[The Social Opportunist] Movie Review – Pulp Fiction (1994)

Written by Phil May 04, 2012

Pulp Fiction (1994)

This is the second of 50 movies to be reviewed as part of The Challenge (for more info and reviews of the other movies, visit the post for Cycle #1).

Quentin Tarantino has slowly become one of my favourite directors and moviemakers after watching the likes of Kill Bill and Inglorious Bastards. These movies completely take any traditional storytelling formula, turn it on its head, then put it in a blender. They are unique films that, while sometimes hard to follow, are some of the smartest, most entertaining stories ever told. To this day, I will gladly sit through a marathon session of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 2 regardless of what I have planned otherwise. It was this admiration for all things Tarantino that made me realize how ridiculous it was that I had yet to watch Pulp Fiction. However, The Challenge presented the perfect opportunity for me to watch and critically examine the movie, given its place on the IMDb Top 250 list. Even though it took me just about all day to get through the movie, I finally was able to finish it and complete this review!

Check out the trailer below before reading the review, just to give yourself a little context (or if you’ve already seen it, a little reminder).

***WARNING: The following review may contain spoilers.***

The plot line of Pulp Fiction is basically a Rubik’s Cube, difficult and time-consuming when you try to complete it. However, I’m going to do my best to piece together some semblance of a story for you all. Pulp Fiction tells a non-linear tale in three distinct yet interrelated parts. The first part of the story focuses around mobster hit man Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and his experience with Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), the wife of his boss Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). The two enjoy a night out at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, where they participate in the now famous twist dance contest. The fun is cut short however when Mia overdoses on cocaine. The second part of the story centres on boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), who makes a deal with Wallace to take a dive in an upcoming match. When Coolidge fails to hold up his part of the bargain, he finds himself fighting to stay alive against the angry mobster. Finally, the last part of the film focuses on Vincent Vega’s partner-in-crime Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) as he contemplates retirement following a bloody cleanup. All of these story lines interrelate at some point, helping to create an entire picture that is only visible at the end of the movie.

I’m not going to lie; I was definitely confused for a good 90 per cent of Pulp Fiction. While each individual part was entertaining and interesting on its own, I still found myself wondering what was going on in the big picture. Unlike Kill Bill, which gives some inclination of the timeline of events (even if it is only by looking at The Bride’s kill list), Pulp Fiction seems to keep all of its puzzle pieces separate until the last few scenes. However, that isn’t to say I didn’t like the movie. It’s quite the opposite actually! Once I finally figured out what was going on, I found myself completely satisfied with the movie I had just watched. It was dramatic, comedic, cheesy and unconventional all at the same time, but this only seemed to add to its appeal. From my understanding, this movie is considered “postmodern,” which is definitely an appropriate label. Sometimes you have to take a break from the traditional and try something off the beaten trail, which is exactly what Pulp Fiction was for me. I don’t know why I waited so long to watch it!

Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) bust a move during Jack Rabbit Slim’s twist dance competition.

From only watching this movie once, it was clearly evident to me why it has such a huge cult following and is often regarded as a cinematic masterpiece by both critics and audiences alike. There are parts of Pulp Fiction that will easily stick in my mind forever. The famous twist dance contest between John Travolta (Vincent Vega) and Uma Thurman (Mia Wallace) really was that memorable and contained every bit of ridiculous entertainment that I thought it would. Conversations between characters in this movie seemed to go on for hours, but there was something so unique and interesting about the nonsense they were talking about that you couldn’t help but stay glued to the screen. It’s hard to comprehend how a movie’s content could be so disconnected from its plot line yet still add so much to the story. Oh, and I can’t forget the beginning of the movie! The diner scene finally gave me context for Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” music video and Winnfield’s “Royale with Cheese” monologue is arguably one of the funniest and most intimidating speeches I’ve ever heard.

In traditional Tarantino fashion, Pulp Fiction was full of blood, gore, raunch, shock and awe. However, without a doubt those elements are part of the appeal, given that he is trying to distance himself from the conventional. Some of them are shockingly vivid, such as Marcellus Wallace’s sodomizing. But these themes keep the action and emotion high, never allowing the movie to slow down or succumb to monotony. And hey, who needs a better anti-drug commercial than seeing Uma Thurman foaming from the mouth and bleeding all over the place until John Travolta has to jam a huge needle into her chest? I don’t know about all of you, but I’m pretty happy to stay far away from drugs of any kind after a scene like that. The images in Pulp Fiction might be vividly brutal, but they make for an exciting ride that keeps audiences engaged, albeit grossed out and sometimes confused.

Bruce Willis (Butch Coolidge), Quentin Tarantino, Uma Thurman (Mia Wallace), Samuel L. Jackson (Jules Winnfield) and John Travolta (Vincent Vega)

The cast of Pulp Fiction was actually very impressive as well, however I don’t know why I’m surprised. This movie makes use of some of the most talented actors and actresses in the books! John Travolta, as the mobster Vincent Vega, took a steep turn away from his normally happy, noble and clean-cut image and successfully became a vicious, awkward and mysterious character that stole scenes and was intriguing to watch. I’m almost positive that Uma Thurman was an unknown actress before this role, but her performance as Mia Wallace, though nothing substantial, was believable enough to make me feel as though I wasn’t even watching the same actress anymore. No wonder Taratino decided to recycle her as the lead role in the Kill Bill films. Bruce Willis’ Butch Coolidge was quiet yet powerfully emotional and Samuel L. Jackson (who finds himself as a supporting character in pretty much anything) was just as cool and badass as usual. Finally, minor supporting roles by Harvey Keitel (Winston Wolf) and Christopher Walken (Captain Koons) were stellar additions that rounded out a powerful cast.

Pulp Fiction was everything I hoped it would be. I’m sure that I lost a lot of its appeal through sheer confusion, but I was still entertained throughout. While not his best film, Tarantino proved to me once again that he knows how to take the unconventional and make it something that everyone will enjoy. I’m pretty happy that I finally got to watch this movie and take part in the fandom that comes along with it. There is no doubt that I’m going to have to rematch this Pulp Fiction a few more times so that I can really wrap my head around the plot, but that won’t be a problem simply because the first time I watched it was so entertaining. Give it a watch if you haven’t already!

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

THE CHALLENGE – CYCLE #1 (IMDB TOP 250) = 2/50

Check out this and other posts on The Social Opportunist!

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