Pulp Fiction Film Analysis.

Pulp Fiction is a movie that almost everyone today has seen.  However, it can be a difficult movie to understand if one is only looking for a straight story.  Pulp fiction seems to have multiple stories being told almost simultaneously.  Some will say it is about two hit men or a boxer, but the truth is there is no story behind the film.  The whole purpose of the film is to parody every type of film movement created.  From documentary as a style to Surrealism, this film leaves no movement out.  The director, Quentin Tarantino, uses the film’s formal properties to express larger themes.

First of all, Quentin Tarantino somewhat adheres to the Classical Hollywood Editing System.  One rule from the Classical Hollywood Editing System that Quentin Tarantino adheres to throughout the movie is the 180 degree rule.  In other words, he does not seem to cross the axis of action.  However, there are times when the director breaks with the Classical Hollywood Editing System and one way he does this is by having a discontinuous editing system.  One example is the end of the movie.  Under the rule of continuity editing, it should have been following the beginning of the film.  The director, however, did not seem to use crosscutting, which could have worked in his film and makes him adhere to the continuity editing system.

As mentioned before, Tarantino is purposely sometimes following and breaking the Classical Hollywood System.  One good reason for this is to include other styles of cinema, which would include Film Noir and Surrealism.  Among all the other styles present in the film, Film Noir and Surrealism seem to be the most obvious.  Throughout the movie, Tarantino parodies these films styles along with many others.  Film Noir is one of the most noticeable styles in the movie.  First of all, one important aspect of film noir is the fact that each character has no clear moral base.  This is very true in Pulp Fiction, especially with Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Jules.  In the beginning, Jules kills a group of people who cheated his boss out of money.  However, just before he kills them, he recites a verse from book of Ezekiel from the Bible.  Also, he seems to stand up for his boss in this scene, but just before, where he is talking to John Travolta about his boss nearly killing someone for giving his wife a foot massage, he seems to be against his boss.  Another important factor in Noir films is a femme-fatale.  There is a kind of femme-fatale in the scene where Vincent has to take his boss’s wife for a night out on the town.  She is constantly smoking and seems to be tempting towards Vincent.  Her hair is styled almost like that of Barbera Stanwyck from Double Indemnity.  Her make-up shows that she hides her true motives, so it is very hard to trust her.  The lighting in most of these scenes were shot in low-key lighting, which is another aspect of Noir style. One example of this is at the restaurant.  For a public place, it is very dimly place.  Also, the scene where the boss’s wife overdoses on Vincent’s drugs, he takes her to his drug dealer’s house, which also dimly lit.  However, since Tarantino is utilizing other film movements, most scenes are very well lit.  Also, Mia is not entirely a femme-fetale due to the fact that she does not really attempt to seduce Vincent and she also tells jokes.  That would give her a more melodramatic quality.  Also, it seems that Jules at the end of the film develops a moral base after he believes God saves him from gunshots.

Another style parodied in the film was Surrealism.  One example of this occurs in the scene where Mia takes Vincent to a Fifties style restaurant.  The director uses mostly medium and long shots, mostly to prevent us from really identifying with Mia or Vincent.  In other words, he does not want the audience to get too close to them there. This scene also has Expressionist qualities to it, mostly the set design. In the restaurant, there are tables shaped like cars and the waitresses were dressed like famous celebrities from the Fifties.  This setting is almost dream like and makes it out to be a Surrealistic setting.

In Surrealism, there is a focus on Freudian psychology about the unconscious.  The unconscious, according to Freud, is where a person’s true desires lay.  If this is true, then perhaps the Fifties restaurant exposed America’s desire for cars (modernism) and sex during a time that was depicted as almost perfect and dream like by film and television shows. Tarantino manages to give this scene a nightmarish quality, especially through the use of low key lighting to show the dark side of the fifties.

Another example is the scene where Vincent brings Mia back to her home.  Her home is very stately and shows she is very wealthy.  In the living room, there are pillars, works of art and many boxed shapes.  This scene is like that of Bunuel’s scene in his film, The Exterminating Angel, where the box shapes represent the rich characters’ being trapped in their own boxes of conventionality.  This could also be representative of Mia’s character being trapped her own bourgeois society.  Her unconscious feelings to escape appear in the form of her drug habits, her conversation with Vincent about comfortable silence, and her make-up.  Finally, before Mia overdoses on Vincent’s drugs, she plays music on what looks like an old Hollywood film projector.  This Expressionistic tape player plays a song she plays is from the sixties or seventies and was used to counter the image of her overdosing.  This was done to show that Hollywood movies cover up the ugliness that lurked in the subconscious of the people of the time period with beautiful music or images.   The director also seemed to use a deep depth of field in order to show the audience the setting in order to show them the mise-en-scene.  One example is in the restaurant where Mia is talking to Vincent about comfortable silence.  While they are talking to each other, there are televisions in the background that are stacked together in order to form one gigantic image on them.  The depth of field is crisp, so the audience can see what is being shown on the televisions and further accentuates the restaurant’s Surrealism.  Also, the image on the television screens was that of what appeared to be a race car crashing, which would foreshadow what will happen that night.  These scenes also push social boundaries through constant cursing in the dialogue, the conversation about comfortable silences, and the portrayal of sex through the waitresses.  However, these scenes do not actually express the unconscious desires of the characters.  One example is when Vincent takes Mia home, they look like they are in love, but end up getting sidetracked when Mia overdoses on Vincent’s drugs, giving that scene melodramatic quality.

Tarantino’s film includes every type of film movement ever created; however, his film has no story.  Maybe this was done to show that by applying some of the rules from each movement, a director can make a movie without having a story.  However, his story does manage to parody every film movement created.  His meaning of the film was probably to only show that story does not entirely constitute a film’s meaning or form.  Other aspects of the film such as mise-en-scene also make the film’s meaning and form.  Tarantino also uses his film to express social themes, especially through the use of mise-en-scene.  For example, in the scene where the young Butch is about to receive his father’s watch, he is watching a show that is very racial towards Asians.  Another example is when Jules and Vincent take Marvin’s body to Jimmie’s house.  Jimmie’s reaction is actually very surrealistic.  In other words, the incident manages to bring out the racial stereotypes that were lurking in Jimmie’s subconscious.  Jimmie says the N word without even thinking about what he has said, especially in front of his African American friend, Jules.  Normally, this would not be tolerated.  Tarantino also makes many references to television shows throughout his film.  This gives his film a Post- Modernist style, however, it can also be used as a social commentary on the impact of television on society.  Also, Tarantino seems to have based his characters on different characters from the earlier styles of cinema.  For example, Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Jules, seems to have been based on the main character Priest of the seventies blaxploitation film, Superfly.  Mia seems to have been based on several femme- fatales, especially Barbara Stanwyck.  The character of Butch would probably come from a melodramatic action film, perhaps a movie like Rocky.  Finally, the director combines both dialogue and mise-en-scene to convey the meaning.  For example, to express his concern with the impact of television on society, he has Jules and Vincent constantly referring to television shows.

In conclusion, Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is a movie about making movies.  He employs many different narrative and visual techniques in order to convey his film’s meaning.  He manages to make the audience realize that film is an art and does not need a story to make its form and meaning.  Pulp Fiction is not just another film.  It is a work of art due to the fact that its greatest qualities are mostly visual and dialogue.  A painting or other form of art does not need a story to express its meaning.  Tarantino’s movie looks like a Hollywood film, but has the qualities of many Anti- Hollywood movements. Tarantino in this way has managed to break the boundaries of Classical Hollywood filmmaking.



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One Response to “Pulp Fiction Film Analysis.”

  1. jfigue4 Says:

    Hello Everyone,

    If you like this post you can check my others as I am also going to start writing more about my favorite TV shows such as MST3K so read them when you can.

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