Friday, April 1, 2011

Film Friday: Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pulp Fiction is brilliant. It’s easily one of the greatest films of all time. As proof, I could offer its massive box office totals, its continuing heavy rotation on television seventeen years after its release, or its ability to revive sagging careers. I could point out that its scenes have become iconic, its dialog has entered our lexicon, and no one has been able to mimic the film. Or I could just tell you what makes this movie so special. In a word: manipulation.

** spoiler alert **

Movies are all about manipulation. Filmmakers are in the business of tricking audiences into believing that actors on fake sets are real people in a real world. And that’s just the beginning. Good filmmakers need to make you care about the characters. Great filmmakers go further and manipulate how you interpret what you see to teach you something you didn’t know about yourself. Pulp Fiction does that, only at a level no one else has achieved.

1. Twisted Clichés: What Clichés?
When Quentin Tarantino wrote Pulp Fiction, his intent was to take well-worn pulp fiction ideas and twist them. Hence, you have the hitman who develops a conscience, the underling who must chaperone the boss’s over-sexed wife, the returning POW who tells a boy about his lost father, and the boxer who takes a dive. These are clichés. But we don’t recognize them as clichés in Pulp Fiction because Tarantino manipulates our expectations to turn these into original-seeming stories. In other words, we all know the hitman must kill his boss or die, we never expect him to simply leave the film. We all know the boxer will put up the fight of his life against incredible odds, we never expect him to kill the other boxer with ease. . . and we never expect him to run into someone like Zed as he’s fleeing from the mobster he betrayed. By spinning these clichés off in directions we’ve never considered before, Tarantino gives us a movie based on clichés but which almost no one in the audience will recognize as containing any clichés. That's impressive.
2. Film Chronology: How Does It End Again?
From there, Tarantino further spins our heads by rearranging the film’s chronology. We’ve discussed before that the human brain is perfectly suited to reassembling a series of events that are presented out of order. Thus, you know exactly what is happening when I say: peanut butter, eat, knife, bread, lunch. Storytellers know this and often indulge in minor manipulation by presenting something out of sequence, like giving a glimpse of the ending before the story begins. But no one has tried what Tarantino does here. He takes the film and divides it into seven sequences and then reassembles those out of order. In and of itself, that’s highly creative and worth recognition. But he goes further.

Tarantino exploits our expectation that the ending of a film always reveals how the story actually ends. Thus, when Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) leave the diner together at the end of the film, the audience assumes they rode off into the sunset. But that wasn’t the end, and people forget that Jules quits and Vincent gets killed in Butch’s (Bruce Willis) bathroom. Yet, this manipulation allows Tarantino to deliver a happy ending, even though the film had no happy ending. Moreover, while people assume that the conversation in the diner relates to everything that happened in the film, very little of what we saw had happened at that point. For example, Vincent had yet to take Marsellus Wallace’s wife to dinner and Marsellus (Ving Rhames) hadn’t met with Butch yet. Thus, many of the things we assume they are reflecting upon have yet to happen, and we are left wondering if Vincent’s opinions would change after those events?
3. Nature of the Film: It’s a Character Study?
But manipulating the film’s plot and chronology only scratches the surface of what is really going on. Would it surprise you if I told you Pulp Fiction is actually a character study?

Most people see Pulp Fiction as a crime story. But it’s really not. What few people realize is how little action takes place within the film. Aside from a few moments of shooting, the entire rest of the film is characters talking about things they believe. Indeed, the characters roam the screen telling us about their morality, their views on religion, love and sex, fairness and equity, their hobbies, etc. What’s more, little of the dialog relates to the plot -- it’s all about the characters themselves. This is almost the definition of “character study.”

Yet, we don’t grasp that this is the true nature of Pulp Fiction because it isn’t filmed like an art house movie. For one thing, the characters don't just sit around in all white rooms spouting pretentious lines. Instead, they get guns out of trunks, wait to kick in doors, buy drugs and a whole host of other “gritty” things. Moreover, the dialog isn’t pretentious; it’s been brought down to “street level.” Thus, you get “do you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in France?” rather than “One finds that travel broadens the mind.” And you get “I’m about to get Medieval on his ass,” rather than “I feel violated and must find a way to regain my pride.” Because of this, we never grasp that the characters do nothing but talk philosophy throughout the film because it doesn’t register with us that characters who talk like this and who walk around carrying guns aren’t in an action movie.
4. Depth & Mystery From Nothing
Tarantino also cleverly uses a series of MacGuffins to give the story depth. As we noted last week, a MacGuffin is a film term for the item around which all the action in the film is centered, i.e. it’s what everyone wants to steal. Yet, the exact nature of the item is irrelevant to the film as its sole purpose is to motivate the characters’ actions. Thus, a bar of gold could just as easily be a diamond. The audience knows this instinctively and doesn’t get too wrapped up in what the MacGuffin actually is. But Tarantino turns that on its head.

Rather than tossing out an object like a diamond or “the process” and telling the audience, “don’t worry about what it is,” Tarantino turns the MacGuffin into a genuine mystery by giving us clues as to what it might be. Consider the briefcase Marsellus sends Vincent and Jules to retrieve. This briefcase glows gold when it opens and people stare at its contents in awe. They also ask if it really is what they think it is, thereby implying something highly unusual. Yet, we never get to see it. And that creates a mystery, which gives the film depth even though the nature of the MacGuffin is entirely irrelevant to the film. Indeed, people almost immediately start speculating as to what it could be. (FYI, many speculate the briefcase contains Marsellus’s soul, which was extracted from the back of his neck. . . I kid you not.)

Moreover, Tarantino uses multiple MacGuffins throughout the film. Consider the band-aid on the back of Marsellus’s neck. Film audiences have been taught that everything in a film is present for a reason. Thus, when we see the band-aid shown prominently, we expect it to have some meaning. But we never learn what that could be. So like the briefcase, people leave the theater trying to solve the mystery. I would further argue that the film is crawling with MacGuffins, e.g. the watch, Bonnie, “the gimp,” etc., each of which presents a new mystery to consider.

Thus, by manipulating our expectations regarding dialog, props and the use of MacGuffins, Tarantino gives us a character study steeped in mystery, all the while making us think we are watching a fast-paced crime story.
5. Morality: Exposing What We Really Believe
Finally, we come to the most controversial manipulation: morality. Tarantino skillfully exploits two aspects of human morality. First, he realizes our morality doesn't always kick in right away, such as when we laugh at someone slipping on a banana peel. We know this is wrong, but we laugh nonetheless until we can catch ourselves. Tarantino exploits this throughout the film to get us laughing at things we shouldn't laugh at. For example, if you asked people if they would laugh at seeing a man’s head blown off in the middle of a discussion about the occurrence of a genuine miracle, they would emphatically tell you they would not laugh. Yet, everyone in the theater laughed out loud when Vincent accidentally blew Marvin’s head off in the car. The combination of the shock, the comic timing and the characters’ surprised reactions triggered the instinct within us that laughs at the banana peel incident. Some have decried this moment as immoral or as glorifying violence, but if you think about it, we’re the ones with the immoral reaction, i.e. we're the ones laughing.

The same is true when we laugh at Tarantino asking if Vincent and Jules saw a sign on his house that read, “dead n~gger storage,” when Vincent gets shot on the toilet, when Vincent and Lance (Eric Stoltz) argue over saving Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) from a drug overdose, and when Marsellus “gets Medieval” on Maynard and Zed.

Indeed, this last point is also significant in terms of manipulation. We are told revenge is wrong. We are told capital punishment should apply only in extreme instances where the victim has been killed. And under no circumstances do we tolerate the idea of execution by torture. Yet when we see what happens to Marsellus at the hands of Maynard and Zed, we derive a great deal of joy when Marsellus tells us that he’s about to “get Medieval on their asses.” Thus, we not only condone his decision to kill the two, but we even support his plan to torture them to death. Consequently, Tarantino has exposed hypocrisy within us. We claim to believe certain things, but our reactions show that we may actually believe the opposite. What does this say about us?
This is what sets Pulp Fiction so far apart from other films. This film broke new ground in almost every aspect of its presentation. It sold us clichés without us ever realizing they were clichés. It sold us a character study without us realizing it. It gave us depth and mystery without ever saying a word. And it exposed a flaw within us by showing a gap between what we think we believe and what we really believe.

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Joel Farnham said...


So basically what you are saying, Pulp Fiction is a character study on ourselves.


First time I saw it, I was repelled by all the violence. I with held my judgement until I saw it the second time. I agree with you. It is a great movie.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, excellent analysis. I actually haven't seen some of the middle portions of the movie (e.g., Jules actually quitting), but enough to figure out what I missed.

One point I would like to make, which is that I think it actually is rational--and even intended--to read the last scene as an ending. Yes, it comes before most of the rest of the action, but in the conversation between Jules and Ringo, in which the issue of "the tyranny of evil men" and a good shepherd arising to combat it, is discussed, I think Tarantino gave us a deliberate metaphor for the rest of the movie.

Much of Pulp Fiction is about the consequences of our actions, both good and bad. The divine intervention that saves Jules and Vincent is taken by Jules as a sign to quit the hitman life and be a servant of God. He walks away with his life; Vincent ignores the sign and dies an ignominious death. Butch has a similar transformative moment when he saves the man who was just trying to kill him, and similarly gets to walk away. In this context, I think the scene at the end was meant to tie up the pieces of narrative we'd seen so far--to paraphrase Shakespeare, the good and evil men do lives after them--and may have been absolutely crucial, to keep the unique storytelling from seeming like too much of a gimmick.

Again, that's just my take on the ending.

Tennessee Jed said...

possibly my favorite film, and by Knoxville native Q.T. It does work on so many levels that you mention. In the end, though, it's the dialog and the inherent humor in the characters and stories. My favorite: why Bonnie and the gourmet coffee, of course!

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I think that's absolutely right -- it's a characters study on ourselves.... well put.

The first time I saw it, I really enjoyed parts of it, but like you I was pretty repelled by the violence and the whole bit with Zed. But the second times I saw it, it really took hold and I "got it." In the end, it really is a truly impressive film. And I have no problems calling it a great film. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I think you're absolutely right on all points.

First, I think the diner is meant to act as an ending. It sums up the movie, it explains its themes, and it gives you a sense of "ok, now that you've learned something, go forth and do the right things." What makes it so clever though is that this isn't an ending, it's actually the middle of the film and Tarantino has manipulated us into seeing it as an ending because we can't divorce the things we've seen from that moment even though they technically haven't happened yet. That's just more clever screenwriting.

(To give a sense of what I mean, this is similar to a moment in Dark City (which I also reviewed) where the hero looks out a wall and can only see space, but we are shown the whole city floating in space. From that moment on, we assume that he's seen exactly what we saw, even though he never could have, and we never question how he could know what we know -- it's a cinematic trick that lets the writer infuse knowledge into the story that shouldn't be there.... same thing here, when they are arguing at the diner, they basically know everything else that happens in the film even though they couldn't possibly.)

I think you're absolutely right about the scenes. A lot of people complained about the morality of the film. Some complained that it glorified violence, others complained about the sexual content, the drugs, or the language, etc. But the point they're all missing is the point you've grasped -- the people who survive in this movie are the ones who realize that they need to change their lives. I would have gone into that, except that the review is already extremely long and there just wasn't room.

In terms of Jules quitting, you don't ever see him hand in a resignation. What you have is him telling Vincent that he's done at the diner and then walking out the door. From that point onward, chronologically speaking, Vincent is on his own.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, This is one of my favorite films too! (I had no idea Q.T. was from Knoxville? I would have guessed New Jersey.)

I think you're right that the dialog is what makes this film so great. And what's interesting about that is that the dialog violates every single rule of dialog writing. If you listen to the experts you are told (1) dialog must always be relevant to the plot, take out anything that doesn't drive the plot, and (2) dialog needs to be easily understood.

But in Pulp, almost none of the dialog is relevant to the plot. There are moments like "are you ready to do this?" but most the dialog is discussions of philosophy, religion and morality... though it's done at a very street level, e.g. "is it wrong to give another man's wife a foot massage," "it's the little things that are different," and "that ain't worth throwing a brother out a window for." So you never see it as the higher level discussions that are actually going on because it just sounds like a group of normal people arguing about funny topics.

At the same time, the dialog is technically "hard to understand" because it doesn't follow the traditional examples of how questions and answers are done and there are almost no transitions.

In other words, when Vincent says, "it's the little things (that are different)." He states an incomplete thought that people supposedly can't follow. Moreover, traditional dialog then requires Jules to make it clear that he wants Vincent to elaborate. Thus, Jules' response must be something like: "What do you mean by 'the little things'?" This tells the audience exactly what Vincent's next line will be. But Tarantino realized that people don't actually speak like that and that you don't need to do that to be understood. So instead, Jules says, "Example." That's how people actually speak, but it's not something you see in film dialog because most writers are afraid people can't keep up with the dialog if they don't use the more heavy-handed clues as a road map. (In fact, the first studio to review the script felt none of this made any sense.)

This is why Tarantino deserves all the credit he gets for dialog writing, because he breaks all the rules and yet gives us something that is much more real than you will see anywhere else because it draws you in like you really are there with these people because this is how people speak in their daily lives -- in incomplete sentences and indirect responses.

Joel Farnham said...

What? Andrew, you don't see regular people getting high concepts unless they use the five dollar word? ;-)

My favorite scene is actually two. Jules quoting the bible the first time in the kid's apartment. And Jules again using the same quotation and breaking it down. The next one is Jed's favorite.

T_Rav said...

Joel, the scene in the apartment with the Bible pretty much defined Samuel L. Jackson's career, if you ask me, and no amount of Star Wars prequels can do anything to change that :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, No, I don't think most people sit around talking like they've just written a treatise on ethics! LOL!

But I'll tell you what, they do talk religion, politics, morality, and philosophy all the time, they just do it in more practical ways -- in ways that relate to daily life: "my boss has no right to monitor everything I do" v. "but he owns the business" and "was it really fooling around when you ____ with your buddy's wife?"

And that's where Tarantino's dialog excels. He gets the fact that most people run around talking about these things and that the audience would find this fascinating because we are naturally fascinated by these kinds of discussions as they help us define the rules of our world.

But even though people run around talking about these things all the time, you never see that in film because studios sees anything that isn't related to moving the plot as filler. And when it comes to filler, it's easier/safer to write things like discussions of the weather or something sexual to try to raise the interest factor.

I think Tarantino proves that's a mistake. And I think the fact that few others have copied his style tells me that Hollywood still doesn't quite get it, even after Tarantino spelled it out for them!

I would honestly recommend that anyone who wants to learn to write dialog should study this film.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, P.S. I too love that scene. That's probably one of the best Jackson has ever done in his career. He truly delivers a heck of a speech and the way it builds is just perfect.

And I love the dissection too.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, He was so unsuited for the role of a Jedi. Blech!

But you're right that scene really elevated his career and it sticks with him in everything he does.

By the way, did you notice I avoided taking any shots at BS? :-)

Joel Farnham said...


Fun fact. Samuel L. Jackson is a definite bad ass. Ex-Black Panther member who helped keep hostage trustees from Morehouse College. He left BP when FBI started to investigate his family.

He also was a crack addict. Kicked that via rehab.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I had no idea, but that certainly tells you where he can draw his anger from.

Dane said...

Favorite film. Just saying. Nice review.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Dane.

Ed said...

Great review as always! And excellent discussion too. I am amazed at how hard I find it to believe that Vincent is dead just because we see him walk out at the end of the movie. We know he will be killed shortly thereafter, but it feels like he lives through the movie and will now happily await the sequel. That's really amazing to me.

I couldn't agree more about the dialog. Tarantino's dialog is unique and I've enjoyed it in all of his films. He's probably got the most distinctive dialog style of anyone making films today. The only other guy who strikes me as equally distinctive is David Mamet. I can spot his work and Tarantino's work almost immediately. After that, no one really comes to mind. Isn't that interesting?!

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I agree on both counts. It's hard to see Vincent as dead because after he gets killed, we see him walking around as if nothing has happened. This is one way to trick the mind. As I noted, the mind is very good at reassembling an out-of-order chronology, but it can be tricked -- and that is what Tarantino does here.

On the dialog, I concur. No one else comes to mind as having a distinct style. And I've also really enjoyed the dialog in each of Tarantino's films -- even when it took me a while to warm up to some of his films (e.g. I didn't like Jackie Brown or Death Proof at first).

DUQ said...

Andrew, Is this your favorite Q.T. film?

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I think Pulp Fiction is easily his best film, but personally I like Reservoir Dogs best. I can't tell you why, I just do.

The only one I don't like (and I know this will be considered sacrilege) is Inglourious Basterds. I really absolutely disliked that film.

rlaWTX said...

I guess I oughta see this. Everyone talks about it. I just can't work up the excitement to bother...

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, It's an excellent film, BUT be warned that it has some very disturbing moments in it.

Ed said...

Andrew, I still don't really care for "Death Proof." I did like "Basterds" though, but not as much as his other stuff.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I know a lot of people don't care for Death Proof, especially when it's combined with the Rodriquez picture to create the one long film. It took me a while to warm to it, but I did.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, I'm sure he appreciates your restraint! :-)

Joel, I actually was not aware of his BP connections. Maybe that explains a couple things about "Lakeview Terrace"...

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I'm sure he does! LOL!

I should still dig up his e-mail though and send him the reviews with an unpleasant message. Grrrr.

T_Rav said...

Also, I agree with you about "Inglourious." I didn't exactly dislike the movie, but it's not on the level of Pulp Fiction, and although I can't put my finger on it, there's something a little wrong with it. I mean, I don't have a problem with seeing Nazis eat dirt, but--I don't know, there's just something off about the movie's theme.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I'm glad I'm not the only one. I had several issues with it, but my biggest was that it was just an intensely nasty movie. I have no love for Nazis either and as a regime, they got what they deserved, but I also draw a distinction between regular soldiers and ideological Nazis. I also fully grasp the concept that you don't execute prisoners of war and I grasp the many moral, practical and historical reasons why.

Tarantino tossed both of these ideas aside and essentially presented American troops as blood thristy butchers/war criminals. There is nothing in our history that says this is at all representative of American soldiers and I think it was disgusting to see them portrayed that way.

In fact, in one of the early scenes, where they murder the German soldier who refuses to betray his comrades, I honestly felt like the German was the good guy in the scene and he died with honor, whereas the Americans were some sort of vile characterization. If I didn't know who made this film, I would have thought it was a propaganda film produced by the Nazis to show Germans why they had to resist the Americans.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Seriously, ask yourself if this same film had come from Venezuela or Michael Moore, would people have liked it or would they have screamed "Anti-American leftist propaganda!"

T_Rav said...

Andrew, no doubt there would have been some of that. Of course, the Nazis are some of the only people who it's still PC to cast as ultimate, uncomplicated villains, and like you, neither I nor most other people will ever shed a tear for them. And different rules apply in war, especially where behind-the-lines operations are concerned. But to glorify in things like the murder of prisoners--yes, it's nice at the time to see the Nazis get theirs, but when you think about it after the fact, it's distinctly unsatisfying.

I think part of the reason for this is that to make "Inglourious" a success, you have to make the Nazis in the film into either cartoon villains or purely evil creatures, and this doesn't do that. The prominent SS villain, Goebbels, the heroic German soldier--none of them are black-hearted demons. Waltz's character doesn't really hate the Jews, Goebbels just wants his boss's approval, the marksman wants the Jewish girl to like him back. These aren't people of unremitting cruelty, at least not in this movie. Heck, when you get down to it even Hitler doesn't come across as a truly horrible person. So there's no thrill in seeing them meet their ends.

Also, Inglourious kind of turns Pulp Fiction on its head. Not to get too pretentious here, but if people like Jules and Butch are turning from mindless violence to seek redemption, the Nazi killers in this case are seeking redemption through mindless violence. (Hey, that's actually a good summation--I think I'll bookmark that for future reference.) That's inherently less satisfying, especially since it hardly works out well for those perpetrating the violence--even if it is against the bad guys.

It's common among us history majors to knock, say, "The Patriot" for being woefully inaccurate, and it is. But that movie's not about military history, it's about the ideals of our Judeo-Christian civilization. When Heath Ledger's character says of the killing of British prisoners, "We are better men than this!" that's much more important than whether the movie got its battles right. All of which is to say, I feel Tarantino did our ideals as well as the spirit of his (arguably) greatest film a disservice with "Inglourious."

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Well said, and I agree.

If they were going to pull off the bloody-thirsty violence without making it come across as gratuitous, cruel and barbaric, they needed to make the bad guys out as deserving of what happens to them and they need to dehumanize them. Otherwise you start thinking of the morality of it and the morality comes out against what the "heroes" of the film are doing.

I don't think Tarantino ever did think about dehumanizing the bad guys or even the morality of what he was doing. I think he just wanted to make an ultra violent revenge fantasy and he relied on the idea that Nazis are hate-able and thus you can do anything you want. But I don't see that as correct because Americans still believe in individual responsibility/guilt rather than group guilt. So to say "the Nazis are evil so anything we want to do to any German soldier is ok" really fails to grasp that Americans don't see the world that way. Moreover, despite our love of violence in films, Americans are remarkably cruelty-free and what these guys were doing wasn't just killing the enemy, but they were reveling in the violence of it.

I think, in truth, Tarantino has been dancing on the border of inappropriateness for so long that he simply fell over the line this time and he did so spectacularly. And I think his name alone is what sold this movie to the public. The public has come to see Tarantino as politics free and they see his presentation of violence as almost artistic. So they accepted what he did here. But if someone else had made this film, I'm pretty sure the public would have been turned off/angered by the film.

I also think you're absolutely right on the morality. Despite the complaints that Pulp Fiction lacks morality, it really doesn't. As you've noted, "good" characters in Pulp Fiction are becoming better people -- they are seeking redemption for their prior acts. But in Inglourious, there really is no thought given to redemption and the violence is celebrated as a good end unto itself. I think that's a HUGE difference at the heart of these films and it makes Pulp Fiction a morally superior film, despite the perversions throughout.

Joel Farnham said...

Andrew and T_Rav,

What bugged me about Inglourious Basterds is not exactly the violence. It was how they reveled in the torture and violence. Jules and Vincent were cold-blooded killers, but they didn't revel in it. James Bond at his bloodiest never did.

It just is inappropriate for American soldiers to party hearty with violence. It almost is the caricature of the liberal notion of the bloodthirsty American Soldier.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, That's exactly my point. I have no objection to the violence or even the killing -- a behind-the-lines unit will have to kill prisoners, I get that. But these guys were reveling in it and enjoying it. And that absolutely strikes me as the liberal view of the American military -- as blood thirsty sadists. I think that's wrong and disrespectful to American soldiers and America and I was amazed that so many conservatives loved the film. That's also why I wonder if they would have felt the same if Michael Moore had made the film instead of Tarantino?

Also, I agree about Jules and Vincent -- they were cold blooded and efficient, but they didn't enjoy it. They just did it.

Tennessee Jed said...

I wouldn't read quite so much into "Inglorious." Tarrentino can pay homage to anything simultaneously while lampooning it.

The opening scene in "inglorious" is one of the best scenes ever in terms of acting and the way it was shot. The main thing that particularly bothered me about inglorious?: It is a historical movie that so completely trashes the historical reality that it seems almost too over the top.

The holocaust and Nazi's have been kind of taboo for any kind of humor so that probably bothers people. The fact the "good guys" are Jews led by a Tennessee mountain man and are so brutal to seem as bad as the Nazi's probably strikes some as a bit of moral relativism. Once I got past those items, I began to enjoy all the things that were done so well as only Q.T. can do them.

Funniest line is when Pitt tells one of his guys "he is second best" at duplicating regional dialect.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, It could well be that he was trying to lampoon the whole genre of war films, but I never got that far with it. I couldn't get past the feeling that what I was watching was sadistic and it literally made me think repeatedly about turning the film off.

I do agree with you about Nazis and the holocaust -- humor tends to be a cure-all and everyone's unwillingness to touch these subjects with humor just keeps them raw. Unfortunately, I don't think that's going to change any time soon.

Unknown said...

Andrew: Even though Pulp Fiction is more seminal and has immense sticking power, for some reason my favorite is True Romance. Even if it did have a happy ending that came at the end. LOL

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, That's the interesting thing about personal taste, it varies from person to person and it doesn't have to fit with the crowd. I liked True Romance, and while Tarantino didn't direct it, you definitely feel his writing coming through the movie. Interesting, I get a similar feel from Crimson Tide, especially when they start talking about comic books, even though Tarantino only touched up that script.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Interesting and thought provoking review Andrew!

This movie didn't appeal to me much before, but after your review I'll give it another go.

I'll try to avoid going over what has already been said so I'll go straight to a slight sticking point.

"Thus, we not only condone his decision to kill the two, but we even support his plan to torture them to death. Consequently, Tarantino has exposed hypocrisy within us."

Well, perhaps in many viewers that's true to an extent.
I hope you don't get the wrong idea if I say I'm not always against torture or street justice.

I think the reason why films like Death Wish and many other vigilante films (and films with those elements) strike a chord in so many folks is because down deep we all wanna see justice done and sometimes our justice system simply isn't sufficient to the task or worse; sometimes we see bad politicians, judges, cops and lawyers in action and we see bad guys set free to rape, torture and murder again.

Personally, I have no problem with these evil scumbags getting a taste of what they inflicted on their victims.

When I see a headline like this:
Mother Sets Fire To Daughter's Taunting Rapist, I say "good! He got what he deserved!"

That doesn't mean I would like to see widespread vigilanteism or that we should give up on the rule of law and our justice system, but I do feel frustrated that so many criminals are coddled and I get sick of seeing repeat offenders set free to rape and/or murder again.

I don't think that makes me hypocritical or, as many statists would say "as bad as the criminals."

Nor do I think you meant it that way. Perhaps many folks don't even really think that deeply about it and would be surprised they feel that way.
If only more states were like Texas, but even they make mistakes and nothing can be done by our justice system if there's not enough evidence.

I'm just sayin' I don't feel surprised I feel that way (or hypocritical) and yes, I'm actually happy Bin Laden was snuffed out by our SEAL's. :^)

I know, apples n' oranges, but hopefully I communicated my intent alright.

AndrewPrice said...

USS Ben, No, I didn't quite mean it that way. I'm not saying people are blatant hypocrites. What I'm saying is that the veneer of "civilization" that we all claim to believe in is nothing more than a veneer that hides a very different set of attitudes when we are confronted with the right situation.

For example, few people would say "we should use torture as an execution method because that's barbaric and we've moved beyond that." But here they end up not only condoning it, but actively wanting it.

That makes our professed belief in civilization a bit of a lie, and I don't think people quite realize that.

What's more, because we think Marcellus is acting in a justified manner, we completely forget that ten minutes before we would have been happy to see him taken out by Bruce Willis.... now we're cheering him on because he's been violated. This exposes the whole "justice" thing as a rather confused concept that relies on emotion rather than logic and can be highly inconsistent.

In effect, Tarantino says "ok, you think you know what you believe, but do you really?"

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thanks Andrew for the clarification.

Kind of analogous to this (in the vein of people believing or wanting something they think they don't) is pacifism.

How many folks who claim to be a pacifist would really stand by and watch family, friends or loved ones murdered?

I think not really too many. Which is a good thing IMO, because if a person doesn't believe there are some things worth dying for they are truly wretched and something definitely not worth emulating.

People that attempt to compare Ghandi to Jesus (or like Him) know nothing about Jesus nor the definition of pacifism.

Most folks who claim to be pacifist are on the left (nbot a coincidence) but the vast majority certainly don't really believe in it or try to practice it (just look at how much they cheer a conservative's death such as Tony Snow, or how much they wish death on Cheney, Limbaugh, Palin, etc.).

Going way OT now, but it is interesting when a movie can make us think more deeply about what we really believe and how the thin veneer of civilization (both individual and collective) can be torn away in the twinkling of an eye.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, My thoughts exactly and that's why I love talking about films -- because sometimes they do make us think more deeply about what we really believe. I wish more people paid attention to these kinds of moments, but sadly too many people just see film as "mindless entertainment." Oh well.

I agree with you about pacifism. It seems that 99% of the pacifists I've encountered aren't really pacifists who truly reject violence, they are more "I don't want to fight for your cause" kind of people, who would quite happily fight for things they believe in.

I'm also not sold that pacifism is a good thing. On the one hand, if everyone obeyed a clear and proper moral code, then I supposed pacifism would be good -- except you wouldn't really need it. But so long as people don't obey such a code, you run into the problem that evil people will exploit the reluctance of good people to stand up to them. In that case, pacifism becomes part of the problem.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Aye! If more folks did look inside themselves more deeply they would not only see a crapload of stuff they don't like, but they might also begin to see that is is possible to evolve and transcend...and to change, hopefully to become a better human be-ing, which is at least a lifetime effort but more than worth it. :^)

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I think that's very true. If everyone spent some time honestly looking at themselves, I'll bet the world would be a better place. Not only would people be more likely to see the things that are really causing their problems and that are holding them back, but they might see a way to improve themselves, their lives, their relationships, and everything around them in the process.

A little more self-awareness would be good for us all!

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Incidently, I was thinking of Pulp Fisction, your review, all the gret comments and Pale Rider when I saw a City Confidential show today about Skidmore, Missouri.

I had seen it before and it's one of my favorite episodes of the series.

To make a long story very short, a really bad guy had terrorized the townspeople for over 30 years.

He was charged and arrested many times but he was never convicted of anything due to witness intimidation, fear, and possibly buying off people in the justice system.

One elderly man and his wife (reminded me of Moriaty in Pale Rider), who were store owners stood up to him and banned the bad guy and his family from their store fdor stealing.

Bad guy tried intimidating and harrassing them for over a year.
Afterall, it had always worked before.
But this time it didn't work, so the bad guy shot the man in the neck at point blank range.

Thankfully, the man survived but the bad guy was still free on bail and was threatening to finish the job.

This didn't set well with the town folk and indeed, they were all riled up by now.
The old man and his wife had sparked something in those folks and they weren't gonna take this anymore.

Bad guy was shot dead and despite an extensive investigation by the FBI, US Marshalls and the State Police and an army of reporters, no one from the town saw or heard anything. :^)

Justified homicide IMO and it didn't lead to anarchy because it truly was a righteous reaction in response to evil.

Amazing story if you ever get a chance to watch or read about it in greater detail (perhaps you have).

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I've seen most of the City Confidential episodes, but I don't know for certain that I saw that one. That's an interesting show -- though I enjoy the first half the most.

I agree with your analysis. I think that we do instinctively approve of vigilante justice in the right circumstances because sometimes the system needs help. . . whether it wants it or not.

Of course, the problem with vigilante justice is that after the fact, once the danger is gone, some people will always go back to second guessing and will start complaining that it should have been done differently. Those are the people who eventually turn you in.

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