“Violence is one of the most fun things to watch.” – Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino’s magnum opus, Pulp Fiction, requires no introduction. Considered by many as an iconic moment in the history of cinema, Tarantino’s 1994 masterpiece is probably the most influential film of the 1990s. The Oscar-winning script by Tarantino and Roger Avary is an intersection of multiple narratives, featuring Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta, in the role that reignited his career, as hit men who have philosophical conversations on mundane topics like French names for American fast food products. Through outrageous violence, witty exchanges and a self-indulgent exploration of language, Pulp Fiction has managed to establish its own myth in popular culture.
In an interview with Roger Ebert, Tarantino said, “When I’m writing a movie, I hear the laughter. People talk about the violence. What about the comedy? Pulp Fiction has such an obviously comic spirit, even with all the weird things that are happening. To me, the most torturous thing in the world, and this counts for Dogs just as much as Pulp, is to watch it with an audience who doesn’t know they’re supposed to laugh. Because that’s a death. Because I’m hearing the laughs in my mind, and there’s this dead silence of crickets sounding in the audience, you know?”
He added, “It’s all carefully written. It’s like when Buñuel two different actors to play the same part. But if you’re going to do that, you’ve got to be totally clear. The worst things you can do is confuse an audience. With Pulp, you might momentarily be confused, but you’ve been given enough hints as you’ve been watching the movie that you can catch up with it.”
Over the years, Pulp Fiction has been the subject of countless fan theories. The wildest ones are the most interesting, including claims that the briefcase in the film contains Marsellus Wallace’s soul. Another famous one is that the “pulp” in Pulp Fiction is toilet paper. Throughout the film, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) can be seen on the toilet and every time he goes to the bathroom, something bad happens. Many have seen it as a typical postmodern digression to subvert narrative conventions but there’s also a simple reason for this recurrence. Constipation is a side effect of heroin use.
According to an article in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Chronic Disease, published in 2016, it is estimated that 40-90 per cent of individuals who use opiate drugs medicinally experience some level of constipation. Individuals who abuse heroin would suffer from the same clinical syndrome (opioid-induced constipation [OIC]) as individuals who use opiates for medicinal purposes, but those who abuse heroin may experience OIC more severely.
Vincent’s drug habits contributed massively to his increased toilet time. It is this level of attention to detail that makes Pulp Fiction a modern classic that deserves to be revisited time and again. Tarantino combined his use of meta-narrative techniques with the consequences of heroin abuse, in typical Tarantino fashion.