Pulp Fiction is a film of many worlds: from the bathrobe-and-pajama-attired living rooms of low-level drug dealers to the intercom-equipped love nest of Marsellus and Mia Wallace. The movie is an insider’s tour of L.A.’s underbelly, but there’s a stop along the way that lightens the mood considerably: Vince and Mia’s dinner date at Jack Rabbit Slim’s.
Jack Rabbit Slim’s makes good on its marquee promise of being “The Next Best Thing to a Time Machine” the minute Vince and Mia stroll through the door to be greeted by a spot-on Jack Benny impersonator at the reservations desk. Who better to serve as master of ceremonies for such “a really big show”? As they make their way to their reserved Chrysler, Vince wanders the perimeter in a drug-induced haze, allowing us to take in the restaurant as if by theme park tram: the racing Matchbox cars, Marilyn in her Seven Year Itch halter dress, the Sputnik lamps, the ‘50s era movie posters…So enthralling is the spectacle that Vince drifts past their booth, only to be called back by Mia.
But as the scene unfolds, we get the sense that for Mia, it’s all about the milkshake — specifically, the $5 milkshake. Ordered “Martin and Lewis” style from a blink-and-you-miss-him Steve Buscemi (as Buddy Holly), the price tag can’t help but make Vince sit up and take notice. When it arrives, he’s compelled to have a taste. And even if he’s not quite ready to admit that its price tag is justified, he’s impressed. Mia knows her milkshakes.
It’s a trick Tarantino plays on us throughout Pulp Fiction: AM hits from the 70s spool out of beater cars from the 80s, and hipster slang from the 60s is bandied about while Mia plies the straw of a milkshake priced straight out of the not-too-distant future. By interweaving so many period-specific details, Tarantino ironically gives the film a timeless feel – which is maybe why watching it today feels as fresh is it did in 1994.