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The innovative way Quentin Tarantino filmed crucial Pulp Fiction 'overdose' scene

Commenting on the types of viewers watching Pulp Fiction, one of his most popular and engaging films, director Quentin Tarantino said: “When you watch it, the audience is broken into thirds. A third is diving under their chair, third is laughing, and the other third is doing both at the same time.”

A classic Tarantino film abounds in violence, humour, wit, wordy dialogues, profanities, plots that transcend the linearity of time as well as endless pop culture references. Pulp Fiction is a product of Tarantino’s quirky brilliance. It is a unique movie with remarkable scenes; however, there is one particular scene in the film that makes the audience recoil and is perhaps the most unforgettable scene in the entire picture. It is also an excellent example of Tarantino’s filmmaking genius, a time in which he employed wit and tactic to attain perfection. 

The resplendent Uma Thurman, who plays the mysterious Mia Wallace, overdoses on heroin after a night of twist-dancing. Vincent Vega, portrayed by the brilliant John Travolta, in a desperate attempt to revive her, plunges a hypodermic needle into her chest. Cutting through the gloomy anticipation in the room, Jody, Vega’s heroin dealer’s wife, comments casually: “That was fucking trippy!” 

Tarantino wanted the scene to be perfect; the actors were trained on the specifics of heroin consumption and overdosing. Travolta had to aim for Thurman’s chest before plunging the needle deep into her heart; this action was influenced by a scene in Martin Scorsese’s unreleased “lost film” American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince. Tarantino had initially decided to shoot the scene with a fake chest plate but later changed his mind abruptly. 

Instead, he came up with an ingenious shooting technique in which he directed Travolta to move the needle upward and away from Thurman’s chest which he shot, and then ran it backwards. The actions were swift and the camera cut close enough to shield the audience from viewing the impact. The loud thump, however, was enough to compel the viewers to connect the dots in their heads. Mia abruptly returns to consciousness with a violent shriek. Jody’s nonchalance produces a comical effect and alludes to drug-fuelled parties where random strangers are present in the background.

Tarantino’s stealthy and clever craftsmanship can, however, be noticed and considered a loophole if the audience pays close attention to the scene. After Mia is revived, the mark on her chest disappears as the scene has been shot in the reverse order of events. The overdosing scene is an example of this maestro’s creative genius where he employed a novel technique to create one of the most squeamish, shocking and celebrated scenes in the history of cinema. 

Watch it now to see the needle mark disappear.