Pulp Fiction by Director Quentin Tarantino Is Term Paper

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Pulp Fiction, by director Quentin Tarantino, is a prime example of a film that utilizes a multiple narrative structure. The film has three narrative stories that are signaled by inserted captions, and told in "episodes" that are shown non-chronologically. Specifically, the three narratives are called "Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace's Wife," a story of a man watching over his boss's wife and cannot touch her, "The Gold Watch," the story of a boxer who is supposed to throw a fight but does not, and "The Bonnie Situation," the story of two hitmen as they prepare to kill someone and live through the consequences (LaFrance). The non-chronological presentation of these three stories does not mean there is no logic in the way the episodes of the movie are ordered. Each consecutive episode of the film provides set-ups and pay-offs for linking bits of information, characters, and action, a structural feature of the film that allows the audience to follow and piece together the temporal puzzle. The multiple narratives of the film are therefore interrelated at a fundamental level of understanding, providing three interlocking stories that say more as a composite than as an isolated narrative (Hassler-Forrest). By utilizing an interrelated multiple narrative film, Tarantino can drive home his themes of amorality, evil, punishment, and redemption in a way stronger and more intellectually arresting than a more traditional linear, single narrative plot.

In order to more clearly analyze the structure of "Pulp Fiction," the film can be divided into six episodes, where almost all the episodes provide information necessary for understanding at least two of the three narrative lines (Hassler-Forrest). For reference, Table 1 summarizes the six episodes in the order that Tarantino presents them in the film and also indicates the order in which the episodes "actually" occur.

Table 1. Six Episodes of Pulp Fiction (adapted from Hassler-Forrest with correction of errors).

Chronology of the Film

Actual" Chronology

1. Introductory scene featuring Pumpkin and Honeybunny followed by opening credits;

2. Introduction to "Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace's Wife" featuring Vincent and Jules;

5. "The Bonnie Situation" featuring Jules, Vincent, Winston Wolf and Jimmie;

3. "Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace's Wife" featuring Vincent and Mia;

1. Introductory scene featuring Pumpkin and Honeybunny;

4. "The Gold Watch" featuring Butch, Fabienne and Marsellus;

6. Jules and Vincent reflect on the events in episode 2 and have an encounter with Pumpkin and Honeybunny;

5. "The Bonnie Situation" featuring Jules, Vincent, Winston Wolf and Jimmie;

3. "Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace's Wife" featuring Vincent and Mia;

6. Epilogue in which Jules and Vincent reflect on the events in episode 2 and have an encounter with Pumpkin and Honeybunny.

4. "The Gold Watch" featuring Butch, Fabienne and Marsellus.

By rearranging the chronology of the film, Tarantino accomplishes several things. First, the narrative structure of the film becomes circular, as episode 1 and episode 6 both occur in the diner restaurant and include the Pumpkin and Honeybunny characters (Villella). Circular narratives have a long tradition in film and literature, sometimes called "bookending" in screenwriting jargon. Bookends are commonly fashioned by taking an end of the story, placing it at the first of the film and allowing the story of the film to run through time back toward the opening scene. Bookends are a psychological story-telling ploy, allowing the filmmaker to foreshadow the ending, so the rest of the entire movie is an answer to the story questions introduced in the first scene. In the case of "Pulp Fiction," this convention is twisted, with the bookend scene taken from the exact middle of the true chronology, moved to the beginning and the end of the film to form the bookends. So throughout the movie, viewers have in the back of their mind -- how does Honeybunny and Pumpkin's hold-up of the restaurant turn out? These type of over-riding story questions cause the movie move faster than if the questions hadn't been planted.

A second result of the scrambled chronology is turning the film into a puzzle that can only be followed with heightened attention to detail so that the interrelation between the different stories are caught by the viewer. How the interrelations between the various episodes and the three narrative lines work is best understood using an example. The first indication that the various non-chronological events are going to be connected is the set-up during episode 2 of three different episodes. The first episode set up is 3, "Vincent Vega and Marcellus Wallace's wife," the one that follows episode 2 in the movie chronology. This episode is set up in the dialogue between Vincent and Jules in the hallway outside Brett's apartment where they discuss the upcoming "date," the danger to Vincent, and the sexual ambiguity of a foot massage, foreshadowing Vincent's upcoming dilemma. The second set up is episode 5, "The Bonnie Situation," the one that follows episode 2 in "actual time." This set up is by action, that is, the killing of Brett and his friend that leads to taking Marvin for his last ride. The third is episode 6, again set up by action, where Brett's friend miraculously misses Vincent and Jules at point-blank range, a semi-religious event (at least for Jules) that they discuss in detail in episode 6. Thus, by making dialogue and action of this one episode set-up three upcoming episodes, Tarantino becomes free to rearrange the chronology without losing the audience.

This freedom buys Tarantino a third ability. By rearranging the order of events, he can more clearly express the themes of the film. All three of the narrative lines touch on the ideas of contextual morality and choices between good and evil. For example, Vincent has a choice between loyalty for his boss, that is, his job as a hitman, and his desire for Wallace's wife. There is no doubt that Vincent has a highly developed, if warped, sense of right and wrong. Although there is no moral problem with being a drug dealer or a hit man, "you don't ***** with a man's automobile" (Hassler-Forest). So when Vincent decides to remain loyal to his boss, to remain in the life, it follows that he is going to pay dearly for this decision. Butch, in "The Gold Watch," also faces a series of important moral decisions, as he decides to refuse to throw a fight despite the monetary reward. His most striking decision, however, is whether he should go back to save Wallace from a fate worse than death in the basement of a pawnshop. When he chooses to do so, he is rewarded for this choice by being allowed to escape (LaFrance). Seeing each of these sets of choices in a non-chronological way separates them from traditional story telling methods and forces the viewer to think harder about the cause and effect of the various moral choices.

The theme most strikingly emphasized is the one of redemption, as a main character of all three narratives undergoes a type of saving. (Ebert). It is interesting to note that the characters recognize the error of their ways and redeem themselves by interaction with one or more other characters (LaFrance). Only through the adventure with the pawn shop owners is Butch able to leave his life as boxer behind and settle his grievances with Wallace. Similarly, Jules is only able to leave the life of a hired killer after he and Vincent are miraculously unhurt after a gunfight and a subsequent attempted burglary. In contrast, Vincent, the only character that fails to recognize the errors of his ways, does not gain redemption but is punished with a violent death while alone, separated from Jules. Because Jules' redemption is the most striking of the three, that is, it travels the fullest character arc; it is appropriate that the bookending technique discussed above puts his final redemption during episode 6, at the end of the movie chronology. This gives Tarantino the ability to put the greatest emphasis on this character's change over the course of the film (Ebert).

Thus, by altering the chronological telling of the three stories in "Pulp Fiction" Tarantino has moved three stories that have been done many times before into new territory. He creates a story puzzle that engages the reader, allowing the open story questions, and the subsequent pay-offs, keep the film moving at a high pace. Most importantly, though, the structural changes gives the director the ability to play up the themes of moral choices, punishment and redemption in a way that was new, contributing to the growth of contemporary cinema.

2.) "Being John Malkovich" is a film set entirely in a surreal story world that runs by its own rules. Directed by Spike Jonze and screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, its narratorial style has been described by one reviewer as a "grimy, present tense mode you might call kitchen sink surrealism" (O'Hier). Reviewers have also noted that this story is a fable, although it seems that the moral may have been overlooked, or perhaps is too complex to express…[continue]

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