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Film Analysis – Pulp Fiction

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Final Film Analysis

Pulp Fiction turns the gangster genre on its head in its portrayal of good vs. bad. Tarantino uses dialogue, lighting, and sound to weave a redemption tale into an instant classic. Twenty-six years later, it is still being quoted and dissected. Its impact on films, the careers of the actors, and Tarantino has proven the film to be a cultural phenomenon.

Introduction

Pulp Fiction is classified within the gangster genre of film and is written by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary. It was directed by Quentin Tarantino and released in 1994. The major actors who starred in this film were John Travolta, Uma Thurman, and Samuel L. Jackson. This film is a violent tale of redemption, retribution through the eyes of Los Angeles Gangsters. The story is told through four main characters, a boxer, two gangsters, and a boss. The fighter makes a deal with the boss to throw his next fight and must escape Los Angeles after he wins by knockout. He is held back while retrieving an heirloom passed down from his father. The gangsters end up following different paths after a near-death experience one considers a miracle. The boss and the boxer cross paths and end up in a store run by racists that torture and rape one of them, ending in redemption and a stolen motorcycle.

Genre Theory and Pulp Fiction

Genre theory is the use of terms to set expectations of what a film will include based on story structure and plot elements commonly used.  The film Pulp Fiction belongs to the genre gangster and action. The film takes a look at the actions and their effects of three gangsters and a boxer in Los Angeles, CA. The key events which mostly take place over the course of a day are told out of sequence to enhance the effects of the characters’ choices. Pulp Fiction exhibits the convention of the gangster genre by getting us to sympathize with an organized crime member in particular due to his decisions made in the film. Jules is seen as having undergone a transformation leading him to leave the life of crime after witnessing what he considers a miracle.

Another genre convention exhibited in Pulp Fiction is seen through the boxer Butch and his encounters with them crime boss Marcellus. We follow the relationship between the two and their resolution. After Marcellus is raped and tortured, we feel pity and root for him when he decides to let Butch, who rescued him, live. The primary technique used to tell the story in Pulp Fiction is that of a nonlinear story. It was done this way to deconstruct the narrative and force the audience to reconstruct it in our heads later. This makes you think about it long and makes it harder to pin down the genre of Pulp Fiction. The movie both begins and ends on the same scene, which chronologically takes place in the middle of the story. This placed added focus on the why of what happens rather than just seeing a generic shoot-up gangster film.

Lighting Techniques and Pulp Fiction

Low-key lighting is used in multiple scenes to symbolize the mystery or danger of the current scene. Goodykoontz, Jacobs, Meetze, and Pritts (2019), state that low-key lighting “is marked by extreme use of deep shadows, with very high contrast between the brightest parts of the scene and the darkest parts, which are obscured in shadows.” When the movie uses traditional three-point lighting, it is primarily on characters to make them stand out versus their surrounding scenery. Goodykoontz, Jacobs, Meetze, and Pritts (2019), states that three-point lighting “is based upon careful control of shadows by using three primary light sources. Two are in front of the subject, on opposite sides of the camera aimed roughly 45-degree angles (90 degrees from each other), and one is behind the subject.”

Lighting is used to enhance certain aspects of the scene to place emphasis on some elements like the contents of a briefcase.  We never see what is inside the briefcase. However, the intensity of the three-point lighting effect draws your attention to the significance of something unique being inside. Similar lighting is used to create an overall tone, both per scene and the movie as a whole. Through different lighting methods, Tarantino continues to place focus on either characters or objects of importance to ensure that the viewers can tell what or who is of value in each scene.

Dialect and Pulp Fiction

In Pulp Fiction, during the sequence where a woman has overdosed on heroin, Tarantino cuts the score to build tension. The entire scene has no musical score to underline each action as a character is tossing things around to find the shot. The dialogue in the scene uses humor to keep the scene from getting too intense. Tarantino’s dialogue is known for being very stylized, and this scene is no different. He uses choppy back and forth, the banter between characters using a vernacular that emphasizes the culture the characters are in. Cuss words are weaved into the fabric of the dialogue. This is done in a manner that expresses the urgency of the situation and the level of decorum present in the environment.

Sound and Pulp Fiction

Looking at the same scene, the sound effects like the thumping of the chest of a lifeless woman show how hollow she sounds as life escapes her. With no music, each small effect, like the tearing of the package to get the syringe to appear amplified, giving a greater sense of tension. If one were to add a musical score over this scene during all of the action which other films would do using a crescendo to build it would have taken away from the feeling of authenticity that the scene presently has. Music over the countdown would have overshadowed hearing his breaths when everything slows down and would have also taken away some of the tension.

Society and Pulp Fiction

Pulp fiction was controversial when it came out due to its violence and explicit language. It has since become a cult classic. Fans are divided on what the takeaway is as many focus exclusively on one element over the story. Genre fans love action and language. Conservatives were put off by language and violence, while average moviegoers were confused by its nonlinear nature. Most ignored or failed to notice the redemption theme throughout the movie. The film itself attempts to give the moral that anyone can be redeemed and that it is as simple as making a choice. One choice can provide you with redemption as it did for Butch, Marcellus, Jules, even Pumpkin and Honey Bunny; if you choose not to, you end up dead like Vincent.

Pulp Fiction’s impact has been felt throughout the film industry and our current culture despite having been released in 1994. It is present in the cultural lexicon today in GIFs, memes, and YouTube video essays. It ushered in the new era of Gangster film since The Godfather trilogy. It has even been referenced as an Easter egg in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The errant bible verse Ezekiel 25:17 is on Nick Fury’s tombstone in Captain America Winter Soldier as a nod to the fact that both characters are portrayed by Sam Jackson.

Pulp Fiction not only launched Tarantino’s directorial career, but it also reinvigorated John Travolta’s, then dormant acting career after a series of failed films. It made Samuel L. Jackson a household name. Until then, he was known as a character actor but not well known by the general public. Specific scenes of the film have been endlessly analyzed for video essays and even college papers.

Conclusion

Pulp Fiction is a film that has so far passed the tale of time. As a cult classic was written and produced by Quinten Tarantino, it has redefined multiple aspects of cinema. Pulp Fiction weaves a redemption tale into a gangster genre film and flips it on its head with the way it portrays good vs. bad. By using intense dialogue, lighting, and sound, the film leaves a lasting impression on viewers. The impact is seen throughout different aspects of the internet, from memes to full analysis videos found on YouTube. Pulp Fiction is a film that will continue to have a long-lasting effect in society for years to come.

 

 

 

References

Tarantino, Q. & Avary, R. (Directors). (1994). Pulp Fiction [Film]. A Band Apart.

Goodykoontz, B.; Jacobs, C. P.; Meetze, J.; & Pritts, N. (2019).  Film: From watching to seeing

(3rd ed.). Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/

Škifić, S.; Petković, R. (2014). Chapter 2: Stylistic and linguistic creation of suspense in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. Approaches to Translation Studies, volume #39, p47-60, 14p.

Davis, T.F.; Womack, K. (1998). Shepherding the Weak: The Ethics of Redemption in Quentin Taratino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’. Literature/Film Quarterly, volume #26(1), p60-66.

Dowell, P.; Fried, J. (1995). Pulp Friction: Two Shots at Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”. Cinéaste, volume #21(3), p4-7.

Written by: Ace

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