Quentin Tarantino has made several masterful additions to his impressive filmography, but none of them have been as influential as his 1994 magnum opus Pulp Fiction. Considered by many to be the most iconic cinematic masterpiece from the ’90s, Pulp Fiction has become an indispensable part of popular culture and has embedded itself firmly in our collective consciousness due to its timeless appeal.
In an interview with the American Film Institute, Tarantino recalled: “Well, the idea in Pulp Fiction was the idea of taking the – I wouldn’t say film noir, but the pulp genre that was represented in the case of magazines like Black Mask where you had Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett writing them. And so I thought the idea in the case of Pulp Fiction, that would be kind of cool is to take three separate stories and make them be the oldest stories in the book.”
Structured within a non-linear narrative framework, Pulp Fiction is a postmodern construct that is delightfully self-reflexive and violently provocative. One of the major reasons why Tarantino’s film is still studied and dissected by fans and students alike is the fact that it deviates from the conventions of cinematic storytelling, displaying an intense obsession with the form of the narrative rather than the content.
Tarantino continued: “Whether it be Vincent’s character, the hoodlum has to go out with the boss’ lady but ‘Don’t touch her!’ And there’s a whole history of people who have touched her and what happens. Well, we’ve seen that before, a zillion times. In the case of the Bruce Will story, that’s the boxer who was supposed to throw the fight and he doesn’t and now the mob’s after him. We’ve seen that story a million times before.”
Roger Avary and Tarantino had started work on the screenplay for the film as early as 1990, drawing inspiration from gems like Mario Bava’s 1963 film Black Sabbath and American New Wave masterpieces such as Bonnie and Clyde. Tarantino has always worn his influences on his sleeve, and Pulp Fiction is certainly no different.
While discussing some of the common tropes that Pulp Fiction subverts, Tarantino elaborated: “One of the things I thought about the third story was basically kind of the beginning of almost every Joel Silver movie which would start off with a couple of hit men showing up. Boom, boom! ‘You want to witness something? Witness this!’ And then they shoot the guy and then it cuts to Arnold Schwarzenegger walking through the forest and eventually he’s going to meet those guys.”
The filmmaker’s major objective was to shake the audience’s complacency, forcing them to engage with the narrative on the screen. He admitted that he used the non-linear structure to make the audience pay attention in order to keep track of the various shifting elements and the tiny details, which were later amplified. The result was the creation of a truly immersive cinematic experience.
Tarantino added, “So I thought, well, what happens if we hung out with them night long [or] all day long? After they killed the guy, what happens to the rest of their day? And so it was the idea of taking these chestnuts and putting them together and then actually having the characters kind of intertwine. It all kind of takes place in one city, and it’s an environment that they all live in. The characters kind of know each other but you don’t know that for a while.”