Pulp Fiction (1994)

I’m going to cheat a little with this review. I haven’t (re)watched this film as I write this, but I do feel I’m familiar enough with it to go from memory. I’ve never made a list of my favourite films ever, as I find it very difficult to assign the order after the first three places or so and I always think I’ll forget something that I like better than an entry on the list, but if I did Pulp Fiction would be in that top three. (Number one and two, if you’re curious, are My Neighbor Totoro and Terminator 2.) It’s one of the few films where I’ve still committed to memory long stretches of the dialogue, hearing songs on the soundtrack in another context just makes me think of the scene in the film they were used, and I could very easily watch the whole thing a second time after the credits come up, so I think I can be forgiven for not using up two and a half hours to go over familiar territory.

The loosely-interlocking stories of Los Angeles criminals are told in out-of-order segments: a typical morning for enforcers Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) cascades into a black comedy-of-errors, boxer Butch (Bruce Willis) turns around a fixed match and must make a clean getaway, and Vincent is tasked with taking out his boss Marsellus’ (Ving Rhames) wife Mia (Uma Thurman) on a not-date. Giving the film and overview makes it seem relatively innocuous, and that’s ultimately the impression it leaves despite Tarantino’s requisite violence and harsh language; it has neither the brutality of Reservoir Dogs or Kill Bill or the tension of Inglourious Basterds or Django Unchained. People have attempted to ascribe a deeper meaning to the events in the film, but I choose to believe Marcellus’ briefcase is just a McGuffin and does not actually contain his stolen soul and that there is no spiritual level to the film despite the chills I get every time I hear Jules contemplate the passage of the Bible he has memorised. It’s just… cool, a dark and bizarre comedy from a lifelong film nerd who buried the references to old films deeper and made the end result more accessible to the less film-nerdy public. Does it maybe reflect on society, the way that such violent and morally-empty entertainment is regarded so highly? Maybe, but if laughing as Vincent deadpans “I just shot Marvin in the face” is wrong, then I do not want to be right.

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