Movie Review: Pulp Fiction

I saw Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction for the first time last weekend, in the very nice venue of the Castro Theatre. Pulp Fiction is basically a usual slice-of-life movie with many short stories in it, except that the main characters are mid-level Los Angeles mobsters.

Pulp Fiction is the second Tarantino movie I’ve seen, the first being Kill Bill: Volume 1. Like Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction is fairly graphic and violent, although it’s a bit less of a spectacle (no real fight scenes). Instead, Pulp Fiction’s energy level is all over the map, from a tense standoff to a casual philosophical conversation while driving.

I had previously said this about Kill Bill—

In the end, I feel like Tarantino was putting in a lot of references and tropes, and maybe that’s what’s supposed to make the movie enjoyable. But it felt like he was just pushing buttons at random, throwing in a bit of everything cause it was fun.

—and while Pulp Fiction had fewer “references and tropes”, it still felt like it was “pushing buttons at random”. Tarantino would add some stylistic flair to a scene or character, but it didn’t mean anything; when it no longer fit into the scene he just dropped it. (For example, Marcellus Wallace never being seen from the front.)

I saw the movie with my friend Mark, who summed it up as “going along with the ride” rather than having a deeper meaning. If there were some kind of message, it would have to do with nobody in the movie really being a “good guy”—anyone you start to sympathize with has done something awful in the previous scene. But I think I agree with Mark that even that’s reading too much into it.

It’s just a bunch of short stories, with recurring characters, arranged for their spectacle—pulp fiction.

(Who should see it? I’m not quite sure. Tarantino’s not my thing, although I might still give Reservoir Dogs a shot. But I suppose if you’re in the unlikely intersection of slice-of-life and criminal violence, Pulp Fiction is for you.)

EDIT: A number of people commented that this movie doesn’t deserve to be dismissed this way. There were a good number of things I liked, particularly the out-of-order storytelling. But this is a review by someone going in without much context other than “Tarantino likes making movies that are pastiches of and homages to entire genres,” and I think it stands.

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