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The iconic Quentin Tarantino scene that was filmed in reverse


Love him or loath him, Quentin Tarantino is here to stay. Responsible for crafting some of the most controversial, block-busting, and influential films of recent times, his control of dialogue and expressionist aesthetics have earned him a reputation as one of the film industry’s most celebrated auteurs. While many directors have a couple of features under their belt before they start to establish a rounded and individualised filmic style, Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction heralded the arrival of a fully formed directorial enfant terrible. It is a rambunctious, carnal, surreal, and incredibly violent piece of filmmaking, which, so many years later, is still transfixing audiences.

One of the most memorable scenes from Pulp Fiction is the infamous needle scene, in which Mia Wallace – played by Uma Thurman – overdoses on heroin after a night of table-top dancing with Vincent Vega. After finding her lying unconscious on the floor of her apartment, Vega (John Travolta) attempts to revive her with a shot of adrenaline plunged directly into her heart. Tarantino is many things, but half-arsed is definitely not one of them. Determined to make the scene as realistic as possible – which it very definitely is – the director made sure that each of the actors were educated on the shocking realities of drug overdoses and trained on how to save a person in the throes of one. However, this obsession with perfect realism also led to Tarantino filming the whole scene backwards. Why?

Quentin Tarantino loves to make camoes. He was originally supposed to play the part of Lance the drug dealer but realised that he needed to be behind the camera to capture what is one of the tensest scenes in the whole film. It was for this reason that he decided to play the part of Jules’ friend Jimmie instead. The director had also originally planned to have Travolta plunge the needle into a fake chest plate worn by Uma Thurman, but he felt that the audience would recognise that they were being duped.

So, rather than using the chest plate, he decided to shoot the sequence in reverse, directing Travolta to start with the needle held to Thurman’s chest and then pull it up and away. In the edit suite, Tarantino played the footage in reverse so that it looked as though the needle was plunging into Thurman’s chest. When the needle makes contact with her skin, Tarantino quickly cuts to a reaction shot of Urman opening her eyes and erupting back to life. With a little help from the sound department, who crafted a thudding sound to imply the needle’s impact, we are tricked into believing that we’ve seen the needle being stabbed into Thurman’s chest – all without the need for a fake chest plate. You’ve got to admit, that’ a pretty neat trick.

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