In 1994 Americans were focused on the passing of Kurt Cobain, Jackie Onassis, Richard Nixon, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman and those lost in the Northridge earthquake. Fortunately, later that year Quentin Tarantino served up a delicious distraction from these events…the watershed film Pulp Fiction.
Pulp Fiction is one of the finest examples of postmodernist film. According to Quentin his inspiration for this masterpiece was to draw upon a mix of French new wave, spaghetti westerns and blaxploitation movies from the ’70s all mixed up together.
The Pulp Fiction series of vignettes — populated by well-drawn underworld characters — is masterfully held together by fear of a mob boss named Marsellus Wallace (played by Ving Rhames). That fear drives most of the actions of these disparate characters.
Vincent Vega (John Travolta) takes Marsellus’s wife Mia (Uma Thurman) out for one night while Marsellus is out of town. Vincent is very cautious when he escorts Mia; he knows what happened to the last guy who was alone with her. Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) is a dishonest boxer who is paid to throw his next fight. Butch double crosses Marsellus and has to go on the run to escape retribution. Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) and Pumpkin (Tim Roth) decide to rob the very diner in which they are enjoying a romantic meal and cross paths with Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent at the end of the movie. Jules is carrying a mysterious suitcase that belongs to Marsellus and refuses to give it up to the plunderous Pumpkin. Quentin ties each of these vignettes together seamlessly.
Tarantino conceived this offbeat pastiche about the lives of a handful of criminals unfolding in a time-bending, Rashomon style of storytelling. The movie’s timeframe is never overtly referenced and cannot be pinned down to any one particular year. One notices it is filled with anachronisms. Vincent and Jules wear retro suits with skinny ties. Vincent Vega and Mia discuss 50’s pop icons as if they were current events. The intracardiac epinephrine injected in Mia was in common use in the 1960′s and 70′s, but the practice was discontinued. Vincent Vega speaks about “the Fonz” from Happy Days, which aired from 1974 – 1984, as if it were current and relevant to the situation. Vincent calls Lance (Eric Stolz) on a smaller 90’s cell phone from his car. Cell phones were not commonly used until the early 1980’s and the phones at that time were large and cumbersome, rather like the cell phone later used by Jules. Winston ‘The Wolf’ Wolfe (Harvey Keitel) drives an Acura NSX which was not manufactured until the early 90’s and yet Jules sports a Jheri Curl hairstyle from the 70’s and 80’s and talks about “Flock of Seagulls.” And Lance eats Fruit Brute cereal in the overdose scene, which was produced from 1975 to 1983. These anachronisms are common to the postmodern style and they paint the movie with a timeless, surrealistic and freeform brush.
And, perhaps not by design, Pulp has a few small continuity quirks, the most infamous being the bullet holes that appear in Brett’s apartment wall before the gun has even been fired. Fans of Pulp Fiction revel in such details: they add to the movie’s charm and are fun to spot.
The film’s runtime of 154 minutes flies by as it explodes onto the screen in a raucous kaleidoscope, keeps you on the edge of your seat and makes you root for its marvelously flawed anti-heroes who populate its landscape.