Every once in a while a movie comes along that has a huge impact in such a way it inspires a whole lot of copycats. After Jaws almost every aquatic carnivore got its own monster movie, after Star Wars movies like Flash Gordon and Star Trek were green lit. Another movie that had such an impact was Pulp Fiction. A surprise hit for director and writer Quentin Tarantino who had critical but not so much financial success two years earlier with his debut Reservoir Dogs. After Pulp Fiction came movies like Killing Zoe, Go and The 51st State.
Pulp Fiction consists of several story lines all surrounding gangster Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). The three stories are out of order so it’s possible a character dies in one story line, but is alive and kicking later on in the movie because the story was set before his or her death. One story line revolves around Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) who retrieve a suite from some low level gangsters, shoot someone in their car and end up in a diner which is being robbed, the second sees Vincent go out with Marcellus Wallace’s wife and the third is about boxer Butch (Bruce Willis) who has to throw a fight for Wallace but doesn’t and goes to great lengths to stay out of his hands afterwards.
Talk with people about Pulp Fiction and they will mention elements of all three stories and not just one quote or something like they would with The Terminator (Everybody always says “I’ll be back”). The needle in the heart, the bible-quote, the medieval-line, Winston Wolf, the watch, the quarter pounder in France, I could go on and on about memorable scenes and quotes from this movie, which not surprisingly became an instant classic after it was released.
But cool lines and some fun moments don’t necessarily make a good movie. What makes Pulp Fiction so brilliant is the structure. Tarantino not only uses chapters, but also puts the movie out of chronological order. The movie starts off with a prologue where we see two robbers in a diner who are going to rob the place, after the credit the movie then cuts to Jules and Vincent who are on their way to some petty gangsters and discuss Marcellus Wallace’s wife whom Vincent is taking out that night. A lengthy discussion ensues about some guy Wallace threw out of the window because is apparently gave his wife a foot massage. In the scene where they meet the gangsters hallway through the story the movie cuts to the date night ending the previous scene on a cliffhanger. The last half hour of the movie picks up where we left off and ends up with the two robbers we saw in the prologue. This structure does two things for the story: it sets up all we need to know about how protective Wallace is about his wife so we know why Vincent is afraid when something goes terribly wrong and it leaves us with a cliffhanger which keeps our attention with the movie. When shows straightforward the movie would drag, something it doesn’t do now.
If there’s a negative remark to be made about Pulp Fiction it’s that it takes liberties with reality, especially the needle scene. But then again, this is pulp and this is fiction and and it’s one hell of a fun movie. It’s smart, it’s cool and it’s one of the best films ever made.