Can anything else really be said about the importance and significance of Quentin Tarantino’s astonishing sophomore film?
Like his films before and since, Pulp Fiction was destined to be torn limb from limb by fanatics intent on discovering what Tarantino is trying to say. In the years subsequent to its release, debates have raged and theories have been written; doting fans continually determined to try and find meaning within every frame. The journeys of Jules, Vincent & Butch have been examined and then re-examined. The content of Marcellus’ briefcase has been contrived and contested. To try and find more meaning within a film that has been scrutinized for 20 years would be foolish. Instead, Tarantino’s masterpiece deserves to be appreciated for what it shows. At its heart, Pulp Fiction is an epitaph to American culture.
Right from the start, Fiction is a film imbued with the various elements unique to Tarantino’s auteurist style. The immersive story, relentless dialogue, striking violence, and specialist soundtrack are all fundamental to the director’s cinematic experience, from Reservoir Dogs to Django Unchained. Though even now, 20 years after it first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, there’s a sense of filmic festivity to Pulp Fiction that isn’t as apparent in his other works. Set in the sun-kissed valleys that surround Hollywood, there’s a celebratory atmosphere within the film, a riotous round of applause to the cultural significance of a medium rooted in American society.
The film’s most memorable scene, in which John Travolta’s Vincent accompanies Uma Thurman’s Mia to dinner at Jack Rabbit Slims, is the epitome of this. Here both characters and audience are transported back to 50s Hollywood, complete with waiters dressed as Buddy Holly and waitresses dressed as Marilyn Monroe. The host, who stands on a stage surrounded by Cadillac dining booths, is dressed as Ed Sullivan. It’s a sequence that oozes with Tarantino’s fascination of Hollywood culture, a land that continues to glorify an age that passed decades ago; as Vincent wryly observes, “it’s like a wax museum with a pulse”.
Lines like this are not merely peppered throughout the screenplay, but ingrained within every segment of dialogue. The script, so culturally iconic and habitually parodied, is infused with satirical swipes towards America’s ties to religion, its contented nature towards violence, and its predilection towards experimentation with intoxicating substances. All of which are primarily exuded through the exploits of Vincent & Jules. Both John Travolta & Samuel L. Jackson are at their career bests here; emanating a cool confidence in their trade as assassins, which comically juxtaposes with their All-American personas.
Considering how much the world has changed (developed?) since the early 90s, it can initially be perplexing to wonder why Pulp Fiction continues to be so significant. The answer though, quite simply, is Quentin Tarantino himself. Few other directors have shown such love and understanding of their craft, while continually trying to subvert it. As its title affirms, the stories told within Pulp Fiction are fabricated. Yet the characters, while undeniably exaggerated, are rooted in reality. A conversation about what they call a Big Mac in Paris may seem inconsequential to the plot, but it highlights America’s deeply held love of fast food; a motif that can be seen throughout Tarantino’s work.
It’s that extraordinary talent, radiating through every word of the script and every frame of the film, which continues to mark Pulp Fiction as a significant piece of cinema. While the world may have changed, many aspects of society have not. Walk through America today and that love of fast food and fear of the Almighty remains prevalent. Tarantino’s masterpiece may be 20 years old, but the thoughts and opinions that flow through it are as relevant now as they ever were.
Pulp Fiction is being shown in Cineworld Cinemas across the country on Tuesday 20th May at 20:15. Find your nearest showing here.