Pulp Fiction ★★★★★

Postmodern. Independent. Crude. The three defining factors of Pulp Fiction. It is a masterpiece of utter pointlessness. It is constructed outside any convention or system, and so deeply committed to itself that it forms something genuinely unique. It approaches the lowbrow and the vulgar with love and never condescension. Pulp Fiction is truly special, just for its existence. Nothing else has achieved its perfect blend. There are many criticisms I have of Pulp Fiction, but they don't matter. It is a film with zero substance, but it's the shallow film that is most pure at being so and most intelligent in execution.

Pulp Fiction is a film of surfaces, being just an exercise in references and style. It was a watershed moment in postmodern cinema, rejecting any notions of morality, a defining feature of classical and modern storytelling. Further than that, it rejects the notion of telling a single story or having a hero. It breaks down narrative order, and has little linearity. As it has no meaning, it need not even follow the convention of having a plot. It plays like a postmodern novel, where chapters are presented in a superficial order and characters drop in and out of proceedings. The stylistic and narrative choices raise questions but not a single answer. Instead Pulp Fiction drops us into a world and just expects us to go along with it. One may see the film as a cryptic enigma, but it's impossible to solve as there is no solution. Pulp Fiction is a film to embrace and enjoy, because it is about its experience rather than anything else. That's a kind of pure cinema.

The world of Pulp Fiction is one of burgers, TV shows, and inane conversations. Bathrooms are a common location, setting forth the film's mundanity in a sense. The real and false are also blurred, with fake Bible verses, TV references that are sometimes real and sometimes fictional, as well as nods to real companies mingled in with fake product placement. The worldview of Pulp Fiction is almost nihilistic, presenting its violence, rape, homophobia, slurs, and drug abuse, without criticism. It embraces the world flatly, accepting bad things as part of life and not really considering any other angle to it. The film passes comment on nothing. It is a triumph of vacuity. It makes no sense, and uses homage in lieu of substance, or perhaps even as substance. When Samuel L. Jackson's character finds transcendence, it's dumb and played without any meaning or truth. Events are just moments, none of them have any intrinsic meaning.

In a sense, Pulp Fiction is the worst thing to happen to cinema. It completely undercuts cinema's most valuable asset by rejecting discussion and embodying the absence of morals. It's a film that launched a thousand imitators, and became pervasive. For a film so indebted to cultural references, it is ironic just iconic it became. The large swathe of indie films after Pulp Fiction that became obsessed with being cool rather than substance, are detrimental to cinema. We deserve better art than Pulp Fiction. However none of this is a critique of Pulp Fiction itself. It is the perfect amoral movie, and the problem is that nobody moved on. Even Tarantino returned to shallow filmmaking after Jackie Brown. People think Pulp Fiction's lack of comment is original, but such a thing can be only be original once. It's very far from being the first postmodern film, but it's a distillation of postmodern cinema that flies in the face of any expectation. Cinema should not be this shallow, but Pulp Fiction is the ultimate attempt to be completely shallow. It is basically the final word on that topic, because it can't really be topped. Pulp Fiction is a great film, but you cannot re-invent such absence of substance. At that point, you're shallow and unoriginal. Pulp Fiction was clearly a new and groundbreaking approach to art cinema, making something with no substance and yet a lot of complexity. Its magic can never be re-captured and that's probably a good thing.

Pulp Fiction is a totally free movie, away from Hollywood and able to be itself. It embraces and references low-brow culture, from horror movies to network television to pulp magazines. The high-brow and avant-garde are not the key reference points for Pulp Fiction. It's also slightly European, like some New Wave movie that refuses to conform and re-purposes art that was previously sneered at. However ultimately, despite any pretentious words I have written about the postmodernism in Pulp Fiction, there is one reason why it's a great film. It's entertaining. Tarantino exists in the mould of Leone and makes pure nihilistic entertainment, though Tarantino is far more shallow. Pulp Fiction is masculine entertainment elevated to its highest form. Not a second passes that isn't captivating. The dialogue is snappy, both real and stylised. Plenty of cinema's most cool scenes pop up in Pulp Fiction. For me it is up there with Seven Samurai and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as the most entertaining films ever. It is not a perfect film, with The Gold Watch being clearly a weaker section and Tarantino being unable to act, despite writing himself some great dialogue. Yet Pulp Fiction is relentlessly watchable. It broke the rules and paid love to genre trash whilst taking cinema in a new direction. It's deliberately shallow, in a way that defies the norms. It wasn't some money-making commercial venture, it was made shallow as an artistic choice, just because. Whether good or bad for culture, Pulp Fiction is by itself a masterpiece. Few films are as impactful, and almost none are so entertaining.

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