01 May 2009

16. Pulp Fiction

Upon watching "Pulp Fiction" again, the one thing I was struck with -- beyond the dialogue, beyond the non-linear narrative, beyond the intersection of violence and comedy -- was the simplicity and clarity of the storytelling. This movie gives us a few stories, sets them up economically and well, and follows them to conclusions that seem both surprising and inevitable. Set-up and pay-off. Rhythm and release. This keeps us wondering what will happen next and makes the 2:30+ runtime seem to breeze by.


Some foreign hoods in a coffee shop discuss their crimes, and decide, somewhat spontaneously, to knock the place over. A previously mousy woman stands up and gets ultraviolent. A good start. Then?

Two hitmen. Where did they come from? What is there connection to the previous scene? Quickly we start to forget about the foreign folks, because these guys are funny, and we're curious about what they're up to. One has just gotten back from Europe. They get guns out of a trunk. Who are they going to see? They talk about anything but that. They are casual. They fuck with each other. They banter. One thing they talk about is their boss' wife, how someone gave her a foot massage and was thrown out of a window. This is a set-up, and it is exposition in dialogue, but it works because it is funny and violent and it happens so early that we forgive it.

The hitmen come into an apartment and, after more humorous dialogue and a good bit of tension-building, they kill everyone. And then they get shot at. And they kill that guy too. And now the whole movie is in our hands.

Next: after a set-up of a on-the-take boxer and our hitman trading words, our hitman takes the lady on a date after buying heroin. Again, set-up and payoff: we see that she is indeed beautiful. We want to give her a footrub ourselves. And we see that she's got a bit of a thing for coke. And, based on our previous knowledge of what can be done if you fuck with her, there's a built-in tension: be nice, do what she wants, keep it safe. And he does: he buys her food, gives her a cigarette, laughs at her jokes, accepts her invitation to dance. Then: she finds his heroin, snorts it, overdoses. If giving her a footrub results in being thrown out a window, what would allowing her to OD do? Thus, the needle in the heart.

Now: a Christopher Walken monologue. Again, it is good and funny. It's a dream from our boxer, who was supposed to take a dive. He doesn't. He kills his opponent instead. He and his girl are in a motel, ready to flee to Tennessee. They packed up everything, didn't forget anything. Except: the watch. The watch traveled so far, means so much -- he can't leave it. Set-up. So he goes back to his apartment. No body is there. How is that possible? The tension is diffused. Then: he sees the gun. A man is in the bathroom. He shoots him. It is the previously rude hitman.

He's free. He drives away singing. It can't be that easy, though -- he sees The Boss. They fight. They get knocked out in a store. They are put in the basement, stuck to endure the wrath of Zed (by the way, can anyone explain this sequence and what it means? Particularly in relation to The Gimp? It works within the story, I guess, but it mostly seems weird for the sake of weird...). It doesn't work that way. He saves The Boss. The Boss spares him in return. They're square. And he gets a motorcycle -- sorry, a chopper -- out of the whole deal. Pay-off. Like Soderbergh says: rhythm and release, always.

Finally: We're back to the hitmen again. We come full-circle to the beginning scenes. They kill the bathroom dude, then take Marvin. The other hitman believes they've witnessed a holy act. He believes he's got to change (this is why he is the hitman who isn't killed). They accidentally kill Marvin. Set-up. They have to get the car off the road. They take it to Jimmy's. There's a time frame due to Jimmy's wife getting home. Stakes. The Wolf is called. He comes. They clean. They get out of the scrap, but just. Release: they go for breakfast. The original robbers. Rhythm. They handle it, and our redeemed hitman lets them go because he is a changed man. He will live, and he will allow them the same gift. Pay-off. Release.



Blogger stridewideman said...

I saw this for my birthday when it came out, and it changed the way I watched movies. I was far more aware of dialogue and the flow of time in film after seeing it.

One of the main themes is that violence without purpose begets violence, whereas violence with purpose can yield peace. Pretty heavy for a movie with long diatribes about burgers.

12:20 PM  
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8:48 PM  

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