Pulp Fiction Essay, Research Paper Pulp Fiction Plot, Story and Style 2.1 Definition When considering plot and story, I will stick to the convention of using plot for the film’s contents – what we are presented on the screen – and story for the whole of the events we are presented and the events or facts that are relevant to them.
Pulp Fiction Essay, Research Paper
Plot, Story and Style
When considering plot and story, I will stick to the convention of using plot for the film’s contents – what we are presented on the screen – and story for the whole of the events we are presented and the events or facts that are relevant to them. This distinction is important because, as will be shown later, Pulp Fiction’s plot leaves out some aspects of the story, and leaves us to imply or simply guess at several loose ends in the story as a whole1.
The plot of Pulp Fiction is not linear; it does not follow the chronological order of events. Rather, the story presented to the audience consists of three distinct – and very much interwoven – plot lines. The three plot lines are presented to us in ‘acts’ or ‘chapters’ mixed together, complete with chapter titles: “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife”, “The Gold Watch” and “The Bonnie Situation”. Several elements are consistent in all of the sub-plots; for instance, Vincent Vega and the figure of gangster boss Marsellus Wallace (or at least his influence) are present throughout the film.
Overall, the effect of the unusual structuring seems similar to browsing a pulp novel one already knows, reading the ‘good bits’ for amusement and skipping the rest – which might be the very intention of the film maker. Not only are there numerous references to pulp films and books, but we also see Vincent Vega reading a pulp novel in the film. Certainly, the film has been designed to be a success, and its title may be seen as a referral to the genre of “pulp novels” as well as a self-description.
Like many classical films, Pulp Fiction has a noticeable circularity to it. Todorov’s explanation of the typical linear plot2 (plenitude, where everything is satisfactory, peaceful, calm, or at least recognizably normal – plenitude disturbed by some threatening power or force – action of a force directed against disturbing force – restoration of plenitude) is not really circular, for although the final point resembles the beginning in its stability, they are not really the same. The circularity found in Pulp Fiction – the film ends with a continuation of its very first scene – is purely structural, while the story itself has hardly any noticeably circular elements: Most of the strands of the story end with the main characters getting killed or leaving town. The film keeps referring back to itself, presenting chains of causes-and-effects in a jumbled, non-temporal and seemingly illogical order. With the exception of very few continuity mistakes, though, the plot is based on a logically consistent story. Tarantino’s possible reasons for having changed the order of events will have to be discussed later.
2.4 Violence in Pulp Fiction: Plot Structure and Narrative Style
Pulp Fiction’s plot deliberately leaves out certain aspects of the story (as a whole), so that we are left guessing at parts of it. The plot’s nonchronological construction also disrupts many of the story’s otherwise plausible cause-and-effect chains, and places the film’s closing scene somewhere in the middle of the narrative. It is, however, not the action or the plot which creates the suspense and weird appeal that this film has, but the characters in the film – in other words, it is not what situations the characters get into that counts, but how they react.
The film’s overall structure – jumping backwards and forwards in time, but keeping consistent characters – has a noticeably “oral” structure to it: It is as if the film’s contents were being told by (Tarantino? Someone? Jules?) – told verbally, with all the inconsistencies and lack of chronology that seem characteristic of complex stories. The film starts that way – Pumpkin telling Honeybunny stories of gangsters, unbelievable bank robberies, and discussing robberies. It also keeps quoting from films, and its many references to actual pulp fiction novels make me assume that Tarantino wanted to achieve a certain quality of “orality”, a story structure and overall aesthetic that comes not out of classical, well-ordered narrative cinema but from a jumbled, funny and frequently brutal form of urban storytelling.
The film’s high tolerance of violence suggests that the story told would have to be a product of a (sub)culture that accepts violence quite casually and is not shocked by murder (and even finds unusual accidents, weird rape scenes ad other detail amusing, in a twisted sort of way) – but, judging from the contents of many Internet newsgroups and most bookstores, a large part of today’s urban cultures all over the world fits that description pretty well.
Two films quite fervently attacked for being overly violent and amoral in 1995 were Kids and (of course) Pulp Fiction. Kids was a bourgeois look at a subculture, from the viewpoint of one who has nothing to do with the people depicted except that one might avoid them in the street; its overall motivating feeling seemed to be one of social pornography; one distinctly knows one isn’t like the characters depicted, and takes pleasure in seeing them without having to identify with their actions or motives. The characters in Kids are too carefully constructed as both antisocial and stupid – with the exception of the 12-year-old “victim” type – to fit into any other category than “hard-core social porn”. The outrage one could feel after the film came out of a feeling of guilt at the sensation that one felt glad one wasn’t “like that”, guilt at the realisation of a certain smugness and feeling of superiority. Neither the audience nor the film’s storyteller seem to have any connection to the subculture depicted, merely a casual curiosity.
Pulp Fiction, on the other hand, is a story that is told as if from within a deeply violent, cynical and (to any other part of society) antisocial subculture. The impression is that while Pulp Fiction keeps within the traditions of Hollywood filmmaking in terms of camera and editing style, it certainly jars the viewers’ expectation with its laconic and faintly amused telling of an unusual and violent urban-crime-culture story. The story – not only in terms of its structure, but also in its emphasis on detail and in its ideological stance which I will explain later – seems almost as if narrated, told with a certain glee at some of the most violent parts ["Oh Man! I shot Marvin in the face!"]; total indifference at others [the woman getting shot by Marsellus Wallace when he goes after Butch, right after the car accident]; a total lack of a sense of taboo towards things unmentionable in “normal society” [piercings, sadomasochism, gangsters, shooting Heroin];and a very weird sense of humour ["a junkie and a coke addict doing the twist together, man, dig it."]. The audience is made to feel as if they were themselves part of that subculture – the documentary element that so strongly separates the audience from the events and people depicted in Kids is missing in Pulp Fiction.
2.5 Cinematic Style
“[A]rtworks can create new conventions. A highly innovative work can at first seem odd because it refuses to conform to the norms we expect. (…) But a closer look may show that unusual artwork has its own rules, creating an unorthodox formal system, which we can learn to recognize and respond to. Eventually, the new systems offered by such unusual works may themselves furnish conventions and thus create new expectations.”3
Tarantino has his own distinct style, visible both in Pulp Fiction and his earlier film Reservoir Dogs. Pulp Fiction is, true to its title, the more commercially-oriented of the two. It is a very cinematic style, relying on long shots rather than the frequent close-ups characteristic of video. Assuming that the classification of films as purely realistic or purely expressionistic is impossible, I would argue that Tarantino’s style leans much more towards the realist than the expressionist traditions in filmmaking – or at least, noticeably more so than contemporary Hollywood mainstream film.
2.6 Considerations of Genre
“This film is one wild ride. An anthology of three interconnected stories that take place in a modern-day Los Angeles tinted by echoes of Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler, the movie impresses in every possible way. Writer/director Tarantino has merged film noir with the gangster tale and pulled them both into the ’90s. As definitive as Francis Ford Coppola’s GODFATHER saga was for the ’70s, so is PULP FICTION for today’s generation.4
Pulp Fiction is strongly, intuitively genre-based, but the hybrid forms of genre interwoven make the film impossible to classify as belonging to any one genre – indeed, it has been placed in several different genres by various critics. Black Comedy, Gangster Movie, Gangster Comedy, Art House Movie – Pulp Fiction has elements of all of these and several other genres. In fact, it quotes from so many different films that it would be hardly possible to name a genre that Pulp Fiction doesn’t at least touch on.
Pulp Fiction is set in a large city – Los Angeles, as turns out from the dialogue. “The still (…) suggests how claustrophobic surroundings and physical decay in city slums can spawn seedy characters and situation that are endemic to big cities like New York”5: The mise-en-scene is significant in the urban late-20th-Century-tale Pulp Fiction; the characters and story would make little sense in other settings.
The props in Pulp Fiction are, for the most part, utterly realistic; the film does not need overdone props or extreme firepower to make itself interesting. This distinguishes Pulp Fiction quite clearly from many other Hollywood “gangster” or “cop” movies, where a large variety of unusual and usually devastating firearms seems to play a major role in defining the good guy / bad guy distinction. In Pulp Fiction, we see some automatic pistols (Jules, Vincent, Marsellus), some revolvers (Honey Bunny and Pumpkin, Guy Hiding in Toilet), a shotgun (shopkeeper) and one submachine gun (apparently belonging to Marsellus, in the scene where Vincent Vega is shot by Butch. Vincent would presumably have his weapon with him in the bathroom, and it seems clear from the story that he was waiting for Marsellus to return to the apartment.6
Butch’s choosing a weapon in the second-hand store is played for laughs: From working man’s hammer via the all-American chainsaw (alluding to several films in which chainsaws play major roles) to the Japanese sword. Butch’s choosing a Japanese sword and driving a Japanese car might be seen as an ironic attack on American society or US nationalists, or a comment on the culture; to me, however, this seems to be a borderline case of overinterpretation.
There are few scenes where props are of major importance and placed in a close-up or extreme close-up: the needle scene (Vincent Vega shooting up Heroin) shows a syringe set in CU/XCU intercut with driving scenes; the adrenaline shot needle’s tip in an XCU (Vincent Vega saving Mia from a Heroin overdose); the Gold Watch, Zed’s motorcycle keys. The only object that the camera lingers on for a noticeably long time is the injection kit in the needle scene.
3 Tarantino’s World
Tarantino is the young generation the Monkees sung to, but he’s got something to say. He is so cinematically literate, so attuned to the limits of screen tension, so certain of stretching a sequence’s credibility without losing the audience that he can blow a guy’s head off and keep it funny, that he can deliver honor among thieves and turn the bad guys into such good guys that he can dispense with good guys altogether.
His characters’ frames of reference are spewed from that little box that puts moving images at our fingertips all day, every day. He is not a visual genius like Spielberg; he doesn’t make you sit up because of the way he places the camera or the way he moves it. He makes you sit up because he knows how to ask “What if?” He knows how to make the absurd plausible, the unwatchable riveting, the sick funny and the cardboard goons of the stereotyped filmic underworld of dealers, dopers and doers human and new.7
3.1 Tarantino’s Cinema
Director-centered film analysis has been around since the beginnings of auteur theory in the mid-fifties. The main focus of this theory is on “visual style – on the way in which films [are] composed and constructed for the viewer”8. Since it seems to be close to impossible to name a genre for any of the Tarantino films or even Tarantino-scripted films (True Romance, to some extent Natural Born Killers), the director’s name is being used to signify a certain style in cinema, a genre even.
Indeed, it seems obvious to state that Tarantino’s aesthetics and style have a certain flavor to them; a common cinematic style, common story elements and maybe something else, an aftertaste or -image that is characteristic of his films. Tarantino himself seems intent on keeping this “Tarantino feeling” intact: True Romance was made by a friend of his; Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs are his own major films. The script for Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers was also Tarantino’s, but after a disagreement about the film’s direction he refused to have his name appear in the credits (except as “story author”). It would be my guess that Tarantino is quite aware of his own unique talent, and has no intention of giving away his name for use on products he doesn’t like.
(Travolta and Tarantino)
“[...] another of Tarantino’s strengths – dialogue. In most movies, the dialogue is designed to cue the next dramatic plot twist. But Pulp Fiction’s characters talk about completely random subjects, things that any two people might talk about, and in these conversations the characters come off as being amazingly real, free from the Hollywood gloss of most films. As Jackson says about Tarantino’s script, “It’s an acting script. Most screenplays involve maybe 15 to 20 minutes of acting, real dialogue. Pulp Fiction has these huge chunks of dialogue that move the script along. It’s totally engrossing.”9
Overall, Pulp Fiction is driven by dialogue rather than action. “Pulp Fiction is an acting script”, Samuel Jackson is reported to have said – and indeed, Tarantino’s style frequently seems to suggest that action itself is of secondary importance, whereas the characters’ dialogues, reactions and attitudes are in the center of attention. We find this pattern in many scenes: Rather than showing us a boxing fight, Tarantino feeds us information about it through a taxi driver who asks he boxer questions; the shooting of Marvin is a small if unfortunate accident in the middle of a conversation.
In many other scenes as well, (for example, when Butch returns to free Marsellus Wallace from the rapists), it is the faces and emotions of characters that are foregrounded rather than the action itself. That very scene, in fact, illustrates my argument: It is Butch’s attitude and emotions that are placed in the main focus of the viewer’s attention, the deadly stab in the belly with a samurai sword is backgrounded (though very much the motivating force for the shot). Tarantino is in no way interested in outdoing other directors in spectacularity or performing ritual size comparisons with cinematic explosions; rather, he seems intent on presenting intense moments, and how the characters in his story respond to them.
The frequent “Mexican Stand-offs” or three-way gunfights – which have also appeared several times in Tarantino’s other films – illustrate this principle of putting characters in emotionally intense situations (even though I have never handled a gun, I assume that having a gun aimed at one while aiming at someone else is a very intense situation) and then calmly waiting to see what will result from the situation. The focus, however, is not on the action per se (shooting, for example), as in so many standard Hollywood films, or its results, as in, for example, Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. How people behave in the weird situations they are placed in seems to be the main point: The director’s main aim seems to lie in recording not so much the action itself, but the behaviour of people in and to intense, unusual and dangerous situations.10
3.2 Intertextual aspects of Pulp Fiction
Tarantino frequently uses direct quotes from other films, TV series and videos; dialogues and camera positioning are also sometimes “lifted” from or directly alluding to TV series and films. One extreme interpretation of this concept was used by stone in the originally Tarantino-scripted Natural Born Killers, where whole parts of the film are adaptations of (prototypical) television items: the “monster family” fun show, the sensationalistic news report, the “true police stories” genre and others. But where Natural Born Killers can be read as a critique of the media ["This film isn't really brutal, it just shows what you see on television every day, so what's the fuss?", to simplify one of its possible messages], Pulp Fiction refuses to go as far in its use of quotes as to distort its own style, its aesthetic coherence. (The Dance Scene)
Vincent and Mia entering a restaurant where the waiters and waitresses are 1950’s movie personality imitators can be seen as a metafictional element; Vincent and Mia are discussing the movie personalities moving around them in a film frequently quoting from some of the films these personalities were in.
Interestingly, Pulp Fiction is also being quoted in other films; in the recent Get Shorty with John Travolta, we see a TV set showing a scene from Rio Bravo, which in turn was quoted by Pulp Fiction ["I want you to pick up that gun", said by Butch in Pulp Fiction and by John Wayne (I think) in Rio Bravo].
3.3 Tarantino’s Aesthetics
Tarantino is in love with small gestures, characters’ reactions to unusual and extreme situations, and (above all) dialogue. In this film, the meticulous care that went into even the “smaller” scenes and non-action sequences is very much noticeable; the depth of character performances is enormous in many scenes and the relationships between characters seem to crackle with intensity.
“He reveals their complexities and depth by not only showing them when they are at work, but concentrating more on what they do before and after they work. For example, Travolta is fantastic in showing us that as hit man Vincent Vega he is not just a killer, but a thinker and a skeptic [sic] with vulnerability.
And Samuel L. Jackson, in perhaps the film’s best performance as Vega’s partner Jules, gives his character an incredible intensity whether he’s reading his victim a passage from the Bible as a prelude to execution or arguing about the intimacy of foot-massages. He shows how Jules has begun to develop a conscience and reveals the inner conflicts that it causes. The depth of the characters is greatly due to Tarantino’s wit and insight.”11
I would claim that the argument quoted above is only partly right: Tarantino does concentrate on the characters rather than on the action, but goes nowhere near the exposition of the characters’ private lives that makes Heat such a terrifying and deeply involving film. In Pulp Fiction, we are never shown the homes of Vincent or Jules, and character relationships are, with a few notable exceptions, superficial – albeit still much less superficial than in “normal” Hollywood fiction. Compared to “Stallonegger”-type characters and many similar Hollywood products, even Travolta is a “thinker and a skeptic [sic] with vulnerability”; in the film, however, he quite realistically portrays a minor thug with plenty of cynical cool.
(John Travolta as Vincent Vega)
3.4 Tarantino Characters
“The stereotyped American gangster, fictionalized in books like Little Caesar and realized on the screen by precise and deadly men like Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, has become yet another American folk hero and contributed a sizable amount to what is often called the American Dream.”12
Tarantino’s characters lack some of the overtly cinematic qualities that the standardized “bad guy” types possess in mainstream Hollywood film. They are not, as frequently happens, assigned all the stylistic elements that make us know, without having to think twice, that the person we see on the screen is the bad guy, and therefore doomed to failure because the good guys (easily distinguishable from the baddies) are going to win. A complex system of cinematic narration has us recognize the signs shown in the film, and “automagically” read them correctly, in most cases.
Pulp Fiction is not a film where badness is signified through makeup, lighting effects and plain simple nastiness. Instead, the characters are lifelike, behave and chat in fairly normal sort of ways, and do not use more violence than is deemed good and necessary in their own code of ethics.
The Tarantino films Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, as well as the Tarantino-scripted Natural Born Killers13 and True Romance, all have crime and criminals as their main focus, and concentrate on characters who are involved in crime and seem to exclusively come from the lower and lower middle classes. The differences in ideology between the US’ upper classes and its lowest classes is enormous; the inability to accept the values of the “ruling class” and the various forms of alternate value systems can be easily found in many books and in popular music. Be it today’s tough-guy “pulp” novels – Andrew H. Vacchs’ Burke novels are a prime example – or the “gangsta” rappers, systems of values that have little to do with the supposed values of the United States of America is ever-present. On the Internet as well, discussions with many Americans shed some light on the ideology that seems specific to the US’ worse areas of urban decay.14 To put it in a concise (if overstated) way: A large part of the US’ population, especially in poor urban areas, simply does not fit into the US’ system anymore, and therefore has developed its own rules and codes of behavior.
“We would not have such a violent culture if we did not want a violent culture, whatever its biological root, aggressiveness is learned. One need not even exalt violence (as our movies and television films do) to foster it: one need only create a culture that worships power, individuality, disconnection from others, and competition; and disparages the satisfaction of life devoted to affection, fellowship, and harmony, Since aggressiveness is learned it is a moral rather than a biological quality.”15
What Tarantino does in his films and scripts is to take one of these systems of beliefs, one of these quite radical and non-dominant ideologies – and make a film that stems from within it. Instead of portraying crime, drugs and violence in a critical light – as the Baddies – and having the Good Guys win in the end, which is a decidedly mainstream and dominant-ideology approach, Tarantino leaves all of the supposed values of upper-class US society aside. His characters and stories stem out of an urban criminal subculture. Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction not only tells a story from within that subculture, it also tells it in a way specific to that subculture. He shows the characters and events not in the classical Hollywood way, which stereotypes such characters and their actions in a way that I feel stems from a detached fascination with crime and violence and originates from the (supposed) ideals of the upper class. Tarantino’s depiction of events and characters uses the ideological framework of the criminal subculture depicted to construct the plot – and decide on which events and actions are shown, the way in which they are shown, and (quite importantly) which are funny or sad or important.
“If some asshole starts to think he’s Charles Bronson, break his nose on the butt of your gun”16
Violence in Pulp Fiction lacks the usual connotations of violence in film. Violence, even deadly violence, is “no big deal” to most of the main Tarantino characters. Rather, it is a legitimate tool to use in a (sub)culture where the dominant values and beliefs don’t count, and where it is impossible to have differences or fights settled by the authorities of a system one doesn’t fit into. I see much of the impact of Tarantino’s stories and films as coming from his characters’ attitude towards violence as well as from the unusual and non-mainstream way that the director himself handles violence: Not as a spectacular show to impress the audience with, nor as the brutal wrong-doings of evil men, but as an accepted and in no way unusual part of the film’s (and characters’) system of reference.
Certainly there are scenes of the same gruesome magnitude in Pulp Fiction, including an adrenaline shot given to Uma Thurman when she is overdosing on cocaine, and a scene involving Bruce Willis and two redneck homosexual rapists. But, what’s amazing is Tarantino’s ability to find humor and absurdity in even the most horrible situation. You find yourself laughing at things that should just not be funny, and that is what’s most memorable.17
Pulp Fiction is structured, in some ways, not so much like a Hollywood movie than like a story one might overhear at a party, in a cafe, at a motorcycle club or in the drug subculture. It is a story, a story not unlike the stories of any other subculture. What distinguishes it from almost all the other stories related to audiences everywhere is its refusal to join the dominating culture and ideology not in the way that it presents its story or the way it was produced – Pulp Fiction is a high-budget film – but in the way its story is presented with the aesthetics and ideas characteristic of the portrayed characters and their surroundings. These ideas and ideals seem both fairly realistic and very frightening, as the film is told in a style that, seen from the dominant ideology’s viewpoint, must appear shockingly cynical and brutal, whereas to the viewpoint of the narrator of the story and its characters, they would seem perfectly normal.
Again, the target of the enquiry is not the film itself, but the social process of making signs “stand for” something. A member of any part of society – except possibly the criminal subscene depicted – would not be able to agree entirely with the film regarding both its form and content (and the interplay between them), or be forced to think about their own acceptance of their roles in society; a mediated reading where the reader agrees in generally but finds at least some aspects of the film disturbing would again cause or maybe even necessitate a certain degree of self-reflection on part of the viewer. If I assume correctly, then the film may be slightly subversive simply through causing [some of] its audience to think about their own roles within society and their own stances towards violence.
Violence is a much more inherent element of US society than European societies; indeed, the US ranks as one of the most violent societies world-wide. One specific element of US violence is that it is almost exclusively individual rather than collective violence that occurs. The willingness to use violence as a problem-solving mechanism seems to pervade all levels of American society, though violence itself is concentrated in the low and lowest levels of the social hierarchy. Rather than focusing on the prevention of violence, the “typically American” answer to violence is hard punishment, including the death penalty for severe crimes and – in an international comparison within the “First World” – extraordinarily long jail sentences, especially for repeated convictions18. The US has a larger percentage of its own citizens in jail than any other “First World” country.
The inefficacy of prison in preventing crime has been well documented; conditions in many US prisons are such that it seems impossible for the prison system to fulfil its theoretical purpose: To allow society to reintegrate the offender after he/she has served the sentence. Rather, it is the social rules of the (a?) criminal subculture that are learnt; it is bonds to other criminals, not to society, that are formed and strengthened in a prison.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the concept of reintegration through prison is not working; it is a simple fact that a criminal in prison will get to know many other criminals (and may choose to team up with them once freed). Indeed, in Heat, the criminals as well as the police discuss people’s jail terms – in the criminals’ case, the prison stays are compared and friends or enemies discussed, also in order to make sure each of the others is really a member of the criminal subscene they appear to belong to.
3.6 Popular Culture
“In ‘Pulp Fiction’, people play out their lives against a background populated by popular culture. Pop culture links the episodes in mood, just as the characters and interweaving plots link them as stories. Characters drop references to movies, old sitcoms and fast food until the idea becomes implicit that from their angle these are the basic elements of life.”19
Pulp Fiction draws deeply on its link with popular culture. The soundtrack is full of old hits, the characters and story almost constantly refer to old films and television series, and quite a bit of dialogue has also been quoted directly from previous movies. Even the actors themselves refer back to previous films, in scenes where – for example – Harvey Keitel replays his role as The Cleaner in the Hollywood version of the French classic Nikita, or where John Travolta gives a caricature of his early films in the scene where Vincent Vega, who has injected the strong narcotic Heroin, is forced into a twist contest by his boss’ wife Mia, a cocaine addict (or at least abuser). Pulp Fiction appears as more of a collage than Europeans would notice at first glance once one realizes how many references to the popular culture specific to the USA – not as obvious a collage as the “multi-genre film” Natural Born Killers. Rather, Pulp Fiction is a film designed to fit well and successfully into popular culture – while constantly referring to other items of the same popular culture.
[I must admit that I do not know enough about postmodernist theory at this point to attempt a longer foray into whether this aspect of Pulp Fiction makes it postmodernist. I do know that collage is a prominent aspect of postmodernism; but I hesitate to make bold statements especially when it comes to the degree that Pulp Fiction is - or is not - postmodernist.]
“However, it would be a mistake to suggest that there is nothing to PULP FICTION but its visceral impact. Tarantino does not place his characters in a universe of amoral anarchy; as RESERVOIR DOGS first indicated, he is fascinated with loyalty and moments of improbable selflessness. Two such moments provide the moral backbone of PULP FICTION. In one, Bruce Willis’ Butch makes a decision which could cost him his life–even if he is successful–all to save another human being from torture. In the other, Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules undergoes a sort of conversion, and in the course of explaining his actions gives one of the most stunning speeches in recent memory. Both are showcases for career performances. Willis is better than his previous work had ever so much as hinted at, while Jackson delivers what is quite simply the best performance in an American film this year. It is at these moments when PULP FICTION, for all its frantic energy, reveals its real message: even in a world this violent, salvation is possible.” 20
Even if its form and content do stem from within a very violent subculture within the US’ generally comparatively violent culture, Pulp Fiction’s story contains elements of loyalty and selflessness and other high ideals common to most ideologies – it is a story constructed according to the rules consistent with stories from all known cultures (comp. Propp’s analysis of story elements). A condensed, simplistic analysis of the story elements’ structures will help to illustrate this argument:
Two friends work with each other (Vincent and Jules). They overcome their enemies, run into unexpected trouble, and need a Helper to complete their mission. At the end, one wants to leave and be poor rather than a criminal. The friend who has remained a criminal gets killed.
What is missing in Pulp Fiction to complete the story and offer a moralistic ending is Jules’ survival or some view of his future. Since we only arrive at the assumption that Jules has, in fact, given up his criminal ways, and are shown nothing of his fate after the closing scenes of the film (which, within the time scale of the narrative, are located before Vincent being shot by Butch), we cannot reasonably claim that Jules was indeed saved or spared. In big-budget films, such decisions are not often made by chance, and I assume Tarantino intended to prevent a moralistic ending.
An obvious, final morale to Pulp Fiction might have disturbed the aesthetic and ideological coherence of the film; just as a hard-boiled criminal might reply – to the question of what happened to Jules – “I don’t know” or simply “I don’t care”. The film’s story, then, does seem to suggest a strong moronic element, but some of the information vital to this moralic finishing-off of the tale has been left out from the plot, and therefore the film itself.
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