90s Movie Challenge Week 27: Pulp Fiction (1994)

Welcome back 90s fans! This week Lou-Michel Thelier gives our #90sMC a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart by looking at a film so stylish that just the act of watching it makes you sit there like Fonzie. And what’s Fonzie like? Cool, that’s what!

Yep, from 1994, it’s Pulp Fiction!

Much has been written about Quentin Tarantino’s non-linear, violence-laced, expletive-filled opus Pulp Fiction, and much will most likely continue to be written about it for as long as people elect to study film (which, judging by how much pop culture rules our daily lives, even more so than it did when the movie premiered 27 years ago, is about as certain as Samuel L. Jackson continuing to be the coolest, baddest motherfucker on Earth). Thousands of articles, and reviews, and opinion pieces, and breakdowns, and Other Film Things have analysed this movie to death, and no doubt have a much more nuanced, intelligent take on the movie than I do. 

So why am I even writing about it? Because, my friends: Pulp Fiction is the best unintentional burger advert of all time.

No, I am not kidding.

For context: I first saw the movie when I was maybe 17? Possibly 16? Either way, I was definitely younger than the big, shiny, enticing ‘18’ rating emblazoned on the DVD case – and thus, probably far more impressionable than I thought at the time. Definitely more impressionable than the audience the movie demands.

I was a vegetarian at the time, and had been for around 18 months. I can’t remember why I started (I’m 30 now, and remembering specific reasons from at least 13 years ago is an exercise in futility), but I can remember why I stopped: it was Sam Jackson’s Jules Winnfield, and his immortal, insanely quotable line – “Mmhmm! This is a tasty burger!”

Apparently, that’s all it took for me to abandon the veggie life. It didn’t matter that the on-screen burger (of Big Kahuna fame) – with its dry-looking, cracked bread bun, processed, impossibly yellow cheese and decidedly suspicious meat – looked objectively disgusting. No, that didn’t matter at all. It was Sam Jackson’s entirely earnest-sounding endorsement of Big Kahuna’s cheeseburgers that broke me, and installed this little voice in my head saying “You know, you really could go for a nice, big, meaty burger.”

The next time my family and I went out to dinner, that’s exactly what I did. And I swear, that double bacon cheeseburger was one of the best I’ve ever had. 

With hindsight, could I have just gone for a veggie burger? Yes. But also, you clearly shouldn’t expect logic from someone impressionable enough to ditch an entire dietary choice because Awesome Movie Man said Meat Sandwich taste good.

I think a large reason why I abandoned what was probably a fairly healthy diet is testament to the cultural impact Pulp Fiction continues to enjoy almost three decades after its release. I mean, everything about it reeks of style: it is undoubtedly A Fucking Cool Movie, from its sublime cinematography, to its absolutely killer soundtrack, to the little details that only become apparent on subsequent re-watches (for example, John Travolta’s Vincent spends a lot of time in the bathroom – a common side effect of heroin usage is being constipated. Or, y’know, Tarantino’s retroactively obvious foot fetish – there are a lot of close-ups of Uma Thurman’s feet).

It’s a movie full of Cool Characters saying Cool Things that no one would ever say in any sort of realistic universe. But honestly, who cares? The Cool Things sound cool because of how unrealistic they are: Tarantino’s own universe of linked movies (basically the MCU before the MCU) is obviously a heightened reality where sudden and grisly violence is a constant threat, musical fashions never evolved beyond 1978 or thereabouts, and everyone speaks in Improbably Cool Movie Dialogue almost constantly – as well as possessing encyclopaedic knowledge concerning pop culture and Classic Hollywood. I mean, just consider this exchange:

Vincent Vega: “We’re lucky we got anything at all. I don’t think Buddy Holly’s much of a waiter. Maybe we shoulda sat in Marilyn Monroe’s section.”

Mia Wallace: “Which one? There’s two Monroes.”

Vincent Vega: “No there’s not. That is Marilyn Monroe. And that is Mamie Van Doren. I don’t see Jayne Mansfield so she must have the night off or somethin’.”

No one outside of an absolute lover of film would know that. And that’s exactly why I love the movie so much.

If I had to sum this whole thing up in a TL:DR, Pulp Fiction – and, let’s be honest, most of Tarantino’s filmography – is a film nerd’s wet dream. 

It’s the type of movie you can watch over and over and over again for the dialogue alone. Add in the aforementioned soundtrack, how transgressively violent (at the time) the movie is, and some fantastic performances (including some career-defining ones from Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta, an awesome turn from Uma Thurman, and Bruce Willis back when he still gave a shit about the movie’s he’s in), and you have one of the defining movies of the 90s, as well as a bona fide, rightfully lauded cinema classic. 

Come back again for another exciting instalment. We might only be just over halfway through #90sMC but next week Cameron McCrorie takes us to 1998 to as how it’s going to end as we switch channels to see what’s happening on The Truman Show.

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