McGinnis: The Path of the Righteous Man? Reflecting on ‘Pulp Fiction’ 20 years laterWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The guy in front of me couldn’t have been much older than 20. He had a wide grin and glasses, an air of bemusement with the world — my kind of people. What caught my eye, though, was the T-shirt he was sporting underneath his spring jacket. Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson glared out at me. I recognized their pose instantly. I didn’t need to see the logo beneath them to know that this gentleman was sporting a vintage — well, pseudo-vintage — “Pulp Fiction” shirt.
“I couldn’t get a shirt in my size back in college,” I said, pointing to his attire. “I had to wear a hat with the logo. This was just after the movie came out.”
He smiled, then hit me with the blunt end of my mortality. “I wasn’t even born yet when the movie came out.”
Oof. Right in the chin. I’m still reeling slightly even now. It shouldn’t be nearly so jarring, of course — “Pulp Fiction” was released in late 1994, nearly 20 years ago now. A generation of kids has been born who have never known a world before Quentin Tarantino exploded his pipe bomb of a motion picture in the face of a stale, complacent Hollywood. Naturally, someone born after that could be nearly of drinking age by now.
Yet the idea still reels me. Has it really been so long? This isn’t merely a matter of me losing any sense if time, I don’t think — there are movies that have been released in the years since that feel every bit their age and then some. But “Pulp” still feels modern, vibrant, alive in a way few movies can. It’s one of the rare titles that stands outside its era, so crucial was its influence. It drew from and illuminated films of the past and forged a path for what movies could be in the future. “Pulp Fiction” was a one-film revolution.
It may be hard for younger moviegoers to appreciate what the feeling was like at the time. Many of us went the first time with little idea what to expect. We knew the movie what the movie was about, in theory — a trio of stories focused on a group of fairly small-time criminals — but we had no idea *how* it would be about it. How those stories would weave in and around each other, taking place in non-chronological order, so that the events of each would amplify and enhance our understanding of the whole.
Even though such narratives were hardly new, the effect was somewhat jarring on many members of its audience. I remember disliking “Pulp” for much of its running time when I first saw it. It just felt so off-putting to a relatively young moviegoer. But like a great album which can really only be appreciated as a whole, I began to catch on as the screening progressed. By the time Jules and Vincent were walking out of the diner in their athletic shorts and UC Santa Cruz t-shirts, I had a silly grin on my face from ear to ear.
Many still feel disdain for the film and its impact. I got into a debate on Facebook recently with a gentleman who passionately expressed the view that Tarantino’s films were nihilistic and expressed the worst of human nature. I can see how someone giving a cursory surface glance at “Pulp” could see it as a violent, amoral movie. But even slight digging reveals it to be more. The film may be about violent, amoral people. But its core is about redemption. Each story features individuals who are nearly destroyed and given a chance to change. The idea of a higher power guiding them is talked about openly. In its twisted way, “Pulp Fiction” is a morality play with God as a central character.
The impact “Pulp” had on movies is still being felt today, two decades later. The immediate result was a glut of violent movies with offbeat undertones — the classic example of Hollywood trying to rip off the words without knowing the music. As time went on, though, a new generation of filmmakers came forth feeling free to experiment with linearity and dialogue. Much of the artistic direction we see in the best modern films can be traced back to the “Pulp Fiction” effect.
Tarantino is still pounding away himself, of course, each film disparate in subject but unified in tone and feel. In a time where most directors are content to play bubblegum pop, Tarantino is playing hard-driving rock and roll. And, by God, the heart of rock ‘n roll is still beating, even two decades later.