People love Pulp Fiction (1994), including the American Film Institute (AFI). They have it as the ninety-fourth greatest American film of all time on its list of the top 100. At first glance, you can look at such a ranking and not think much of it. After all, that is near the bottom. Then again, when you compare that to how many films have been made since the early twentieth century, to even be counted among that number is an accomplishment. Now, I do not wish to impugn AFI’s good name. I have enjoyed going through all the movies it tells us are the best, and I have found some gems of which I had not previously been aware. At the same time, I cannot stand Pulp Fiction. I do not understand why anyone think it is a quality movie on any level, and it calls into question the veracity of the august institution as a whole. If it were not for my enjoyment of the others, I would abandon the entire project before getting to the end. The best thing I can say for it is that at least it is not A Clockwork Orange (1970), number seventy, which is a blight on humanity as a whole.
Pulp Fiction follows a storytelling format that I have previously said annoys me: a non-linear style. To make matters worse, the three different plot threads that unfold have only the slightest of connections to one another. This all makes the film virtually impossible to describe. I will do my best. At least it begins and ends with the same group of people. This is Ringo (Tim Roth), also known as “Pumpkin,” and his girlfriend Yolanda (Amanda Plummer), who goes by “Honey Bunny.” They are evidently criminals, and Ringo is blathering on about types of robbery they should pursue. Being in a diner, he comes to the conclusion that restaurants are the way to go. By the end of the movie, when we finally come back to them, we find out that Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) are in the same café. A clearly insane Yolanda points her gun at Jules, who remains calm. In fact, he quotes Ezekiel 25:17 to her, but remains steadfast in not allowing her to take the briefcase he and Vincent are bringing to their boss, Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). Instead, Jules allows them to take what they have already stolen from the other customers and the register and flee. This is the end of the film. How we get to this conclusion is sort of the point of the film, if I may be so bold as to use that phrase. Really, there is no point to the movie, but it works for the moment. That briefcase is something that Jules and Vincent had been tasked to retrieve from Brett (Frank Whaley), a so-called business associate of Marsellus. What the nature of that business is, or what is in the article of luggage, we are never told. In any case it results in the death of everyone in the apartment, including the person who had been hiding in the bathroom with a gun. He comes out and unloads all the bullets at Jules and Vincent, but none of them hit their mark. Jules believes the fact that they went unhurt to be a miracle, and he vows to leave the life of crime in order to wander the earth until God places him where He wants Jules to be. Before he can become an itinerant, they must dispose of a body of one of Brett’s associates whom Vincent had accidentally killed in the back of their car. This brings the assistance of a man named Winston Wolfe (Harvey Keitel), who specializes in dealing with these situations. After this is done, this is when Jules and Vincent head to the diner. Yet, we get to see what happens to Vincent before this is shown to you. I am sorry if this is confusing. It is not as misleading when you watch the movie, it is just dumb. At any rate, after this fiasco, Vincent is asked to take Marsellus’ wife Mia (Uma Thurman) out to dinner. They go to a 1950s themed restaurant, and this is where they have the famous scene from the movie where they dance with one another. It does nothing for the plot, but people think it is interesting for some reason. Upon Vincent returning her home, he convinces himself not to take things any further while Mia overdoses on drugs she finds in his coat pocket. Panicking, he takes her to the person from whom he bought the illicit substances, Lance (Eric Stoltz). He produces an adrenaline shot that Vincent stabs directly into her heart, reviving her. They return once more to the Wallace estate and agree to never speak of this again, particularly to Marsellus. Speaking of whom, he makes up the third vignette. When Jules and Vincent bring the briefcase to him, he is in the process of bribing a past-his-prime boxer, Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), to throw his next fight. He does not appear to comply, instead putting a large sum of money on himself and getting out before Marsellus can catch the double-crosser. Before he can permanently leave town, though, he must retrieve the family watch that his girlfriend forgets to pack. In his old apartment he finds Vincent waiting for him, and turns the hitman’s own gun on him when he emerges from the bathroom. Butch believes he has gotten away until he sees Marsellus crossing the street in front of him. Butch manages to run over the crime boss with his car, but then gets into an accident. When Marsellus comes to, he chases Butch into a nearby pawn shop. Its proprietor manages to knock them both out. They wake up with ball gags in their mouth, and Marsellus is chosen to be raped. Butch gets free and is about to escape, but has a change of heart and decides to rescue Marsellus. In gratitude for saving him, Marsellus lets Butch get away. This is not where the movie ends, but I have now described all the threads.
Those of you who enjoy Pulp Fiction, and have made it this far, are probably as frustrated with my synopsis as I am with the whole production. Also, please tell me why this is a good movie. While you think of a good response to this question, you may also be assuming that I will be devoting my Catholic energies to Ezekiel 25:17. Though the movie has a different translation, it reads, “Thus I will execute great acts of vengeance on them, punishing them furiously. Then they shall know that I am the Lord, when I wreak my vengeance on them.” Hollywood loves to point to such passages as evidence that God is not the embodiment of love that He is. I will not be spending much time on Jules’ renunciation of his life crime, either. We never see it actually happen, so who knows whether he is sincere. Instead, the one character that I feel comes closest to the Christian ideal in this awful mess is Butch. The moment he decides to return to help Marsellus is an act of mercy. It also contradicts what the movie would want you to believe about Ezekiel 25:17. Concepts like revenge are best left in the hands of God. Technically, Marsellus is the aggrieved party amongst the two of them. Either way, it would have been easy for Butch to have simply left Marsellus to a disgusting fate. Butch is no angel, but his kindness is rewarded. Faith has greater rewards than this, but this one act saves the movie from being a complete and utter disaster.
I worry not only about people who like films such as Pulp Fiction, but also the mind of the people who create them. Its writer and director, Quentin Tarantino, is capable of better. I have seen and reviewed them, the best of which is Inglorious Basterds (2009). Watch that one instead of Pulp Fiction if you must watch any of his films.