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(Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

Pulp Fiction took my virginity.

That watershed moment occurred in 2005, over a decade after Quentin Tarantino had injected a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the film industry, forever altering the landscape of cinema. At that point in my life -- eighteen years of age, freshly graduated from high school, bagging groceries part-time -- watching movies was simply a pastime born from a dearth of recreational activities in a small town. The only directors I could've named were Spielberg and Shyamalan; my viewing choices dictated by the stars on the posters or the flashy trailers on television. Pulp Fiction changed that. Never before had I watched a film with such a strong writerly voice. From the instant Honey Bunny threatened to execute every motherf**king last one of us to the departing shot of Jules and Vincent slipping their nine millimeters into the waistbands of their dorky shorts, I sat on my couch -- transfixed, mesmerized, forever changed -- blood from my broken hymen splattered across the living room walls like the remnants of Marvin's exploded head in Jules's Chevy Nova. Every movie I watched prior to Pulp Fiction had simply been foreplay. This was cinema of an entirely different caliber. A door had been opened, a new path unveiled. My journey to becoming a cinephile had officially begun.

For the first time I began to seek out movies because of the people behind the camera, beginning with the memorably named Mr. Tarantino. ("The single most influential director of his generation," according to Peter Bogdanovich.) I rented Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, the still-new Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2. I bought the DVDs, watched the special features, listened to the interviews. Each time QT praised a film or filmmaker, which was often, I added those films to my watchlist. When he referenced blaxploitation, French New Wave, or some other movement or genre, I studied them. And throughout that time I continued to revisit the impetus behind my newfound movie fandom: Pulp Fiction. In short order it catapulted to the top of my favorites. All these years later, after consuming thousands of movies, Tarantino's pop cultural phenomenon remains atop the podium.

Pulp Fiction isn't a movie of great thematic depth. Style supersedes substance; personality outweighs craft. The circular narrative, while rewarding to re-watches and utilized to greater effect than perhaps any other film, was no longer novel by the time I encountered it. The eclectic soundtrack is excellent, as Tarantino has always had a knack for popularizing forgotten songs from the past, much like he does with faded movie stars, but great tunes have little to no bearing on my appreciation of a film. The redemptive theme connecting all three stories doesn't strongly resonate with me; nor does the honor-among-thieves throughline. Why, then, do I love Pulp Fiction so much?

First answer: dialogue. In most films, exposition is all that spills from a character's mouth, as Screenwriting 101 teaches that every spoken word should either advance the plot or provide characterization. Tarantino sets ablaze such textbooks, allowing his characters to talk at length about potbellies and failed TV pilots while rarely addressing the story at hand. Stock characters -- gangsters, dealers, boxers, molls -- transform into living, breathing entities because they talk like normal, everyday people. And what a joy it is to eavesdrop on those conversations! The pop-culture references, the fascinating topics, the crude poetry of the language. Even the purported randomness is an illusion, as much of the dialogue is deceptively functional, either foreshadowing things to come (e.g. Jody's needle fetish paying off with the ultimate piercing when Mia's heart is kickstarted with a syringe) or adding weight to later events (e.g. the foot-massage rumors establishing the precipitous stakes of Vincent's date, and likely explaining why he needs to shoot up beforehand in order to calm his nerves).

Second reason: humor. Pulp Fiction defies easy classification, but to me it is first and foremost a comedy, yet people rarely label it as such. Perhaps that's because of the rambling nature of the long-form jokes (e.g. Captain Koons's gold watch monologue), the inconspicuous punchlines (e.g. "I didn't go into Burger King" immediately segueing into remarks about Amsterdammers drowning their fries in mayonnaise) or the prevalence of dark, violent subject matter. However, even in the film's darkest moments, like the pawn shop sequence or Mia's overdose, humor provides levity. When Lance demonstrates how to deliver the adrenaline shot into Mia's chest by repeatedly miming a stabbing motion, Vincent cluelessly responds, "I gotta stab her three times?" The script's ability to consistently extract laughter from intense, f**ked-up situations is one of its greatest attributes. Case in point: Vincent accidentally shooting Marvin in the face. The first time I watched Pulp Fiction, I was so shocked by the unexpectedness of that scene that it took a few seconds for me to burst into laughter, like delayed thunder after a flash of lightning. Even without the benefit of surprise, that detonation of skull and brain remains the funniest moment in the film for me. In fact, the entire last chapter, "The Bonnie Situation," is almost non-stop hilarity, largely thanks to Jules Winfield's boiling frustrations with his blundering partner in crime.

Tarantino has said, "When people ask me if I went to film school, I tell them, 'No, I went to films.'" The man dropped out of high school at age sixteen, yet went on to become, in the words of Roger Ebert, "the first rock-star director;" his last name transforming into an adjective -- "Tarantino-esque" -- to describe imitators of his trademark style. He's a movie geek who grew into a movie god, watching and studying a variety of films from a young age, later working in video stores and movie theaters until eventually catching his big break. That passionate movie fandom is the electricity that powers his entire career. So leave it to a movie obsessive like Tarantino to concoct an entire feature around peripheral characters from your standard crime flick, essentializing the inessential by stitching together superfluous scenes from the cutting-room floor. Leave it to Tarantino, who likely grew up viewing the characters on the silver screen as his own surrogate family, to instill personalities into those unimportant side-characters, envisioning how they spend their time in-between the traditional scenes of plot. (What do hitmen talk about on their way to a job? Where do they eat breakfast after they carry out the hit?) Leave it Tarantino, ultimate movie geek, to color outside the lines, instantly converting millions of others into hungry cinephiles by serving up a film so cool, so brash, so rife with reverence for cinema's past, yet so eager to break all the rules and blaze new ground.

I've lost count of how many times I've watched Pulp Fiction. Due to its length and structure, I often watch just one chapter at a time nowadays. If I'm thirsting for a five-dollar milkshake, I visit "Vincent Vega & Marsellus Wallace's Wife." If I feel like getting kinky with the gimp, I go with "The Gold Watch." If I have a dead body to store, I'll drop by Jimmy's house in "The Bonnie Situation." New details and nuances reveal themselves on almost every watch. It took many viewings before I noted the rumbling motorcycle that precedes the Prologue, always mistaking it for random traffic before making the connection that the first sounds we hear in the film are also the last sounds we hear chronologically as Butch and Fabienne speed away on Zed's chopper. When re-watching the film in preparation for this essay, it finally dawned on me how phonetically similar Fabienne is to Adrian. Now I can't rid myself of an imaginary scene where Butch, with his best Stallone impersonation, calls out to his girlfriend from a boxing ring. Due to recent controversies, the confederate flag on the pawn shop wall that consumes the background as Butch wrestles with his conscience, debating with himself whether or not to save Marsellus from being raped and killed by sadistic hillbillies, seems more than ever a conscious choice from Tarantino, drawing attention to the flag's racist history. Wild theories about what's in the briefcase still abound, and I've even seen theories that the katana Butch selects as his weapon of choice is a Hattori Hanzo sword from Kill Bill.

Michael Madsen's Vic Vega from Reservoir Dogs was initially written to be the main character in Pulp Fiction, but due to Madsen's commitment to the Kevin Costner western Wyatt Earp, the script was tweaked and a Vega brother was born. Meanwhile, Laurence Fishburne turned down the role of Jules Winnfield, and Paul Calderón, who would settle for a small part as the bar owner, nearly stole the role from Samuel L. Jackson with a strong audition. It's likely that the magic of Pulp Fiction would've evaporated had the cinematic alchemy been altered with the wrong casting choice. Simply put, no actor enunciates Tarantino's dialogue as powerfully as Samuel L. Jackson. His tongue converts every syllable into musical punctuation. As for Madsen, he's simply too hardened, too threatening. He lacks the goofy charm that Travolta brought to the role. I doubt viewers would've fully let their guards down with Madsen in the lead, which is necessary if we're to find the character endearing and amusing. Jules and Vincent are gangsters, hired killers, "the tyranny of evil men." Yet we love them and enjoy hanging out with them. That's a testament to the script and the performances. In fact, that hang-out quality is the single biggest reason I love Pulp Fiction. It will likely always be my #1 favorite, my go-to desert island selection, the one movie I could re-watch every day of my life without fatigue or boredom. It is, in the words of Jules Winnfield, "some serious gourmet s**t."

Favorite Scene/Sequence:

The Jack Rabbit Slim's sequence isn't just my favorite moment of Pulp Fiction, it's my favorite moment in any film ever made. I was so disappointed when I first discovered that the restaurant doesn't actually exist. It's a movie lover's paradise, "a wax museum with a pulse," where pop cultural icons of yesteryear serve patrons of today. The entire sequence, from the moment Vincent and Mia pull into the parking lot to their iconic dance contest, lasts almost twenty minutes, yet I'd be happy if it lasted two-plus hours. Those scenes perfectly embody the laidback cool of Tarantino's cinematic world. We're just the third wheel on a date, dining on bloody burgers from inside a vintage convertible while a Ricky Nelson impersonator performs on stage.

Favorite Quotes:

“It was a foot massage. A foot massage is nothing. I give my mother a foot massage.”
“It’s laying your hands in a familiar way on Marsellus’s new wife. I mean, is it as bad as eating her p*ssy out? No, but it’s the same f**king ballpark.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop right there. Eating a bitch out and giving a bitch a foot massage ain’t even the same f**king thing.”
“It’s not. It’s the same ballpark.”
“Ain’t no ****ing ballpark, neither. Now, look, maybe your method of massage differs from mine, but you know touching his wife’s feet and sticking your tongue in her holiest of holies ain’t the same f**king ballpark. It ain’t the same league. It ain’t even the same f**king sport. Look, foot massages don’t mean s**t.”
“Have you ever given a foot massage?’
“Don’t be telling me about foot massages. I’m the foot f**king master.”
“You given a lot of ‘em?
“S**t, yeah. Got my technique down and everything. I don’t be tickling or nothing.”
“Would you give a guy a foot massage?”
“F**k you.”

“What does Marsellus Wallace look like?’
“What country are you from?”
“'What' ain’t no country I ever heard of. They speak English in ‘What?’”
“English, motherf**ker! Do you speak it?!
“Then you know what I’m saying. Describe what Marsellus Wallace looks like!"
"What? I–
“Say ‘what again!’ Say ‘what’ again! I dare you! I double-dare you, motherf**ker! Say ‘what’ one more god damn time!’
“H-h-he’s black. He’s bald.”
“Does he look like a bitch?”
[Jules shoots the man in the shoulder] “Does he look like a bitch?”
“Then why you trying to f**k him like a bitch, Brett?”

“Don’t you hate that?”
“Hate what?”
“Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bulls**t in order to be comfortable?”
“I don’t know, but it’s a good question.”
“That’s when you know you’ve found somebody really special when you can just shut the f**k up for a minute and comfortably share silence.”
“Well, I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but don’t feel bad, we just met each other.”

“And what is your name?”
“Butch. What does it mean?”
“I’m American, honey. Our names don’t mean s**t.”

“I’m going to get medieval on your ass.”

“Jesus Christ.”
“Don’t blaspheme.”
“God damn it.”
“I said don’t do that.”

“I used the same f**king soap you did and when I finished the towel didn’t look like no god damn maxi pad!”

“Well, I’m a mushroom cloud-laying motherf**ker, motherf**ker. Every time my fingers touch brain, I’m ‘Superfly TNT.’ I’m ‘The Guns of the Navarone.’ In fact, what the f**k am I doing in the back? You the motherf**ker who should be on brain detail!”

“Want some bacon?”
“No, man, I don’t eat pork.”
“Are you Jewish?”
“Nah, I ain’t Jewish. I just don’t dig on swine, that’s all.”
“Why not?”
“Pigs are filthy animals. I don’t eat filthy animals.”
“Yeah, but bacon tastes good. Pork chops taste good.”
“Hey, a sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie but I’d never know ‘cause I wouldn’t eat the filthy motherf**kers.”

“There’s this passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. ‘The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the Valley of Darkness for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.’ Now, I been sayin’ that s**t for years. And if you heard it, that meant your ass. I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was some cold-blooded s**t to say to a motherf**ker before I popped a cap in his ass.”