Pulp Fiction: Analysis, Theory and Symbolism
Tarantino's moviemaking is always about the history of moviemaking—he wants you to watch out for that kind of stuff; it's part of the fun to him. He also likes taking one of the things in standard movies—(ones that strive for realism, so you can get lost in the characters, plot, and theme) that often fails—and "lean in" to that failure, making it more idealistic. He's trying to show the viewer how to watch the movie. Don't forget, it's a movie about "people" (the name of the movie afterall is; Pulp Fiction!)
When Pulp Fiction hit the big screen over 20 years ago, it was a revelation!. A film that just as soon amassed a riveted cult following and exemplified ’90s cinema, spawned hundreds of imitators, and has remained a favorite for the past two decades.
Run on an $8million budget by a relatively unknown director who wrote most of the script from a hotel room in Amsterdam, there were so many questions and mixed reviews at the time. Two of the most popular ones were about the whip-smart dialogue and its overt hit-you-in-the-spine graphic content. It took this freak cocktail of sweet nothings that Pulp Fiction is to cast raise such a dust.
But alas!, If you are going to see this QT feature, you got to be at least, just as nuts as the director to mess with its deeper meaning.
So press forward 20some years on, we are adding a little more to the shitload of already existing theories proposed by the swath of us cinephiles.
//Note that some of the theories are not exactly plot drivers, but more of the director's symbolic representations of broad culture//
(SPOILER ALERT: Don't read any further if you haven't already seen the movie. You can get it HERE)
The movie opens in the diner with fuck-ups, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, going on and on about how certain stick-ups have become too old and risky, over new viable routes they could possibly be exploring. They go yada-yada for about three minutes, not until a SERMON on the odds against them trying to stick up one of the "generational Jew/Pacific Asian liquor store owners" - with little or no command in English, before they eventually decide they do the diner.
The bants are cryptic:
"It ain't the "giggle" it used to be. Too many foreigners own liquor stores these days. Vietnamese, Koreans, they don't even speak fucking English. You tell them, empty out the register, they don't know what the fuck you're talking about. They make it too personal, one of these gook fuckers is gonna make us kill him."This is one of Tarantino's unrepentant signature of dwelling heavily on subtle racial epithets in a sub-context of symbolic story-telling. You wouldn't normally think much of it, but then, his penchant for long dialogues got to be there for something, right?
Rewind just a first few seconds into this scene, there is an instance where a doll-faced waitress approaches the duo and asks if they needed anything. In an ironic twist, Honey Bunny nudges back affirmatively in an alluring courtesy that awakens the contrivance of real life. This shot conveys a deep sarcasm as well as a two-faced demeanor to how people lead composite lives to full extent in goodwill and in wrath. That is what Tarantino most likely wanted you to take from this singular shot.
Ok now, you want to start this flick again, just at the very beginning where the scene opens, and see the look on Honey Bunny as she pokes at Pumpkin about his inability to say something and really mean it. He wants to quit the trade, but he has said so, so many times in the past. He is weak, she knows this and cons him, in a couple of back and forths.
My God, she does it so well, with a mischief that is equally very hypnotic .The theory here is vaguely revealed in Honey Bunny's unseeming dominance over Pumpkin in their punch-drunk-love for each other, driven by a blood-pumping passion for crime. Maybe in Tarantino's open universe, they could be a play-over on Mickey and Mallory from Natural Born Killers, if they weren't a duet of such cheap fuck-ups.Honny Bunny: You know when you go on like this what you sound like?
Pumpkin: I sound like a sensible fucking man.
Honey Bunny: You sound like a duck. Quack, quack, quack...
Pumpkin: Take heart, 'cause you're never gonna have to hear it again...since I'm never gonna do it again, you'll never have to hear me quack about, how I'm never going to do it again.
Honey Bunny: ........After tonight
PRELUDE TO DRUG-DEALING SCENE
Remember that little prelude to the drug-dealing scene. It's too short to be significant, but is, because it lays a foundation. Drug-dealer wife Jody explains to her stoner friend, Trudi; the rudiments of piercing. As she tells it, "its as if it turns every part of your body into a tip of a penis." She's got 18 piercings on her body, "all of them done with a 'needle'", goes on to detail the various locations of each piercing while Trudi looks on dazed.
"Five in each ear, one to the nipple of my left breast, two on my right nostril, one in my left eye brow, one in my belly, one in my lip, one in my clit, and I wear a stud in my tongue"But I think the draw here is, her stressing on the fact that they were all done with a needle. Why the stress on the "needle?." Well, you wouldn't need help much surmising this bitch is S&M. It immediately sweeps you into the absurdly unpopular world of punk culture. The background is white-trash, with a raunchy undertone supported wholly by The Tornadoes' Bustin' Surfboards track blaring in the background, fit only for band of misfits. Much of the movie even, is notorious for its complete immersion in music genres. It's bestselling soundtrack, featuring meticulously hand-picked songs, underscores how literate Tarantino is with the history of music. In fact, according to one Reddit user, the entire movie may be based off of the evolution of rock and roll.
Also in this scene, Vincent is all too curious as to why she would wear a stud in her tongue. Well at this point, if haven't already guessed it, as would a movie buff—the answers come far ahead—"sex thing, helps fellatio!," she says. The scene is cut abruptly with Lance inviting Vincent into his "office", a euphemism for bedroom.
You also see later on the movie, as Mia comes through after the adrenaline shot, gasping for breath, a very curious Jody, looks on with a glee, drops a button one-liner— "that was fucking trippy,"—lending credence to the theory of her sadistic leanings and fascination with needles.
THE ACTUAL DRUG-DEALING SCENE
There were a couple of hardcore derivatives to take from in this scene, which makes for one of the really great scenes in the movie. For one, Amsterdam's superiority is established, the drug market as at the actual time in '94, a racial slur, a pepsi challenge, a dissed wife and a keyed car.
There are options of three bad boys, two going for $300, and a third, Choco "from the Hartz Mountain of Germany" which is fucking mad man, which goes for $500. But Vincent is assured that when he shot it, he would know where that extra money went. Vincent is wary of this kind of confidence in a bygone product, heroine that is, and affirms that he just got back from Amsterdam where it would be presumed got the premium stuff. This is where the first major racial slur comes on. Lance is pissed and asks if he is a "nigga" that he be doubted. Goes on to add salt to injury by asserting that, "white people who know the difference between good shit and bad shit, this is the house they come to", you wouldn't believe the nerve!. Those chilling words as they come out from Lance's mouth weigh in contrast, the difference between a dark alley junkie and suburban clientele; a cheap drug and a purer middle-man product. A 90s dynamic drug-shift from the cocaine 80s is also affirmed—"Coke is dead, heroine on the other hand, is coming back in a big fucking way", Lance says.
QT also pays respect to one of best, reformative decade in America's ad industry, the 70/80s, when Lance offers to take a pepsi challenge with his shit over that Amsterdam shit any day of the fucking week, Vincent goes "That's a bold statement!". You come to wonder if the Amsterdam shit really is that premium.
Jody also gets an indirect diss from Vincent who mistakes her for Trudi, when he is asked by Lance if he wanted to "hang out and get high since she(Trudi) ain't got a boyfriend", to which Vincent responds with some slight disgust, asking if Trudi was the "one with all the shit on the face?," referring to Jodie. Lance simulates a stern response—"that's Jodie, that's my wife!"—then the fade that comes on with them busting into a chuckle is too grappling to look over. Lance doesn't seem much at all perturbed by this. We can say for short, little matter that it is about his wife, Lance embraces with all of the inequity that comes with living in the unpopular world of misfits to worry about a passé diss like that.
Lance and Jody, though married, don't seem to be in much of a real relationship other than it being a working symbiosis. Jody also doesn't know much about Lance's business or isn't let in much on its details. This is seen after she responds to Lance's request to get him a "baggie and twist sticks from the kitchen". Once she hands him the stuff, he slightly shoves her from the threshold of the door, not letting her into his business, not to mention that he incorporates his illicit trade just at that earlier scene, when he invites Vincent into his bedroom, which he calls his "office". You can see here that he keeps a code, a MAFIA code even!. He could be the bohemian shade of a Sicilian for all we know.
The Chevy Malibu which is also known to have been Tarantino's real life automobile that's as mysterious as Tony Rocky Horror's identity, is keyed by a "dickless piece of shit". You should know better, than to fuck with a man's automobile. Lance couldn't agree more, by all means, such a person should be killed "no trial, no jury, just straight execution!".
Though in reality, the keyed car here isn't really much of the issue here, Vincent's fussing on the other hand is. The grand design was meant to play a reverse psychology, a rage transfer tactic by Tarantino to put you in your vindictive thrill should you catch a perp in the act of doing you dirt. You thought of it for a hot second now, didn't you?.
"Boy!, I wish I'd caught him doing it. I would have given anything to catch that asshole doing it. Hey!, It'd been worth him doing it, just so, I could have caught him doing it."
JACK RABBIT SLIMS
Vincent takes Mia out for the night and they end up at a circus 50's themed restaurant. They settle in a low rider for a table, splattered around are 50's pop cultural references. Buddy Holly hops along and takes their order with really poor courtesy. Now pause.....This is where it comes on. Mia orders a milkshake which cost $5, Vincent is a little surprised, "That's a shake, that costs five dollars?...you don't put bourbon in it or nothing?", he ask sarcastically. Buddy Holly looks on with a scoff. You can immediately sense there was beginning to set in a silent rift between Vincent and Buddy. You can sense also from the look on his face, egotistic Vincent would have just loved to break his(Buddy) jaw after he's had the final straw with his lackluster service when he comes back with the drinks(Mind you, the role of Buddy is played by typical Steve Buscemi from Boardwalk Empire, his usual sass mouth, cocky self). Was my suspicions confirmed after Mia comes back from the bathroom where she goes to "powder her nose" and ask rhetorically, "don't you just love it when you come back from the bathroom and find your food waiting for you?", Vincent who's already digging in his stake retorts, "Buddy Holly wasn't much of waiter!, maybe we should have sat in Marilyn Monroe section".
In another theory, Buddy Holly is Mr Pink from Reservoir dogs. In the opening scene from the movie, he explains to the other fellas, his reason for not tipping waitstaff and at one point says, "Look, I used to work minimum wage." If we’re to assume there are no accidents or coincidences in the Tarantino universe, that leaves us with two conclusions: Mr. Pink worked at Jack Rabbit Slim’s prior to becoming a bank robber in Reservoir Dogs, or—thanks to a stint in jail as well as a heap of irony—he's back on this shitty job and at the mercy of non-tippers like himself.
Flirting is also in full display here. Mia is "handling" him, on three subtle occasions. First, she mentions that she goes to Amsterdam too, to chill about once a year, Vincent responds "I didn't know that", she giggles and asks "why would you?". There is the talk about an "awkward silence", and the third is a quick coy to set a very explicit sexual vibe in their conversation when she's asked what she thought about what happened to Antoine, the man her husband threw out of the window for massaging her feet. After a few moments of Q & A, she asks about what other thing(s) he "might have heard" about she and the Antoine deal. Her words, "Did it involve the F-word?!." But somehow, Vincent manages to keep his cool—only squeezing a confused blush, here and there—trying not to be outwitted in the odd directions things were taking, one might assume.
You are kind of forced to think that the mysterious foot message story whose legitimacy till the end of that flick was never confirmed nor dismissed could have been a plot by Marcellus to keep his men in check.
Conversely, Mia overtures could have also been a set up by Marcellus to test the loyalty of his henchmen. This is seen in the bathroom monologue scene, with Vincent debating over his suspicion concerning the whole deal as he was been deeply tempted. Is this movie just something else or what?. Just how many questionable loose-end. Well, they didn't do it eventually and all that sexual tension is cut short by Mia's overdose.
Skipping past Mia being revived, is Vincent and Mia's long awkward drive back home from Lance's; so much for uncomfortable silences, huh?.
When he drops her of, he asks her what her thoughts were on how to handle the situation they had just been in.. Vincent is all for keeping it a secret. How "cute" it was of her to suggest that if Marcellus found out about the OD incident, "she'd be in as much trouble as him". Mia's insolence come on for these few brief moments here. True to Lance's word, she's really a bubblegummer, who couldn't tell a hotshot and manages to OD on it. She puts on a tough, cow girl front to hide her girlish naivety. I mean, her constant babbling reminder of being a wife of gangster was beginning to be a work on the nerve. The popular theory of her being a virgin could very well be plausible in this instance. Not until she tells the Fox Force Five joke in a her usual charming self do we start to like her again.
Butch is a very interesting character in the movie and equally the most slept on. I mean, he probably went over our heads in matters of relevance(I mean, how relevant was he?, was he a main or semi-supporting character?), but unlike most of the main characters, he is about the only one with some background check.
He is from a generation of military men, from his great-grand daddy down to his own father, who all served in the military and saw their respective time in action.
Though, he himself didn't toe this career path, one can argue Butch is a man with a lot of demons. He is unfulfilled in life, not measuring up to expectation of generations before him; and against an earlier agreement with Marcellus to throw his last prized bout, he let out his innermost rage, bets on himself and kills his opponent.
He then gets stuck in a cab with an "angel of death", Esmeralda Villalobos, played by Angela Jones. The background of the cab ride scene is heavily stylized in black and white, and is quite surreal. Tarantino got the idea for the character after seeing her in a 30-minute short film titled Curdled, where Jones played a young Miami woman who loves her job of cleaning up after murders.
The surreal feel is one of those things typical in old movies that always looks way off, whenever people are having a conversation in a "moving" car. This particular scene was also meant to jar you out of the story and remind you that you're watching a film-noir. Tarantino also did a similar mash-up in the car scene from Sin City, which he directed.
Esmeralda Villalobos is oddly fascinated by the idea of death, and aims to satisfy her peculiar desire; as well be Butch's hounding nemesis—a constant reminder, that he(Butch) could never outrun his woes. Not until Butch indulges her, does she get off his back. She drops him off, and he tips her in bribe style, says her names in full, "Bonsoir Esmeralda Villalobos" to assert his knowledge of her identity, in any chance, he had any reason to "look for her." So now, they can both keep a secret!.
Esmeralda's very much a 1940s film-noir-type, sexy, tough, and cynical—the kind of woman we'd guess Butch is into until we meet Fabienne.
He got himself a cute dolly-dumb French chic, Fabienne; which is what most of us will do, in our sheer moments of desolation, to fill the void of whatever is left of our fucked-up lives. With her naiveté and innocence, she's clearly a sharp contrast to his inconspicuously double-crossing, murderous side.
Even when he flies off the bat after she forgets to bring along his father's watch, he quickly cools off, spares her of any wrongdoing, assuring her that everything was OK, as he gets ready to go get the watch, only to fly off again in rage on his way to the apartment, confirming that he wasn't at all cool that she forgets the watch. This reveals that Butch is a hard man who holds grudges and not easily forgiving. You can also see is it in the scene where he savagely punches Marcellus in the pawn shop, remarking Marcellus' earlier statement in the pay-off scene—"you hear that big boy, that's pride, fucking with you!"—But with Fabienne, he's willing to put up a facade 'cause she suits a "purpose".
Remember, back at the early parts in the film, there's a slight friction between him and Vincent in the dive bar and how it ironically ends in him gunning Vincent down back at his apartment. It seems my man Butch is set up in ways to get away with "vengeance" on people who have offended him in the past, either purposefully or through instances of fate.
Vincent Vega is either the clumsiest hit-man ever, a closet psychopath or simply both, put together.
There are a lot of testimonials while watching the movie, how terrible this man is at his job. His clumsiness causes almost every glitch there is, in the entire film.
* Fails to check the back room of the apartment that he and Jules raid for an armed man, who nearly kills him if not for the "miracle."
* Accidentally shoots Marvin in the face.
* Leaves gun on Butch's kitchen counter as he uses the bathroom, in a house he was supposed to be staking, which ultimately leads to his demise (..And boy!, was I so glad?).
* He had just one job, take Mia out to dinner while Marcellus is out of town. Literally just drive her to dinner and take her home safe, basically babysitting. He still manages to almost fuck that up.
On the other hand, what if, there is a darker side to this Vincent character. In Tarantino's universe, we learn that Vincent is Vic Vega's brother(Mr. Blonde) from Reservoir Dogs. A quintessential psychopath to and through, who whilst the diamond heist was been pulled off, massacred the staff at the jewelry store after failing to heed his warning to not pull the alarm, botching the robbery and forcing the team to flee, captures a cops and tortures him in the warehouse in one the most horrific scene in the movie.
But let's detour a little, the two brothers hail from a wealthy family with a strict disciplinarian as a father and a mother who spoiled both brothers as much as she could. And as for the much they share in common; is an egomaniacal view on life, believing the world revolves around them.
There are a lot of red flags. Vincent get easily sensitive on many occasions when he feels reprimanded for even sticky situation he himself causes.
* Yells at Lance for not knowing to give an adrenaline shot.
* Disrespects The Wolf, the only man with the know-how to fix the "Bonnie Situation"
* Has a couple of squabbles with his pal Jules; from never admitting or showing any form of remorse for his mistakes, to messing up the towel in Jimmy's house, a man who's sympathetic enough to accommodate them in his house even with the delicate situation they were in, is even lousy enough to make remarks about him "sticking his help up his ass, if it meant him having to take shit from him(Jimmy)." This is a man who up until that moment, hadn't directly done anything to offend him, but be of great assistance.That tells you a lot about Vincent's character. These red flags are typical of psychopaths, and who's not to say he shot Marvin "subconsciously" to underscore his nerve already being worked-up up until that point, him being always so pridefully sensitive and all. I mean, who is that stupid as to point a loaded gun at someone's face without any intent to shoot?. You wonder.
It's funny how the plot devices that strife for realism; narratives that deliberately touch on matters of redemption and predestination, didn't reach for much as its other deeper sub-contexts; ones continually surmised only by true Pulp Fiction fans who have seen and idolize this movie. Only a powerful flick of the stature and grit of Pulp Fiction can parley that.
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