Pulp Fiction

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Pulp Fiction

a review by Ari Armstrong

The film Pulp Fiction, written and directed by Quentin Terantino, drew the sharpest criticisms as well as the strongest praise. However, few of the critics or admirers have developed much appreciation for the thematic beauty of the film.

The critics blast Pulp Fiction for its gratuitous display of violence and its seemingly senseless dialogues. Many admirers enjoy the film for the same qualities, although they would classify the numerous and lengthy dialogues as witty rather than senseless. While it cannot be denied that the film at times obsesses on violence or provocative dialogue for its own sake, in general the film uses scenes of violence and the interaction among characters to advance the film's theme. This thematic unity is invisible to those who remain oblivious to the subject of the theme, however.

The film develops three distinct though interrelated plot lines. The first is the story of two friends who must retrieve a suitcase full of money and return it to their mafia boss. Along this journey, one of the friends (played by Samuel Jackson) pursues a path of spiritual renewal and decides to quit the mafia and instead spend his life furthering the cause of kindness among human beings, otherwise known as grace.

The second plot line revolves around the second friend (played by John Travolta), who experiences a relationship of grace with the wife of his boss, played by Uma Thurman, but who ultimately rejects the lifestyle of grace and ends up shot to death. ("He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.")

The third plot line concerns a boxer who is supposed to purposely lose his final fight in order to make the mafia boss (and himself) rich. The boxer (played by Bruce Willis) wins the fight, gets extraordinarily rich at the expense of the mafia boss, and then must flee the city. Though this third plot line touches upon the theme of pride (in winning the fight honestly), it centers on the theme of grace, for Willis's character eventually saves the life of the mafia boss, though the two had become mortal enemies.

The complex intertwining of the three plot lines, the episodes of violence, and the extensive dialogues make sense only in light of the central theme. With a view toward the theme, many of the film's subtleties become noticeable. Within each of the three plots, the balance of power constantly fluctuates between the characters. Sometimes those with the upper hand react gracefully; sometimes they do not. Travolta's character treats Uma's with grace, but he brutally kills another character for making a mistake in a fearful situation. While grace is not necessarily an appropriate response toward evil or dangerous persons, the film suggests, graceful actions are in general appropriate toward those who land in unfortunate circumstances. Those who dwell on the superficial elements of the film miss this important (and rather touching) message.

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