You Haven’t Seen It? : “Pulp Fiction”

By Kendall Levison

via Vanity Fair
via Vanity Fair

As one of the most acclaimed movies from the past twenty-five years and often considered the best work of the incredibly respected director Quentin Tarantino, it is hard to argue with “Pulp Fiction’s” position as a classic. This weird, twisted film has pervaded culture so much that its story beats – the glowing suitcase, the Royale with Cheese – seem to have taken on a life of their own. Even as someone who has mixed feelings about the movie’s creator (I was one of the people who took issue with parts of “Django Unchained” – particularly Tarantino’s response to his critics), I can admit that the film is great ride. “Pulp Fiction” has always been lauded for its narrative structure and that praise is well earned. The story weaves together three main plots, focusing on a boxer (Brue Willis) and two gang members (Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta). Tarantino also rejects a linear storyline in favor of a narrative that relies heavily on flashbacks and self-reference. That makes the film sound more ponderous than it is. Yet, even at over 2 hours, it never drags. In the end, I enjoyed it more than I expected to. In particular, Tarantino casts great actors and lets them do their thing. It is easy to see why he works with so many of the same people over and over. Unsurprisingly for a film that won an Oscar for its screenplay, the dialogue is the films’ greatest strength, as seen in many of the movie’s best scenes, including a conversation with Travolta and Thurman at a 50’s style diner and the discussion between Willis and his girlfriend (Maria de Medeiros) when he returns from his final boxing match. But connecting these are lovingly shot depictions of violence that seem even more over the top then the film’s pseudo fantasy world demands. I understand what the film is trying to achieve: the juxtaposition between the gruesome violence and often humorous dialogue to enhance its effect. I just think it takes the idea a shade too far. Regardless of its subject matter, “Pulp Fiction” is worth watching for the characters alone. Despite what the movie’s iconic poster might indicate, Uma Thurman as a gang leader’s wife is really a supporting role, and one of a fantastic cast of minor characters. Harvey Keitel as a cold-blooded “fixer” and Amanda Plummer as an unstable robber are particularly fun on screen. It’s an incredible to feat to make every person on screen as fleshed out and interesting as this film does. Many are also surprisingly sympathetic, considering that nearly every character either commits or is an accessory to a crime at some point in the movie. Some might not stand up to strict scrutiny (did Jules memorize that Bible passage just so he can use it during executions?) but they all fit into the film’s bizarre internal logic. Despite any objections I might have with it, I can’t argue that “Pulp Fiction” isn’t carefully crafted and wonderfully executed. It’s a joy to watch. Maybe that’s the true measure of a classic.

Kendall Levison is a contributing writer. Email her at film@nyunews.com.

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