Three Interconnected Stories and a Nonlinear Plot Structure
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction (1994) was a box office smash and a huge critical success in its theatrical release. Later, videotape, laserdisc, and barebones DVD editions of the movie proved popular as well. Now Miramax has released a Collector's Edition version of Pulp Fiction as a two-disc DVD set containing lots of extras, and when I watched it at home recently, I was again impressed by what a great movie it is.
Set in greater Los Angeles, Pulp Fiction is a dark, violent comedy that satirizes our expectations of a crime drama. The film is made up of three stories that are not told in chronological order. The three stories are cleverly interconnected, and Tarantino found a way to make them resonate as a unified whole.
A Hit Man and a Crime Boss's Wife
The first story, called "Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace's Wife," stars John Travolta and Uma Thurman. Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) is a crime boss who is married to the seductive Mia (Thurman). On an occasion when Marsellus must be out of town, he orders Vincent Vega (Travolta), one of his hit men, to entertain Mia. Vincent has heard that Marsellus had a man killed just for giving his wife a foot massage, so he knows he must be careful. At first things go well for Vincent as he and Mia dance a strange rendition of the twist at a weird 1950s theme restaurant. But then Mia has a nasty reaction to some heroin she snorts (!), and Vincent is in big trouble.
The Boxer and His Family Heirloom
The second story, titled "The Gold Watch," stars Bruce Willis. Crime boss Marsellus orders aging professional boxer Butch Coolidge (Willis) to take a dive in an upcoming bout, but Butch bets big on himself and then wins the fight. Butch is preparing to get out of town with his girlfriend when he realizes that his gold watch, a family heirloom passed down for four generations, has been left behind. When Butch goes back to retrieve the watch, he endures some harrowing experiences, and along the way he rescues someone who is being brutally raped by perverted rednecks.
Another Hit Man and a Quirky Problem-Solver
The third story, called "The Bonnie Situation," features Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Jules Winnfield, another hit man who works for Marsellus. During a hit, Jules' life is saved by what he takes to be divine intervention. As Jules and Vincent drive away, Vincent accidentally shoots a man riding in the back seat, spattering blood all over the car's interior. Jules and Vincent can't figure out how to cover up the murders they've committed, so Marsellus sends over his quirky problem-solving specialist (Harvey Keitel), who soon arrives in a tuxedo to take charge of the situation.
In what might be considered an epilogue, Jules and Vincent go to a coffee shop. There we see that Vincent has learned nothing from the ordeals he's been through. But Jules reveals that he's made an important decision, and when two customers pull guns and start to carry out a robbery, he does something very thought-provoking.
Strengths of the Movie
I love Tarantino's dialogue in Pulp Fiction, and I really enjoy the way he took crime movie clichés and tweaked them into something fresh and funny. I also like the film's nonlinear plot structure. Finally, the movie has one of the best casts I've ever seen. In addition to the actors named earlier, the stellar cast includes Tim Roth, Eric Stoltz, Christopher Walken, Rosanna Arquette, and Tarantino himself, who portrays a minor character in the third story.
Enhanced Trivia Track on DVD
The Pulp Fiction Collector's Edition two-disc DVD set provides a ton of extras, but alas it offers no scene-specific audio track of any kind. However, there is a peculiar special feature on Disc One called "Enhanced Trivia Track" which enables you to watch the movie with text appearing on the screen that supplies scene-specific information. For example, we read that the dance competition in the first story is inspired by Jean-Luc Godard's 1964 film Bande à part. As another example, we learn that, unlike in Pulp Fiction, adrenaline shots to the heart are not used to treat heroin overdoses in real life.
Tarantino on Charlie Rose
Disc Two of the Pulp Fiction Collector's Edition DVD set provides the bulk of the special features, and I've listed these below. The one I enjoyed most was The Charlie Rose Show, where Rose interviews Tarantino. During the interview, Tarantino says his three favorite movies of all time are Blow Out (1981), Rio Bravo (1959), and Taxi Driver (1976). Of course, this implies that Brian De Palma, Howard Hawks, and Martin Scorsese are three of his favorite directors.