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The International Writers Magazine: Pulp Fiction retrospective

Stranger Than Fiction:
Fifteen Years in the Wake of a Post-Modern Magnum Opus
Mike Hardie

Not just one of the various films that everyone is expected to have seen, existing on a cinematic and cultural plain above the comparatively passé breeds of Hollywood offspring, Pulp Fiction is one of an elite echelon of films viewed en masse until each line is memorized and re-enacted religiously.

The infamous celluloid narrative of an inauspicious day in the lives of Jules Winnfield, Vince Vega and Butch Coolidge (along with the instigators of a hastily-planned heist, known by the adorable monikers of ‘Pumpkin’ and ‘Honey Bunny’) is a genre-defining, critically-acclaimed treasure.

It is essentially Tarantino’s richly crafted characters and unabashedly witty scriptwriting that provides Pulp Fiction with such presence. An unflinching concern with the most mundane of daily rituals, such as grocery shopping or using the toilet, are contrasted with the usual fare of major-production blockbusters; Mexican standoffs, crossroads car crashes and callous mobsters. All these individual elements are woven together within a tapestry of deftly slick dialogue and identifiable, evocative characters. The majority of Tarantino’s audience has never had to deal with the moral dilemma of being paid to throw a boxing match, or the disgust of being rushed to dispose of any incriminating remnants of brain from a soft-top sports car, but they will have suffered the panic of misplacing an item of high sentimental value, a gold watch for example. Within the realms of the Pulp Fiction universe, Tarantino was able to create a testosterone-fuelled daydream of the daily routine, whilst imbuing each character with enough humanity to restrain the extraordinary plot to a believable facet of existence.

Many of the most fondly remembered components of the film seeped into mainstream culture and still maintain a stronghold within cult diction. Iconic metaphoric structures, such as the fantastical Jack Rabbit Slims nostalgia bar, represent both powerful post-modern comments on the psyche of the capitalist culture it is immersed in and a physical rendering of cultural icons that, ironically, the film itself eventually materialised into. It is indeed one of Pulp Fiction’s most monumental successes that it is capable of conveying vastly differing settings, for example Zed’s basement and Jimmie’s house, and giving each one a distinctly individual atmosphere that engrosses an audience, promoting the flow of the plot and preventing the contrasting themes from detracting from each other. A film that successfully explores the demonic world of a rapist whilst providing "light" relief in the form of the black humour used by hardened hit men survives on its ability to treat each aspect with equal care whilst forwarding an underlying narrative.

The contagious vehicle that entertainingly carries the artisan elements of Pulp Fiction has to be the engaging language Tarantino gifts his characters. From Jules’ unholy recital of Ezekiel to the slick, unflinching verve of ‘The Wolf’, personae are convincingly portrayed through a series achingly vibrant discourse. Venerating both the scriptwriting talents of Tarantino and co-writer Roger Avary alongside majestic deliveries by Jackson, Travolta, Willis and company, Pulp Fiction has spawned a string of popular quotes as long as Vince’s toilet breaks.

A jewel in a resplendent directorial crown, Pulp Fiction has ceased to shock, excite and captivate since its premiere at 1994’s Cannes Film Festival and sustains its fresh appeal and cutting-edge wit despite numerous re-viewings and years of aging.

© Mike Hardie December 2008

Mike is studying creative writing at the University of Portsmouth

The Changing of the Guard
Mike Hardie
I will be guided by President Jefferson's sense of purpose, to stand for principle, to be reasonable in manner, and above all, to do great good for the cause of freedom and harmony...'

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