The epitome of cool, the film in Tarantino’s arsenal that solidified his cult status, borrowing heavily from the aesthetic of Jean-Luc Godard, Band of Outsiders being the key influence, and shaping forth his most well-rounded feature. Pulp Fiction is the film that introduced many to the name Quentin Tarantino, myself included, and over the years it has been torn apart in service for homage, praise, and analysis; a personal realisation of the fact that a director’s voice and vision can be felt in the scenes that unfold on screen, rather than just merely a narrative that overshadows its entirety.
Residing permanently in the forefront of my mind, much of the elements that swim around each frame of Pulp Fiction have taken a life outside of the screen, taking it with me wherever I go, at times emerging into conversation through anecdotes, memes, and homage, leaving me to wonder for so long on how such a film could have imparted such an impact in my life. At this point, with more than a handful of viewings under my belt, I realised the aspects that led to such an influence. It was in the characters that Tarantino presents in front of us that led to such an admiration, as it is through them, the performances from its cast, the dialogue being delivered, the visual energy, and the charm of a scene’s atmosphere, is drawn from the characters that Tarantino has transferred from paper to screen.
We are drawn to the film’s characters due to the life that his cast brings to them, and by this I mean, the naturalistic interactions that they share, the anecdotes that fill their conversation, the curiosity that they have for one another, the desire they have to defend or challenge their values, and conveying some layer of emotion at a particular circumstance. All of these strengths could not have been achieved had it not been for pitch-perfect casting that brings that extra flavour that pushes them from being great characters with great performances to perfect characters with memorable performances. Each cast member is given a moment to shine, to demonstrate their own sense of quirk that elevates them from archetypes that their roles could easily trap them in. All of this are present to work in favour to the film’s core theme.
Each primary character in this film seems to convey this idea of role identification, whether directly challenged or passively lingering, as some characters are going through transitional periods that would have their previous roles challenged and reconstructed, while some are conveyed in a manner that contradicts the ideal expectation of the archetypes that they don, either actively stimulated or through natural progression of its own — gangsters conveying a down to earth nature and fabricated professionalism that allow them to be seen as both human and efficient in their assigned roles, or the boxer who wants to escape his destined fate of a loser, and a mob boss placed in a position of discomforting vulnerability, or a boss’ wife’s persona finally confronted and witnessing the humble nature that exists beneath.
This is a film that possesses a great deal that compels an audience to sink into its characters, and most of the time, we don’t even notice ourselves doing so, as through its presentation, cannot help but just take comfort in the cool wave that it rides. Aside from maybe Death Proof, this is his most freewheeling feature, unshackled by the need to progress forward with a particular plot or hook, and instead desiring its audience to stand there in between its characters and merely enjoy the present moment. Also given the fact that this is a film that decides to butcher itself out of its chronological order, reinforces the audience within that stasis position, to not anticipate the events that would come ahead, as those events would prove little significance to the things that presently fill the screen.
Such a film could have only been achieved as a sophomore entry, as it was evident in Tarantino’s craftsmanship in Reservoir Dogs that a hint of hesitancy exists in his intentions, but here we see his vision at its most realised, an auteur’s voice at a perfect note, without indulgence, without unreached potential. Pulp Fiction is a touchstone for modern cinema that has paved the way for a new cinematic language that reinvigorates the appetite of viewers for the medium; a perfect film that arrived at the perfect time, the rest is merely history.