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Quentin Tarantino’s Film “Pulp Fiction”

In this essay, I intend to read Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction. First, I study Tarantino’s intensive intertextual references and show that other films heavily influence Tarantino. Then I look at Tarantino’s “standard of reference ” to examine if he is what the French would call an auteur and show the problems of that theory. Furthermore, I explore his use of violence. Using techniques from Hitchcock, he sometimes makes the audience believe that they have seen something that is not in fact shown. In addition, I look at his fascination with narrative structure and how he deliberately confuses the audience.

Finally, I show that Tarantino’s postmodern film uses art house devices and is trivial and sophisticated. Story: The framing story has Honey Bunny (played by Amanda Plummer) and her boyfriend Pumpkin (Tim Roth) deciding to rob a diner in Los Angeles. The second has the two hitmen Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel Jackson), who, before killing two men, argue about the dangers of Vincent having to take their jealous boss (Ving Rhames) girlfriend (Uma Thurman) out for the night. Unfortunately, she overdoses when he does so, and he has to save her life through an adrenaline injection into her heart. The other main story has boxer Butch (Bruce Willis), who betrays the boss by resisting a fight for him.

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The third story returns to Vincent and Jules as they have to clean up their car from a victim’s brain that has been accidentally blasted over the inside of their car. Like Grifters, Pulp Fiction opens with a non-diegetic dictionary definition of its title. Right from the first images, it clarifies that the audience can expect a crime story genre type of film in the tradition of classic pulp stories. Hard-boiled American novels of the 30s and 40s of writers such as Dashiell Hammett and later Jim Thompson were printed on rough, unfinished paper and gave the ideas for the later film noirs. That familiar scenario “that offers the audience the pleasure of recognizing the familiar” is the city, Pulp Fiction plays in Los Angeles, as does Reservoir Dogs.

Working in a video store, Tarantino got a lot of knowledge about films. As a result, pulp Fiction is strewn with intertextual references to others people’s work. Gerard Genette defines intertextuality as “the effective co-presence of two texts in the form of quotation, plagiarism and allusion.” Tarantino’s characters seem to be trash novels: hitmen, dealers, S&M rapists, and a boxer. A character like a boxer Butch who refused to lose his fight can also be seen in Robert Wise’s film noir The Set-Up of 1949, except that Pulp Fiction starts where The Set-Up finishes. It does not show the fight. It only shows Butch’s escape. We only know from the radio in the taxi with which Butch flees that he won it and that his opponent died.

Jule’s character reminds me of Robert Mitchum’s murderer in The Night of the Hunter (see Appendix). Tarantino’s dance scene with Mia and Vincent (6d of Plot Segmentation) is an intertextual reference to Godard’s dance scene in Bande A Part of 1964 as in both films; people are having fun while dancing. They do not dance well but with great enthusiasm. The text of the song to which the Pulp Fiction characters dance even talks about a French man and a French woman. “My favourite musical sequences have always been in Godard because they just come out of nowhere.”

Referring to “all that which puts one text in relation, whether manifest or secret, with other texts,” Gerard Genette proposed the term Transsexuality. I would argue that the fragmentation of the narrative can be seen as an allude to the strong intertextual influence of Godard. Furthermore, already in certain Howard Hawk films, bloodshed becomes a gruesome farce. This is another Allusion used by Tarantino. When Vincent accidentally shoots the guy, he is only concerned about the mess in the car and not about what he did to his victim. Honey Bunny and her boyfriend Pumpkin look as if they were straight out of True Romance, while the two hitmen Vincent and Jules could have played in Reservoir Dogs, which are examples of an Auto-Citation.

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Turning one’s attention to the director of Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino, let us examine whether he is what the French would call an auteur. There is a big hype about him, although the 31 years old American only directed one previous film, Reservoir Dogs. (see Appendix) “Many young punters virtually worship the man on the strength of his debut [Reservoir Dogs] alone” Tarantino has become “Hollywood’s great stylist” (see Image 1 & 2). In addition to directing Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino also co-produced Killing Zoe and has supplied the script for Tony Scott’s True Romance and the story for Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers

He is often compared with Orson Welles, who was just 26 years old when he co-wrote, acted in and directed Citizen Kane (see Appendix). Will Pulp Fiction soon be seen as “an apparently classical case of cinema authorship.” as Pauline Kael has described citizen Kane? In the central proposition of the auteur theory, as it can be read in the Baseline’s Encyclopaedia of Film, the director (the “auteur,” or author) is the dominant creative force in making a film. The corresponding critical methodology, auteur criticism, assumes the “continuity of one or more discernible personal features in the director’s oeuvre” that comprise, in Andr� Bazin’s terms, “a standard of reference.”

On the other hand, the auteur theory has got its problems as, for example, there is much more than one person working on and influencing a film than just the director. In addition, the filmmaker is influenced by many other films, especially Tarantino, as the intertextual references and the Transtextuality have proved. Finally, Pulp Fiction features stars that contribute a great deal to its success. Harvey Keitel and Christopher Walken’s cameos are wonderfully played. “Walken’s explanation of the history is a minor classic, while Keitel’s summing up of the two inexperienced crooks he faces…is the product of actor and script in delicious symmetry.” Tarantino’s “standard of reference,” his “personal features” throughout his films, are firstly his use of violence.

I felt that the mood of aggression is often so intense that the viewer will imagine he has seen something that is not, in fact, shown. Hitchcock, for example, used this effect in the famous shower murder sequence of Psycho (see Appendix). We actually do not see how the knife enters the flesh. Although the clever use of editing makes us think we do. In Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, an ear lopping scene is staged in real-time, and most spectators think they have seen the cutting. However, the camera turns away from the cut at the crucial moment while the diegetic sound plays the 70s pop classic “Stuck in the Middle with You” on the radio.

In Pulp Fiction, we see how Vincent and the Dealer bring Mia back to life after she had an overdose. In a medium shot, the dealer explains to Vincent what to do. (Image Nr. 4) While the dealer is counting to three, the camera zooms into even bigger close-ups of Vincent’s and then Mia’s face, the needle where the Adrenaline is dribbling off and the Dealer’s and his pierced girlfriend’s face. The close-ups show how nervous the dealer is, how much the pierced dealer’s girlfriend enjoys this spectacle (Image Nr. 6) and how afraid Vincent is. The spectator can identify with all these emotions.

According to feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey one of the most important pleasures of the classical narrative is identification where the spectator “narcissistically identifies with an idealized figure on screen, typically a male hero whose actions determine the narrative, in a process that recapitulates the discovery of the image of oneself in the mirror phase ” I personally identified most with Vincent, or as Mulvey put it with the idealized figure, as I wanted him, or as Metz would put it, me, to save Mia. French film theorist Christian Metz argues in addition but differing in certain important respects to Mulvey that “the spectator identifies with himself, with himself as a pure act of perception.”

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Then, to even increase the tension of this extraordinary scene, the camera zooms into the place where the needle has to push in a while. There is no noise at all. As Vincent pushes the needle down (Image Nr. 3), the camera shows Mia’s opening eyes in a close-up (Image Nr. 5) while the diegetic sound of the needle stabbed in her heart makes us believe that we have seen the crucial moment. The graphic violence of how the needle is pushed into her heart is again elliptical. “The effect is of a hard, closed, rather linear world.” We then see Mia screaming; I could easily identify with her as I had to get rid of the immense tension that Tarantino had built up until here. I felt that this scene had been build in for the spectator’s relief “as they identified with themselves.”(Metz)

Nevertheless, Quentin Tarantino’s films show a lot of violence. In Pulp Fiction, there is, for example, a homosexual rape (see 8f in Plot Segmentation), two hitmen killing their victims (see 2c in Plot Segmentation), and a man having his head accidentally shot off in a car. Image Nr. 7 shows Vincent just before the gun accidentally goes off, again without actually showing the exploding head (see 9b in Plot Segmentation). As a result, the two hitmen are covered in blood. Their once smart and, therefore cool looking suit is covered with blood and parts of the brain. At the end of this sequence, they have to strip off, and they are dressed in the absolute antithesis: volleyball wear. These cool characters think they have got everything under control, and then something unexpected changes everything.

It sounds as if Pulp Fiction, as did Reservoir Dogs, talks about the Chaos Theory. The Chaos, the chance dictates the life of each individual. In addition, his violence confused my emotions as I often found his representation of violence comical. Jules asks his victims before killing them what a Big Mac is called in Paris and why the French do not call a Quarter-Pounder a Quarter-Pounder. He then tries their victim’s fast food because he has never tried that branch before as he prefers Mac Donald’s. Tarantino seems to be fascinated by life’s grotesque haphazardness. In one scene, Bruce William’s character Butch returns to his house. He then finds a machine gun in his kitchen, whereby the discovery of the gun is being presented as a point-of-view shot,” a subjective moment inserted in an overall framework of objectivity,” picks it up and shoots the hitman (Image Nr. 8) after having his last pee. (Image Nr. 9)

This scene is terrifying and hilarious at the same time. “The audience laughs, and the violence is seen for what it is – cartoonishly funny, a game like speech itself.” Quentin Tarantino often achieves humour through a well-written, witty dialogue. “Sharp, profane, vividly memorable and packed with hip allusions to everything and anything in pop culture” David Thomson pointed out that “Quentin Tarantino’s critic’s label his trademark – the counterpoint of cruelty and humour – “designer brutalism.” As Tarantino once observed about violence in his films: “…In real life, it is one of the worst aspects of America, but in the movies it’s fun.” You can find a representation of violence throughout the history of film. Perhaps the very first violent film was Edwin S. Porter’s “The Electroduction of an Elephant” from 1903. Since “Africa Addio” (1966) of Jacopetti/ Prosperi there have been “snuff films”: such as Face of Death -films.

Another of Tarantino’s “personal features” throughout his films is that he seems to be fascinated by narrative structure. Reservoir Dogs never showed the robbery, although it is a heist movie. What was supposed to happen is disclosed via flashbacks? It even includes flashbacks, including flashbacks. This fragmentation of the narrative continues in Pulp Fiction. Its four narratives overlap, the characters wandering between them. This unchronological narrative deliberately confuses the audience. Understanding the plot is often like resolving a puzzle. At one point, towards the end of the film, we see a flashback of Vincent (9a of Plot Segmentation) that continues the story of the beginning (see 2c of Plot Segmentation) after he had already been shot by Butch (see 8d of Plot Segmentation).

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Creating the story in our minds based on the cues in the plot becomes an intellectual “pleasure of bliss” The non-linear narration is Tarantino’s “variation from the expectation, the thrill of the new.” Pulp Fiction uses classical narrative elements such as parallelism. For example, after boxer Butch wins his fight and therefore betrays the boss (Plot Segmentation 8a), he flees by a taxi while the boss orders to kill him (Plot Segmentation 8b). In the next shot, we see Butch again in the taxi (8c). In addition, we see the hidden person in the bathroom (9a) while Jules is saying his words from the Old Testament. In addition, there is the eyeliner shot/match. The conversation between Mia and Vincent in the restaurant is an eyeliner shot/match. Bordwell and Thompson point out that “the eyeliner match is a simple idea, but a powerful one since the directional quality of the eyeliner creates a strong spatial continuity.”

In a Sight and Sound interview, Tarantino pointed out that: “I love the idea of going into a genre and taking all the familiars we like and giving them back to you in new ways.” Tarantino clearly uses art-house devices: He “violates the classical form” (see above), and Tarantino also certainly possesses “authorial expressivity.” His characters lack defined desires and goals. But can a film in which people get their headshot off to be an art-house film? Like David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (see Appendix), Pulp Fiction plays with different cultural levels. He mixes the high with the low levels. His postmodern film is as trivial and sophisticated as the conversations between the two hitmen Jules and Vincent.

Conclusion: In conclusion, it can be said that Quentin Tarantino’s crime story makes intensive use of intertextual references and shows that other films heavily influence Tarantino. Looking at Tarantino as an auteur, I show the problems with that theory as there are many other people, such as stars and other ideas involved in a film. Exploring his use of violence, I show that it is often “cartoonishly funny” and that Tarantino’s counterpoint of cruelty and humour is often seen as a “designer brutalism” Using techniques from Hitchcock, he sometimes makes the audience believe that they have seen something that is not in fact shown.

Then I look at his fascination with narrative structure and that he deliberately confuses the audience with the fragmentation of the narrative. Its four narratives overlap, the characters wandering between them. Creating the story in our minds based on the cues in the plot becomes an intellectual “pleasure of bliss” Using art house devices and mixing them with trivial elements, Tarantino’s postmodern Pulp Fiction mixes low and high levels.

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Quentin Tarantino's Film "Pulp Fiction". (2021, Sep 12). Retrieved May 20, 2022, from