There’s no other occasion that represents a good excuse to run this list other than Pulp Fiction has been running on cable a lot lately. Most of the time I see it in the cable guide, I click on it. Doesn’t matter if it’s in the middle of the movie. Scenes I must have seen a couple hundred times in the nearly two decades since the film came out are still engaging, funny, and cool.
Back in 2008, in my final days at the Los Angeles Daily News before heading to Colorado and the Rocky Mountain News, I was invited by a friend at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to crash a screening they were having in a series that honored films nominated for Best Picture — but didn’t win. I was a bit late, having dashed over from the newsroom, and slipped into a row near the back of the plush theater. The rest of the row was empty, and viewers were scattered around the theater. But this guy sitting behind me kept cackling louder than anyone at all the right scenes. And after the final credits rolled and the house lights came up, an emcee for the screening invited Quentin Tarantino — the guy behind me — to come up to the stage and talk about the film. Joining him from the audience for the panel were The Gimp (Stephen Hibbert) and Raquel (Julia Sweeney).
Tarantino confessed that night that he’d slipped into the theater for the screening because he wanted to see if people still found the film funny and entertaining after all these years. What I loved was that as much as the Pulpers still quote the movie endlessly and click over every time it’s on, the director and scribe still loves his film more.
Here are 10 good reasons — in no ranked order — why Pulpistas still keep loving it. (NOTE: The movie’s R-rated, and so are the clips)
1. The five-dollar milkshake
Thanks to this and There Will be Blood, the milkshake has had it pretty good in movie lore in recent years. But even though this exchange is dated — as milkshakes are now five bucks at sit-down restaurants — it’s still funny because, yes, it’s still just milk and ice cream. (And do you recognize Buddy Holly the waiter? Think Reservoir Dogs — or Boardwalk Empire.)
2. The soundtrack
What other soundtrack could seamlessly pull Kool & the Gang together with The Statler Brothers? Along with the pitch-perfect surf guitar of Dick Dale & His Del-Tones, The Tornadoes, and The Lively Ones, favorites here are “Jungle Boogie” and “Son of a Preacher Man.” But I really love the Urge Overkill cover of Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon.”
3. The casting
So Michael Madsen was supposed to be Vincent Vega. Matt Dillon was supposed to be Butch the boxer. And Laurence Fishburne was originally pegged for Jules Winnfield. And yet everything in the casting fell into place just as it should have. The big film moment for Samuel L. Jackson before this movie was his fast-food robbery in Coming to America, and he stole every scene in Pulp Fiction. Christopher Walken had one monologue about putting a watch where the sun don’t shine and it was great. Ving Rhames was fantastic (“you stay gone, or you be gone”) as the seemingly indomitable Marsellus Wallace who got felled because he didn’t send a lackey to fetch a dozen donuts and coffee.
4. The Wolf
Some may remember Harvey Keitel’s character in Point of No Return and its similarity to the Pulp Fiction character: In that movie, he was The Cleaner, called in to mop up the goofs of assassins and then rub them out. That involved unceremoniously dumping bodies in a hot tub and pouring hydrochloric acid over them. So while the cleanup premise may have been the same, the finesse of the characters was very different. The Wolf is someone you want to come in and clean up any mess in your life, be it a bad pizza delivery or puppy accident on the carpet. When we first meet The Wolf, bright and early in the morning, he’s still GQ’d up at a swank hotel party that could teach the Secret Service a thing or two. The Cleaner would have knocked off Jimmy for being a witness to the crime and to his shadowy identity; The Wolf handsomely compensates Jimmy for donating his wedding-gift bedding to the Marvin cleanup cause.
The Wolf is like the Yoda of Pulp Fiction — all wise and commanding respect. Plus, we’re in awe of his seemingly magical ability to get through San Fernando Valley traffic as quickly as he does. “It’s 30 minutes away. I’ll be there in 10.”
5. Bruce Willis’ weapons selection
It’s the ultimate in pawn-shop shopping: Willis can flee the trap of the hillbilly rapists, but decides to save Marsellus, the gangster who was staking out his apartment to kill him. So we see his deliberation as he looks for the perfect weapon to free his foe. Hammer? Hmm. No. Louisville slugger? Hmmm. Could work; take a bit of a test swing. Chainsaw? Hmmm. Back on the counter. But he looks up and sees the Samurai sword. And it works.
6. Jules Winnfield’s wallet
I need not say more. Kind of like the scene needed little more than Jackson’s inflection and a trip by the prop master to a leather embosser on Olvera Street.
7. DealerCare: The healthcare plan of your neighborhood drug peddler
Maybe the film foreshadowed healthcare of the future: on the living room rug of some messy Echo Park house, Magic Marker dot on the chest, and adrenaline shot from the fridge to the heart. Oh, and a Gap T-shirt on loaner to wear home. Nonetheless, as Ms. Piercing Pagoda put it, that scene was “trippy.”
8. The tasty burger (and tasty beverage)
Food references play a big part in the movie, from the Royale with Cheese to Vincent Vega’s hankering for a bloody steak to the final scene’s discussion about bacon and pork chops (“I just don’t dig on swine”) while Jules eats his muffin. Probably no coincidence considering that Tarantino spent hours in a favorite booth at Barney’s Beanery in L.A. writing the script. The Big Kahuna Burger scene is a chilling way to open the hitmen’s mission to retrieve the day-glo briefcase.
9. The foot massage
Perhaps I’m partial to this because, while seeing the movie for the first time, the guy I was with gave me a great foot massage. Really, if you have Pulp Fiction on the telly, a tasty beverage, and your footsies are in the lap of someone special getting a divine rubdown, you’ve got it made.
10. The moral of the story
Was there one in this gangster version of a spaghetti Western? Why, yes. After Vincent and Jules are spared their lives — and any injury whatsoever — in a hail of bullets at pretty close range while retrieving Marsellus’ mysterious briefcase, Jules chalks it up to a miracle from God and decides to give up the hitman life to walk the earth. He even puts his new vow to change into action when he refuses to waste Pumpkin and Honey Bunny during their coffee-shop robbery. His favorite verse from Ezekiel now actually has meaning. Through the non-linear storyline, we see that Vincent, who mocked Jules and said the wayward bullets were just a “freak occurrence,” dies. Jules, returning the briefcase to Marsellus and hugging his soon-to-be-former boss, lives.