Thursday, July 23, 1998

Pulp Fiction Analysis

Tarantino opens Pulp Fiction with two dictionary definitions.

Pulp – a shapeless lump of soft matter.
Pulp – a lurid fiction.

Rather than dangle and tease, I'll cut to the chase. I think QT is giving a clue about the big point behind the movie. I think the point is this:
Human beings are essentially pulp – soft, vulnerable, weak biological beings that can be killed very easily. One false move, one bad decision, one wrong assumption, one bit of bad luck, one fuck up and you’re dead just like that. Suddenly. When you least expect it. At any fucking time. That’s our reality – and our minds can’t handle it. So, to compensate, we don't face the reality of our own vulnerabilities. We tell ourselves stories to deal with it. I.e.: pulp fictions.

So, look at the movie. Subtract the stories the characters are constantly telling each other and what's left is a series of random incidents of people getting pulped.

Jules and Vince Vega blow away a pair of yuppie punks who tried to rip off their boss, Marcellus Wallace. Nothing to it. Then, another punk hiding in the bathroom leaps out with a 45 and unloads a clip right at them. Every shot misses. It’s only by the grace of God that they don’t get killed. The remaining punk is not so lucky.

On the ride back to Marcellus’ place, Vince and Jules debate the theological implications of the recent apparent miracle. Vince absent-mindedly turns around to get some input from the kid in the back seat. He absent-mindedly blows the kid's head off.

Pumpkin and Honey Bunny assume that robbing a coffee shop is the easiest thing in the world. They’re insured, full of terrified customers “to cut down on the hero factor.” The manager and underpaid busboys and waitresses won’t lift a finger. So they pull a robbery. It turns out that two badass motherfuckers, two very heavy hitters, two professional killers – aka Vince Vega and Jules – are eating there. It’s only by the grace of God – Jules’ recent religious conversion – that Pumpkin and Honey Bunny don’t get killed.

Pumpkin and Honey Bunny also forgot to check the bathroom where Vega, all oblivious, was taking a shit reading Modesty Blaise. Meanwhile, Jules, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny are in a 3-way standoff. Jules is talking them through it, calming everybody down. Vince bursts out at the last minute and almost succeeds in getting X killed.

Back at Marcellus’ bar, Vince feels like shit (and a little disrespected) for blowing the kid’s head off. Vince takes out his frustrations on a boxer named Butch – he totally disrespects the guy. Marcellus has just paid this guy to throw his next fight. Vince’s disrespect makes him change his mind

Vince is given the assignment of taking Wallace’s wife Mia out on a non-date date. They’ve just had a fine evening, he’s taken her home and doing his best to keep his pecker in his pants. Out of sheer bad luck – his dealer was out of condoms (the usual container for heroin) and sold him some heroin in a baggie instead -- typically the container for cocaine. Mia goes through his stuff, sees it, snorts it – thinking it’s cocaine. She goes into cardiac arrest. He’s fucked.

Out of sheer dumb luck, courage and panic, Vincent succeeds in stabbing a spike-like hypo of adrenaline through her breast bone into her heart. She survives – he’s not fucked. Both agree to keep this quiet.

Butch has successfully fled – but his French girlfriend forgot his watch. (A precious heirloom from his dead father, which his dead father’s buddy shoved up his ass to keep from the Vietcong jailers.) He’s got to go back to his apartment – where Marcellus is sure to be waiting.

He goes back. He gets the watch. It’s a miracle or sheer dumb luck that he isn’t killed. Absent minded Vince is once again on the toilet reading Modesty Blaise. He’s also forgotten the gun. Butch, popping some pop tarts in his toaster, sees the gun and figures this out. Vince emerges from the toilet. The toast pops. Vince is toast.

Butch has gotten away with it. Out of sheer bad luck, Marcellus – filling in for the now-retired hitman Jules – is returning to Butch’s apartment with Big Kahuna burgers. He crosses in front of Butch’s car – then sees him.

Butch tries to run him down – Marcellus tries to blow him away. They chase each other, crash into a gun shop. Out of sheer bad luck, the proprietors are a pair of Deliverance style perverts who like to abduct people and bugger them in the basement. They do so to Marcellus. Butch manages to escape – but the same honor that sent him back for the watch sends him back into the room – now armed with a samurai sword – to save Marcellus from being buggered. Butch kitchen slices one redneck with a katana; Marcellus blows the balls off the other – with more torture promised in the future. Marcellus and Butch are now square.

All this violence is, basically, random shit. These incidents are wrapped, Tootsie Roll style, in a tasty candy shell of stories and bullshit -- i.e., pulp fictions. We hear about Tony Rocky Horror's fall through the greenhouse, what Big Macs are called in Amsterdam, etc., etc. These fictions shouldn't disguise the immoral moral of the movie.

It's a chaotic universe that will probably kill you. If you drop your guard and spend too much time on the toilet, it probably will.

No comments: