Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pulp Fiction

Quentin Tarantino takes cliches about violence in movies, exaggerates and toys with them to the point where the extremely violent scenes in Pulp Fiction become amusing rather than horrifying. In this scene, the professional killers Vincent Vega and Jules are having a heated philosophical debate about predestination and the existence of God right before Vincent Vega accidently shoots Marvin in the face. On top of the irony of such an accident happening during a debate about predestination, the reactions of Vincent Vega and Jules cause us to not be horrified at the sudden death of Marvin but instead laugh at the absurdity of the situation. These professional killers are not completely hysterical at what just happened since they are both not completely unfamiliar with such situations; Vincent merely tells Jules to "chill out man, I told you it was an accident."

Marvin's death is interestingly not shown on screen, with the camera cutting away to the outside of the car when he is shot. The majority of the violence in Pulp Fiction is implied in the same way, with Tarantino opting to use cutaways and long shots to underplay the actual violence occuring. Because of this, this allows us as an audience to take the violence even less seriously since we are not actually shown the actual bloody images of it. Instead, we follow the quirky characters into the absurd situations that follow.

What makes Pulp Fiction so unique is that it follows these kind of absurd events and takes them all the way to their natural conclusions. Quentin Tarantino even milks a scene like Vincent Vega and Jules washing their bloody hands after accidently shooting Marvin and brings out the absurd humor in the situation, allowing our reaction to the violence to be laughter rather than horror. Jimmy, a friend of Jules, is sensitive to hosting these two bloody hitmen since his wife would divorce him if she were to ever find out. Jules reaction to Vincent carelessly wiping his bloody hands on a towel is humorous, mainly because his general attitude is not really of one who actually just witnessed a brutal accidental death but instead someone who is eminently concerned with not getting blood on his friend's towel. His pop culture reference to Maxipads adds even more absurdity to the situation.


  1. The gimp scene is even more absurd. Bruce Willis's character is fighting Marcellus Wallace in the street. They fall into a random store where purely by chance they are apprehended by the owner, imprisoned with a man in a gimp suit, and raped by the shop owner. The fight in the street is action enough to hold the plot and the attention of the audience, but it is compounded by their ludicrous chance meeting of people even more twisted and violent than they are.

  2. Quentin Tarantino is quite a legendary director for his way of making ultra-violence humorous. When his name appears during the opening of a movie, you better be sure your kids or your little siblings are in bed. If they get a glance at some of the outrageously bloody scene from Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill, they may begin to lose faith in humanity.

    I remember when I first saw Kill Bill in theaters, I thought it was the worst movie ever made. All it seemed to be was a westerner's take on a kung fu movie with enough blood in it to fill a swimming pool. I was young, and it took me a while to get used to Tarantino's style and the shock value of many of the scenes in Kill Bill. Once I could see past the stomach wrenching violence, I realized it was actually a well told story.

    I believe it was Tarantino who made stylized ultra-violence and bloody comic relief (such as the scene with Marvin) mainstream in the US.

  3. Quentino Tarantino certainly draws inspiration from the Japanese director Takashi Miike. Miike has been making ultra-violent movies of a uniquely disturbed quality since the early 90s. While Japanese cinema has plenty of examples of graphic depictions of violence (See Battle Royale), Miike's films are among the most intensely graphic and gory. I also just found out that Tarantino had a minor role in Miike's 2007 film Sukiyaki Western: Django.

    While the Japanese definitely have Tarantino beat in terms of sheer volume of violence and gore, I feel that his depictions are much more tasteful and purpose-driven. Miike's films, especially, seem at times to depict violence for sheer shock value alone.


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