-inspiring figure, proclaiming the prophecy with fury and self-righteousness.... In the second...he appears to be a different sort of man altogether.... [I]n true postmodern fashion, [he] reflects on the meaning of his speech and provides several different ways that it might pertain to his current situation. Similar to Gormley, Conard argues that as Jules reflects on the passage, it dawns on him "that it refers to an objective framework of value and meaning that is absent from his life"; to Conard, this contrasts with the film's prevalent representation of a nihilistic culture. Rosenbaum finds much less in Jules's revelation: "[T]he spiritual awakening at the end of Pulp Fiction, which Jackson performs beautifully, is a piece of jive avowedly inspired by kung-fu movies. It may make you feel good, but it certainly doesn't leave you any wiser.
As described by Peter and Will Brooker, "In three significant moments Vincent retires to the bathroom [and] returns to an utterly changed world where death is threatened." The threat increases in magnitude as the narrative progresses chronologically, and is realized in the third instance:
In the Brookers' analysis, "Through Vince...we see the contemporary world as utterly contingent, transformed, disastrously, in the instant you are not looking." Fraiman finds it particularly significant that Vincent is reading Modesty Blaise in two of these instances. She links this fact with the traditional derisive view of women as "the archetypal consumers of pulp":
Locating popular fiction in the bathroom, Tarantino reinforces its association with shit, already suggested by the dictionary meanings of "pulp" that preface the movie: moist, shapeless matter; also, lurid stories on cheap paper. What we have then is a series of damaging associations—pulp, women, shit—that taint not only male producers of mass-market fiction but also male consumers. Perched on the toilet with his book, Vincent is feminized by sitting instead of standing as well as by his trashy tastes; preoccupied by the anal, he is implicitly infantilized and homosexualized; and the seemingly inevitable result is being pulverized by Butch with a Czech M61 submachine gun. That this fate has to do with Vincent's reading habits is strongly suggested by a slow tilt from the book on the floor directly up to the corpse spilled into the tub.Willis reads Pulp Fiction in almost precisely the opposite direction, finding "its overarching project as a drive to turn shit into gold. This is one way of describing the project of redeeming and recycling popular culture, especially the popular culture of one's childhood, as is Tarantino's wont as well as his stated aim." Despite that, argues Fraiman, "Pulp Fiction demonstrates...that even an open pulpophile like Tarantino may continue to feel anxious and emasculated by his preferences."
| Category — Recipient(s)|
|Academy Awards||Best Original Screenplay — Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary|
Best Supporting Actor — Samuel L. Jackson|
Best Original Screenplay — Quentin Tarantino/Roger Avary
|Cannes Film Festival||Palme d'Or — Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, director)|
|Golden Globe Awards||Best Screenplay (Motion Picture) — Quentin Tarantino|
|National Society of Film Critics||
Best Film — Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, director)|
Best Director — Quentin Tarantino
Best Screenplay — Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary
It also received the following nominations:
| Category — Nominee(s)|
Best Picture (Lawrence Bender, producer) |
Best Director (Quentin Tarantino)|
Best Actor (John Travolta)
Best Supporting Actress (Uma Thurman)| Best Supporting Actor (Samuel L. Jackson)| Best Film Editing (Sally Menke)
Best Film (Lawrence Bender/Quentin Tarantino) |
Achievement in Direction (Quentin Tarantino) |
Best Actress in a Leading Role (Uma Thurman) | Best Actor in a Leading Role (John Travolta)
Best Cinematography (Andrzej Sekula) | Best Editing (Sally Menke) | Best Sound (Stephen Hunter Flick/Ken King/Rick Ash/David Zupancic)
|Golden Globe Awards||
Best Motion Picture (Drama) (Lawrence Bender) |
Best Director (Motion Picture) (Quentin Tarantino) |
Best Actor (Motion Picture—Drama) (John Travolta)
Best Supporting Actor (Motion Picture) (Samuel L. Jackson) | Best Supporting Actress (Motion Picture) (Uma Thurman)