However many times I watch Quentin Tarantino’s irreverent masterpiece Pulp Fiction, it’s the second scene which remains my favourite. Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta and their remarkable hairdos ramble on about everything from the French name for a burger to the erotic significance of a foot massage on their way to a routine killing job. It’s a brilliant testament to Tarantino’s extraordinary talent and wit that he can write such a conversation and have it be hilarious, disturbing and riveting all at once. It’s the same talent and wit which permeates Pulp Fiction like the blood on Bruce Willis’ shirt. It’s the scene which sums up the film for me. It’s roaringly funny, oddly dark, especially considering what the two men are off to do, and absolutely bat-shit crazy.
Boasting a magnificently caricatured cast, Pulp Fiction tells the intertwining stories of the city’s underworld as they go about their daily business of extortion, murder, drug-taking and blackmail. Tarantino crafts a wonderful set of stories together, centred around a number of characters, but mainly the bantering hit men Vincent (John Travolta) and motherfucking Jules (Samuel L. Jackson). The dialogue is razor sharp, witty and ramblingly on-point, if that’s even possible. And it’s acted so brilliantly that even the rather harrowing scene involving Uma Thurman overdosing and being given an adrenaline shot remains oddly funny. Travolta and Jackson are perfect together, Christopher Walken’s cameo monologue is scene-stealing, and Tim Roth makes an amusing burglar out of his league.
Bruce Willis’ character makes an interesting contrast – he’s played with a relative straightness when compared to, say, Jackson’s Bible-toting afro. But that just makes the events depicted even more bizarre. Willis looks almost as baffled as the audience at some points – and who wouldn’t be? One minute you’re running from a ruthless mob boss, the next you’re tied in a chair being watched by a gimp. However, events like these aren’t even remotely out of place in the subversive fun land of pulp.
Beneath all the violence are intriguing and, in many cases, adorable relationships between the characters. Travolta and Jackson’s bromance, Roth and Plummer’s Bonnie and Clyde wannabes, Willis’ childhood roots and Travolta and Thurman’s burgeoning chemistry. The, dare I say it, naivety of these relationships and of the characters themselves heavily add to the crazy, childlike-play feel of the whole affair, which delightfully contrasts Tarantino’s unconventional and frankly, fun approach.
Some films age as well as George Clooney’s charm, others end up wrinkled and alone, but Pulp Fiction simply hasn’t aged at all. It’s a fantastically ironic exploration of so many themes; and although it doesn’t have the freshness it had when it burst onto the scene in 1994, it remains deliriously thrilling and still strangely relevant. Tarantino has followed up Pulp Fiction with some great films: Jackie Brown, Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained to name a few. And they all display the trademark bravado and dark, brazen humour which made him one of the world’s foremost directors. But has he ever really topped the dizzy heights of Pulp Fiction? I’m not so sure. I’ll think I’ll have to watch it again to find out. And again. And just once more.