Postmodernism In Pulp Fiction Essay

1929 words - 8 pages

The film Pulp Fiction was an immediate box office success when it was released in 1994 and it was also well received by the critics, and celebrated for the way it appeared to capture exactly a certain pre-millennial angst and dislocation in Western capitalist societies. The term post-modernist, often used to refer to art and architecture, was applied to this film. The pulp fiction refers to popular novels which are bought in large numbers by less well educated people and enjoyed for their entertainment value. The implication is that the film concerns topics of interest to this low culture, but as this essay will show, in fact, the title is ironic and the film is a very intellectual presentation of issues at the heart of contemporary western culture and philosophy.
Ten years before Tarantino made Pulp Fiction, the academic and critic Frederic Jameson identified some of the key features of postmodernism, and debated whether these were a true departure from modernism, or just a continuation of the same rebellious themes. His paper on postmodernism tends towards the latter view, but at the same time prophetically pinpointed the essential departures that postmodernism has made from what has gone before. Tarantino’s film does not continue the debate in an academic way, but instead presents a virtuoso visual performance of the ideas that Jameson could only dimly perceive. These ideas include pastiche, a crisis in historicity and a blurring of the distinction between high culture and low culture.
One way that Tarantino uses pastiche is when he introduces very evocative settings, like for example the restaurant setting of Jackrabbit Slim’s Diner. The décor is flamboyantly 1950s style, which is not in keeping with the more modern setting of the main action in the film. The film set is exaggerated, with customers actually sitting in cars, and the waiters and waitresses dressed up as famous 1950s characters like Elvis Presley and Marylin Monroe. On another level the film plays with the cultural connections that the actor John Travolta has with the 1950s. The musical film Grease which is perhaps Travolta’s most famous film, takes place in this kind of setting. When Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction encounters this scene, playing a much older character in a much more adult and violent film, it causes an ironic ripple. The audience makes an instinctive connection with what they know outside the film, and this explodes the usual time and action frame of film. In Pulp Fiction Vegas begins to dance and this again brings in a whole host of meanings related to the famous dance between Travolta and Olivia Newton John in Grease. In the later film, however, this is no innocent flirting between teenagers. The new context is a dangerous flirtation with the wife of a deadly killer, and both of the participants are adults who know the consequences of their actions. Critics have noted that this, also is ironic, quoting elements of older film styles: “The story of...

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