“So you want to hear the Fox Force Five Joke?” she asks. “I am so petrified I couldn’t laugh” Vincent replies. “No you wouldn’t laugh anyway, ‘cuz it’s not funny. But if you want to still hear it, I will tell it”. “I can’t wait.” She goes ahead and tells him the joke – the very joke she was too embarrassed to tell only minutes ago.
Minutes ago, Vincent (John Travolta) and Mia (Uma Thurman) are sitting in a somewhat retro themed restaurant having dinner. Vincent, high on drugs, has to ensure that he sits ‘across the table’ from Mia (high on drugs, as well) because Mia is his boss’s (Marcellus’s) wife and he is out ‘not on a date’ but to keep her entertained. She says that what sets two people who know each other apart from a couple who don’t is that they can share comfortable silences. And to that, he says we don’t know each other that well yet – ensuring that the distance is maintained – especially when there are rumors going around about Marcellus pushing a guy off the balcony of the top floor of a 4-storeyed building because he gave Mia a foot massage. Mia ensures that the guy never gave her a foot massage and that the reason for the shove is known only to Marcellus and the guy. Vincent, still, like any sane man wouldn’t take risks. It is then he mentions her (Mia: Uma Thurman) role in a TV program pilot and she elucidates her character as one who tells an old joke every episode. He wants her to tell one and she is too embarrassed to tell it to a person with whom she can’t comfortable silences. But minutes later, they are back in her room – just finishing off a dance step and staring a moment too long at each other when Vincent asks her if this was the ‘comfortable silence’ she referred to. She doesn’t answer, and we are left thinking whether it was after all. Vincent is seen in the bathroom reminding self to be a gentleman – accept the drink, just one – and go home. A completely freak drug OD accident and adrenaline-stabbed revival follows, which by the way is one of the varied freakish incidents that adorn the movie. Both of them don’t want Marcellus to know. “I would be in as much danger as you” she says, clearly concerned. They promise not to utter a word. This stays between them. They share a secret. They have grown that bit closer. And she tells him the joke. She is no longer embarrassed.
The movie is made up of very real characters like Vincent and Mia, with attached eccentricities. Vincent can’t take curtness, Jules (Samuel L Jackson, brilliant) thinks he has witnessed the ‘hand of God’, Butch (Bruce Willis) would risk his life for his ancestral wrist-watch and Mr. Winston Wolf makes a 30 minutes drive in 9 minutes and 50 odd seconds. What is common to all characters though is the way they choose their words. Every character is defined more or less by their choice of words. Mr. Wolf is a friendly man, who if appears to be curt is because time is of essence – and once he likes you, you call him Winston – not Mr. Wolf. Mia does coke, is the wife of a gangster but wouldn’t use the f-word. Butch calls his lover Tulip which she likes, earlier having called her a ‘retard’ and taking that back. Characters indulge in dialogues, unerringly witty, that appear to beat around the bush but when they are finished you realize that they have made a point and also ensured that it is driven home well. Jules goes on to quote from the Bible in more than one instance about how every man’s duty is to guide the weak and if anyone deters it, the lord shall unleash his vengeance. When he goes on to a monologue with this quote, you continue hearing but tend to stop listening. You do not assimilate the gravity of the quote but are left with a feeling that the quote is really profound. And yet, when he quotes it for the 3rd time, right at the last scene, you listen very carefully. You get the import of what the quote has to convey. It is not just because you are hearing it for the 3rd time – but because the quote makes all sense to the character, Jules, only then too.
The story spans just over a day in the lives of these characters involved in quirky situations. We are even told the time, 7:22 in the am is when the ride starts and 11 in the am the next morning is when it ends. They hold little or no significance, none that adds any layer to the movie anyway. But we are informed about it nonetheless. The story itself unfolds in acts like in a play. But the acts aren’t arranged chronologically. The narrative is non-linear - peppered with unforgettable music bits along with some camerawork that underscores the director’s fetish for all things *pulp* titivating the lives of people who work for Marcellus. The narration is what sets it apart. It just isn’t reversed narration (like in Memento, which again is brilliant). It isn’t the typical ‘flashback’ narrative. It is non-linear; so much so that the last scene is not the last act, if you can differentiate between the two. The last scene is in fact the very first act – and yet is not a flashback. The movie opens at a roadside inn – with two small timers discussing ‘Nobody ever robs a restaurant – let’s do it; right now, right here.” It is where the movie ends too - with the unraveling of the first act and how it ends. What happens later is already narrated. Why, one of the characters is even dead – but yet, when the movie winds up act one – it is a happy ‘ending’.
Gangsters, Fixed boxing bouts, Double-crossing, Freak murders, a Homosexual act, Drugs, God, et. al. – Pulp Fiction is one zany ride. Pulp fiction is sheer entertainment.