, Research Paper
Violence and Punishment in Pulp FictionPulp Fiction, one of the most highly acclaimed films of 1995, was without a doubt a shocking and controversial movie. Drugs, sex, and especially violence filled our eyes and our ears. Director Quentin Tarantino brought into the mainstream a genre that had never had such mass appeal, and he did it very successfully. After viewing Pulp Fiction, the issues of violence and punishment arise, and we have to question what role they play in the film. The first work that we read for this class, The Body of the Condemned, by Michael Foucault, had some extremely graphic stories in it. The one that stands out most clearly is the scene of the spectacle of eighteenth century punishment. In writing about how Damiens the regicide was brutally tortured, Foucault says, The flesh will be torn from his breast, arms, thighs, and calves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide, burnt with sulfur. Relating this example to Pulp Fiction, we see there is a definite connection. Being quite a movie buff, I have to say that violence and punishment can be traced to Quentin Tarantino s earlier films, most noticeably True Romance and Reservoir Dogs. A brutal torture scene, sort of like the Damiens the regicide of the 90 s, took place in Reservoir Dogs. A gangster cut the ear of a police officer off, sliced his face up with a razor, then poured gasoline all over him. Definitely not as bad as Foucault s example, but to actually watch it in a film made many cringe and walk out of the theater. This scene caused great controversy and turmoil, which Tarantino ported over to Pulp Fiction. Since I had seen other Tarantino works, I wasn t as shocked at the blood and guts as some of the other people in the theater. One of the first examples in the movie is the opening scene in which the two robbers take charge of the diner. They stand up, guns blaring, vulgar language spewing out of their mouths. Then the music starts, and quickly the movie is off with a bang. This opening just gives us a slight glimpse of what is to come in the future. Another example of violence and punishment in the film is when Vincent and Jules, bizarre hitmen, kill the guys who apparently messed with their boss. Jules and Vincent toy with the young misfits, and Jules goes off into some religious quote before he riddles the poor sap with bullets. Another shocking scene is the one in which Mia Wallace overdoses on heroin and they have to shove an adrenaline needle in her chest. This was an extremely graphic scene, and the sounds of disgust and awe from the viewers was astonishing. The next part of the film that is perhaps the most appalling and grotesque of them all, is the one in which Butch, played by Bruce Willis, and Marcellus Wallace do battle. Butch, after winning a boxing match he was paid of to lose by Wallace, is on the run in his car. As Butch pulls up to an intersection, he sees none other than Marcellus crossing in front of him. So Butch slams on the gas, and runs into Wallace. Butch then crashes his car, and Wallace tries to shoot him from a distance. The ironic part is that as Wallace is firing at Butch with his massive silver firearm, he nails and innocent civilian in the leg. Yet as her blood splatters and she screams in terror, people in the audience bust out laughing! I couldn t believe this, but I had the same reaction also. Somehow, the two s fight moves into a store, in which the two men are knocked out, bound, and gagged by a couple of hillbillies. Zed is the leader of the two, and he picks Marcellus as the one he will commit the dirty deed with. Somehow, Butch manages to escape and knock out the leather-bound freak that was watching him. Butch could leave and not come back, but instead he decides he will come to Marcellus rescue. Before he goes back downstairs to help, Bruce Willis character has to decide what weapon to use. He picks up a shotgun, a bat, and a chainsaw, but surprisingly it is the large curved samurai sword he chooses. Butch, already covered in blood, goes to rescue Wallace. He enters the room, and we witness one of the most shocking scenes ever viewed by the mass public. Butch then proceeds to kill Zed s partner with the sword, and Marcellus ends up shooting Zed in the genitals with a shotgun. Marcellus spares Butch because he saved his life, but Marcellus promises to Get medieval on his (Zed s) ass. This alludes directly back to the Foucault essay, except this time the means of torture are going to be a pliers and a blowtorch. Again the role of punishment and violence is seen in the film, and Marcellus Wallace is ready to inflict both of them to a large degree.
Now the question arises what role that the violence and punishment play in the film. Pulp Fiction is one of the few films with such harsh content to have such publicity and accolades awarded to it. I feel the reason Tarantino was able to get away with it is because of the film s hilarious dialogue and the manner in which he presents the violence. Sure we have seen violence in films before, but never like in Pulp Fiction. Take for example John Travolta accidentally blowing the head off of some African American in the back seat of a car. The whole ordeal after that with the guys trying to store the body and clean the car was outrageous. Few people had seen violence presented in such a way as to make it funny. That sounds contradictory, but Pulp Fiction made it happen. It also helped greatly that the film was embraced by the younger generations, and had it not been, we have to wonder how successful it would have been. The humorous dialogue also helped make the violence and punishment more acceptable, since the movie was so unlike anything most of us had seen. Pulp Fiction was an extremely entertaining film, but when the question arises of whether it was a great film or not, we run into some problems. At the Academy Awards, the film only won for best screenplay. The majority of the crucial Awards went to the much more acceptable and viewer-friendly film Forrest Gump. Magazines said the main reason Pulp Fiction didn t win was that it was too violent and graphic. This may be true, but Quentin Tarantino has without a doubt introduced the American public to a new style of movie, and he has done it very successfully!