Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pulp Fiction

Oh man, you guys, this mini-Tarantino film festival I've programmed for myself is turning out to be the best idea I've had in months. Like that horrible old joke about memory loss allowing you to hide your own Easter eggs, it's awesome to rewatch your favorite movies when you've not seen them in so long that you've forgotten most of the major themes and plot points.

Pulp Fiction is so good it's kind of unreal. No, seriously. I know it's common knowledge, the most basic of basic received wisdom, at this point that it's a game-changer, a modern classic, etc., etc. But, straight up--do you actively remember how good this movie is? It's that good. Probably even better. I think I probably feel the same way about Tarantino that certain other people around my age feel about Stephen Malkmus: he was the right guy making the right art in the right medium at the right time in my life, and I'm kind of never going to get over it.

Watching Pulp Fiction again the other night for the first time in about ten years (seriously, I think it's been since Naremore's film noir class my sophomore year at IU), I was struck by how much this movie is really about secrets--about the usually accidental things that happen to people that remain unspeakable to anyone other than the person the experience has been shared with. There's the big ones, of course: Mia's overdose, Marsellus's anal rape, Vincent's shooting that kid in the face. But there's so many other little ones embedded throughout: the story about the foot massage that Tony Rocky Horror may or may not have given Mia, the admission that Butch makes to Esmerelda Villalobos in the cab about what it feels like to kill a man, the confidences shared between Butch's father and Christopher Walken's character in the POW camp; even the "royale with cheese" trivia is a bit of unlocked knowledge decoded by Vincent and shared with Jules. All of which makes Jules's final "I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd" monologue so powerful and so important--in publicly interpreting the verse from Ezekiel for Pumpkin/Ringo, he's made a decision that he can't keep the wisdom he's been granted via the "miracle" he witnessed to himself. He has to share it; he has to talk about it; he can't keep it a secret. Aside from the brain-tickling fun of the achronological narrative, this is the big reason why the story has to be told out of order--so it can culminate with that gesture of openness, with that revelation.

It blows my mind that I saw this in the theater when I was 15. I mean, I'm so, so thankful for being exposed to a movie this awesome at such a formative stage in my intellectual and aesthetic development, but, fucking inappropriate! Did I even know what anal rape was at that point? I know for certain that the subtleties of Vincent and Mia's drugs of choice went way over my head. But, the very literal dance between the spaced-out haze of his heroin stupor and her coked-up frenzy as they try to come to some common ground at dinner is now so much more hilarious to me, but also painfully, poetically truthful in the way it shows how hard it can be to connect with another person because of all the bullshit racing around in our systems.

And those are just the big things. I was free to notice so many other little things now that I didn't need to worry about parsing the narrative timeline and wasn't overly distracted by the violence and the language. Like, how totally cheeky it was to open the movie with Tim Roth in such a diametrically opposed character to the one he played in Reservoir Dogs. Or how Bruce Willis is perfection in his role (and also way more alarmingly attractive than I ever realized--but that's maybe just because I'm getting older and my tastes are changing). Also, the fact that Butch's choice of weapon in the pawn shop scene is a samurai sword makes way more sense now in the context of Tarantino's oeuvre than it did in '94. Pre-Kill Bill, it just seemed like a super-over-the-top gesture played for laughs, but now it's so clearly a reference to Tarantino's love for chop-socky epics.

Kittens, my brain is still whirring days after watching it. But, mostly, I'm just happy to have reconnected with the film itself, both for what I remember it being to me at 15 and for the realization that it still has new things to offer me as many years later. Take a moment, if you can, to revisit something similarly important from your own past. I hope it likewise brings you no small measure of joy.

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