Describing what “Pulp Fiction” is about in a one-or-two sentence description is a near-impossible, probably futile task. “Gangsters juggle a recovered suitcase, an OD-ing wife, a scapegoat boxer, a pawn shop sodomizer, a blood-stained sedan, and diner-eating, wannabe Bonnie and Clydes.” That’s pretty close, but it doesn’t really tell you what “Pulp Fiction”is on an ephemeral level, how it’s essentially a gangster movie with very little gangsterdom, a bloody love letter to Los Angeles written by characters who refuse to be anything less than relentlessly cool.
Many directors would give just just the surface level of their story, only hinting and hawing if there’s anything more underneath. Quentin Tarantino says right from the get go that nothing here is important, but everything is too. “Pulp Fiction” the aftermath of the event, where we don’t see Kahuna Burger boys steal the suitcase, or Tony Rocky Horror get thrown out of a window, or the pilot episode of Mia Wallace’s failed action series, or the actual fight that Butch throws, or whatever shenanigans Vincent Vega got up to in Amsterdam. The movie does not depict characters at their finest, but “Pulp Fiction” is simply how big, bad people operate in the day-to-day, when the murders have been committed and the magazine clips have emptied their last shell, and the trouble and mayhem that still finds them on their day off.
In the series of vignettes, Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules is the most invigorating and intimidating, the one who you could best describe to a friend if they asked. And John Travolta and Uma Thurman’s diner date is charming and intelligent, showing two people bonding over not what they mutually like, but what they mutually dislike. However, the best tale is Butch, Bruce Willis’ beleagured boxer, as he is on the run from Marcellus, Ving Rhames’ gangster kingpin. The two get captured and are sexually assaulted, but when Butch breaks out first, he can’t help but return back and save the man who was just aiming to kill him a moment ago. It’s a profound decision, where the first of these slimy, grease-ball characters acts not out of their own fear or self-interest, but in completely empathetic way. It’s the single highlight of the film.
“Pulp Fiction” is certainly deep, but it’s not a mineshaft. You don’t need to dig and dig to extract a meaningful dialogue about the film. If anything, the film is a trude indication that Tarantino is not more style than substance, nor empty blood and gore. He has a meticulous understanding of a good story, where pieces fit and what needs to be replaced. “Pulp Fiction” is among his greatest films, maybe even his greatest, but it is certainly the film that established that his storytelling capabilities are unmatched, a maestro of words and the camera, crafting a story equally appreciated both on and below surface level.