Pulping fiction (and somebody's head)

Issue 

Pulp Fiction
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
Reviewed by Zanny Begg

Pulp Fiction is an amoral film. It's a film full of violence. A young black boy's head is blown off in the back of a car. A boxer kills his opponent in the ring. Young women are gunned down on the street. The viewer is subjected to close-ups of blood, dismembered pieces of the human body and the after-effects of an overdose. Yet Tarantino makes no moral commentary on violence. It is enacted casually, almost incidentally.

Pulp Fiction lives up to its title. In line with the genre, style is elevated over depth. And Tarantino has style. With brilliantly paced dialogue, John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson discuss cheeseburgers. With masterful tension and interest, Uma Thurman and Travolta analyse a $5 shake. Consumer society is iconised and eulogised by Tarantino's skill as a writer.

From the opening credits to the end, Pulp Fiction is eminently worth watching. The soundtrack is fantastic, the acting is great and the script is wonderful. John Travolta makes a remarkable comeback as an actor who has been reborn as cool (leaving Saturday Night Fever behind forever), Harvey Keitel makes a superb cameo appearance and Uma Thurman gives real bite to her role as the wife of the gangster head honcho.

But if you want to know what the film is about, Pulp Fiction leaves you wondering. Tarantino has created an interesting and charismatic vacuum. Pulp Fiction is stripped of political commentary. It shows the low life of crime and violence without any form of moral commentary. It makes wandering around in a suit and blowing people away seem a pretty slick thing to do. Travolta and Jackson casually grill a man at gunpoint on the differences between a cheeseburger and a cheese royal.

Tarantino has been described as the cinematic child of post-modernism because his art has been emptied of all content, retaining only the capacity to represent, not comprehend, life's agonies. Ironically, however, Tarantino's fixation on style, on packaging and trivia, anchors him very firmly in the reality of life. Pulp Fiction is a product of the consumer society Tarantino is "representing".

By making no comment on society, Pulp Fiction becomes a comment on how violence has become absorbed into the US cultural psyche as normal. Pulp Fiction makes you laugh at people picking up the leftovers of someone's brain on the back seat of a car — a feat possible only in an audience so used to violence it no longer connects it with human suffering.

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