PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
“Pumpkin” (Tim Roth) and “Honey Bunny” (Amanda Plummer) are having breakfast in a diner. They decide to rob it after realizing they could make money off the customers as well as the business, as they did during their previous heist. Moments after they initiate the hold-up, the scene breaks off and the title credits roll.
Prelude to “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife”
As Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) drives, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) talks about his experiences in Europe, from where he has just returned: the hash bars in Amsterdam, the French McDonald’s and its “Royale with Cheese”. The pair—both wearing dress suits—are on their way to retrieve a briefcase from Brett (Frank Whaley), who has transgressed against their boss, gangster Marsellus Wallace. Jules tells Vincent that Marsellus had someone thrown off a fourth-floor balcony for giving his wife a foot massage. Vincent says that Marsellus has asked him to escort his wife while Marsellus is out of town. They conclude their banter and “get into character”, which soon involves executing Brett in dramatic fashion after Jules recites a baleful “biblical” pronouncement.
Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife
The “famous dance scene”: Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) do the twist at Jack Rabbit Slim’s.
In a virtually empty cocktail lounge, aging prizefighter Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) accepts a large sum of money from mobster Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), agreeing to take a dive in his upcoming match. Vincent and Jules—now dressed in T-shirts and shorts—arrive to deliver the briefcase, and Butch and Vincent briefly cross paths. The next day, Vincent drops by the house of Lance (Eric Stoltz) and his wife Jody (Rosanna Arquette) to purchase high-grade heroin. He shoots up before driving over to meet Mrs. Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) and take her out. They head to Jack Rabbit Slim’s, a 1950s-themed restaurant staffed by lookalikes of the decade’s pop icons. Mia recounts her experience acting in a failed television pilot, “Fox Force Five”.
After participating in a twist contest, they return to the Wallace house with the trophy. While Vincent is in the bathroom, Mia finds his stash of heroin in his coat pocket. Mistaking it for cocaine, she snorts it and overdoses. Vincent rushes her to Lance’s house for help. Together, they administer an adrenaline shot to Mia’s heart, reviving her. Before parting ways, Mia and Vincent agree not to tell Marsellus of the incident.
Prelude to “The Gold Watch”
Television time for young Butch (Chandler Lindauer) is interrupted by the arrival of Vietnam veteran Captain Koons (Christopher Walken). Koons explains that he has brought a gold watch, passed down through generations of Coolidge men since World War I. Butch’s father died of dysentery while in a POW camp, and at his dying request Koons hid the watch in his rectum for two years in order to deliver it to Butch. A bell rings, startling the adult Butch out of this reverie. He is in his boxing colors—it is time for the fight he has been paid to throw.
The Gold Watch
Butch flees the arena, having won the bout. Making his getaway by a cab, he learns from the death-obsessed driver, Esmarelda Villalobos (Angela Jones), that he killed the opposing fighter. Butch has double-crossed Marsellus, betting his payoff on himself at very favorable odds. The next morning, at the motel where he and his girlfriend, Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros), are lying low, Butch discovers that she has forgotten to pack the irreplaceable watch. He returns to his apartment to retrieve it, although Marsellus’s men are almost certainly looking for him. Butch finds the watch quickly, but thinking he is alone, pauses for a snack. Only then does he notice a machine pistol on the kitchen counter. Hearing the toilet flush, Butch readies the gun in time to kill a startled Vincent Vega exiting the bathroom.
Butch drives away but while waiting at a traffic light, Marsellus walks by and recognizes him. Butch rams Marsellus with the car, then another automobile collides with his. After a foot chase the two men land in a pawnshop. The shopowner, Maynard (Duane Whitaker), captures them at gunpoint and ties them up in a half-basement area. Maynard is joined by Zed (Peter Greene); they take Marsellus to another room to rape him, leaving a silent masked figure referred to as “the gimp” to watch a tied-up Butch. Butch breaks loose and knocks out the gimp. He is about to flee when he decides to save Marsellus. As Zed is sodomizing Marsellus on a pommel horse, Butch kills Maynard with a katana. Marsellus retrieves Maynard’s shotgun and shoots Zed in the groin. Marsellus informs Butch that they are even with respect to the botched fight fix, so long as he never tells anyone about the rape and departs Los Angeles forever. Butch agrees and returns to pick up Fabienne on Zed’s chopper.
The Bonnie Situation
The story returns to Vincent and Jules at Brett’s. After they execute him, another man (Alexis Arquette) bursts out of the bathroom and shoots wildly at them, missing every time before an astonished Jules and Vincent return fire. Jules decides this is a miracle and a sign from God for him to retire as a hitman. They drive off with one of Brett’s associates, Marvin (Phil LaMarr), their informant. Vincent asks Marvin for his opinion about the “miracle”, and accidentally shoots him in the face.
Forced to remove their bloodied car from the road, Jules calls upon the house of his friend Jimmie (Quentin Tarantino). Jimmie’s wife, Bonnie, is due back from work soon and he is very anxious that she not encounter the scene. At Jules’ request, Marsellus arranges for the help of Winston Wolf (Harvey Keitel). “The Wolf” takes charge of the situation, ordering Jules and Vincent to clean the car, hide the body in the trunk, dispose of their own bloody clothes, and change into T-shirts and shorts provided by Jimmie. They drive the car to a junkyard, from where Wolf and the owner’s daughter, Raquel (Julia Sweeney), head off to breakfast and Jules and Vincent decide to do the same.
As Jules and Vincent eat breakfast in a coffee shop the discussion returns to Jules’s decision to retire. In a brief cutaway, we see “Pumpkin” and “Honey Bunny” shortly before they initiate the hold-up from the movie’s first scene. While Vincent is in the bathroom, the hold-up commences. “Pumpkin” demands all of the patrons’ valuables, including Jules’s mysterious case. Jules surprises “Pumpkin” (whom he calls “Ringo”), holding him at gunpoint. “Honey Bunny” (whose name turns out to be Yolanda), hysterical, trains her gun on Jules. Vincent emerges from the restroom with his gun trained on her, creating a Mexican standoff. Reprising his pseudo-biblical passage, Jules expresses his ambivalence about his life of crime. As his first act of redemption, he allows the two robbers to take the cash they have stolen and leave, pondering how they were spared and leaving the briefcase to be returned to Marsellus, finishing the hitman’s final job for his boss.
The film that put Tarantino on the map, no disrespect to his previous outings, was Pulp Fiction. Nothing of its kind had been seen up to that point, and truth be told, nothing like it has been done successfully since then, save for imitators and parodies (remember Plump Fiction?)
What is this about?
Weaving together three stories featuring a burger-loving hit man, his philosophical partner and a washed-up boxer, Quentin Tarantino influenced a generation of filmmakers with this crime caper’s stylized, over-the-top violence and dark comic spirit.
What did I like?
Throwback. While this film may have been set in modern times (early 90s), it had a definitive retro vibe to it in terms of filmmaking, which can be attributed to Tarantino’s love of cinema. There are subtle hints to classic films all over the place, I won’t bother to mention them for fear I’d be here all day, but they are there. I even recently read in a variety of sources that Bruce Willis was cast because “he had the look of a 50s era actor”.
Quotes. I’m sitting here watching this and e-mailing my best friend quotes back and forth. Yes, there are tons of films that are quotable, but those in this picture just seem to be on a different level. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been messing around with someone and then suddenly go all Jules on them when they say what. Watching the first season of American Horror Story, everytime the “rubberman” came out, I couldn’t help but say “bring out the gimp”! Ah, good times….good times!
Soundtrack. If you read my review for Django Unchained, then you may recall my disdain for the use of some of the music in there at inopportune moments that didn’t quite fit the tone of the picture. That isn’t a problem here. As a matter of fact, I believe this may be Tarantino’s best work with the soundtrack cues. The opening scene with the transition from Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” to Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie”, complete with radio static is a masterful piece of paying attention the small details that ends up being very well appreciated by the audience, and that’s just the start of what turns out to be some great old school. In college, I often would just pop in the tape, yes I said tape, and enjoy. Man, I wish more films would have a soundtrack as enjoyable as this one, the kind that has a little something for everyone.
Look who it is. Up to this point, John Travolta had largely disappeared from public view. I believe he had done a few films that flopped, but this is responsible for rejuvenating his career, and rightfully so. That is not to forget some of the other stars in here, with the exception of Willis and to an extent Jackson, weren’t household names at the time.
Violent comedy. As with most Tarantino films, there is plenty of violence to go around. Truth be told, I think this probably his most family friendly flick. Also, the moments of comedy sprinkled in here and there add in a nice flavor that is much appreciated, especially with some of the heavy stuff that the film can get into, particularly the last act/chapter.
What didn’t I like?
Weinsteins. I was reading how the Weinsteins pretty much wanted every role, with the exception of Keitel’s, to have gone to someone else. For instance, Vincent Vega, which was originally supposed to be Michael Madsen’s Vic Vega from Reservoir Dogs (which I will be revisiting at some point in the future), they wanted to be played by Daniel Day-Lewis, for Ringo, they wanted Johnny Depp or Christian Slater, and for Mia Wallace, they wanted Meg Ryan or Holly Hunter. Jules was written with Jackson in mind, but it almost went to someone else, Paul Calderon, who coincidentally plays the bartender. Not knowing how these choices would have worked, I can’t say if it was good or bad, but you be assured that they wouldn’t be the same which, in turn, may have affected not only how we view this film, but Tarantino’s whole career.
Shuffle. I’m torn on this, because on the one hand the nonlinear story line makes this picture unique, on the other hand, if this your very first time watching, or if you don’t pay attention, you could be totally confused as to what the hell is really going on. Just a matter of personal preference and/or taste, I suppose.
Marvin. Poor Marvin, he gets his head blown off. Two things about this. First, why was Travolta turned around with a loaded gun pointed at his face in the first place? Second, and this may just be me, but does it just seem that Marvin was there for the sole purpose of being shot in the face? He really serves no other purpose. I bring this up, because he is supposed to be the inside man at the place where the briefcase is, but all he seems to do there is open the door. I almost want to say they should have given him something more to do in order to make him more of a sympathetic character when his face gets blown off.
Jackrabbit slims. I’ve done my research on this. As of the time I’m writing this, there are no Jackrabbit Slim’s restaurants that actually exist, at least like the movie. There are a few here and there, but I don’t know if they are the same. The closest thing to this that is around is a place called Johnny Rocket’s. Man, I really wish someone would open a real life Jackrabbit Slim’s. I’d be there every night (probably in the Jayne Mansfield or Gene Kelly sections)! That isn’t a shot against the film, just something about the culture it has created.
As Pulp Fiction drew to a close, I was truly saddened. Not because something broke my heart, but because a good film had to end. I guess that old adage is true, “all good things must come to an end”. I highly recommend this to everyone, but be warned. A real good friend of mine in college said he could never finish it. I’m not sure why that was, whether it was the violence, language, or what, but it just goes to show you that as great as this film is, it isn’t for everyone. At any rate, if you haven’t checked this out already, then you really should!
5 out of 5 stars