The real pleasures of Pulp Fiction
As Tarantino films go, Pulp Fiction is rather tight. It is often considered his best film, but revisiting it now, it seems oddly shallow, especially compared to my personal favorite Kill Bill, Vol. 2. Pulp Fiction works best for me when it's funny or beautiful. John Travolta's Vincent Vega is most often the comedian, leaving Samuel L. Jackson's outrage to keep the fires burning. Vincent is an idiot, killed finally, literally with his pants down. But his dope-shooting hitman who thinks too little provides us one way of making sense of Tarantino's world. Samuel L. Jackson's Julian provides the converse.
Certainly, Pulp Fiction is often beautiful. The scenes in Jack Rabbit Slim's are narcotically immersive. Nearly any shot of Maria de Medeiros as Fabienne is gentle enough to break your heart. Tarantino never fails to get his casting spot on. The famous "gimp scene" simply feels overwrought to me now, an attempt to provide a violent centerpiece and a conclusion to the story of Butch and Marcellus Wallace. Still, few filmmakers would indulge in such a flight of fancy. Credit where credit is due, Tarantino usually takes us someplace we have never been before.
And then, of course, when Samuel L. Jackson trots out that memorable monologue in the diner, we all sit up and pay attention. It seems intended to make the movie make sense, to give some heft to what threatens to feel like a candy rush. "...I am the tyranny of evil men," he says, "But I'm trying real hard, Ringo. I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd." It may be a little bit on the nose, but I'll be damned if it doesn't work. Still, nothing compares to that moment when Vincent and Julian exit, look around, and tuck their guns into their swimshorts. That is the moment when it truly all makes sense.