Friday, March 25, 2011

The Tarantino Thing

FLG read this post by Emily Hale with horror. She writes:
I can't recommend [Pulp Fiction] at all.

FLG thinks Pulp Fiction is a fantastic movie, but that's not where the horror arose. No, it was what followed:
Most interesting was the story telling--the overlapping stories of six or so main characters would pick up at random points, sometimes way in the past, sometimes at a moment that we'd already seen from a different perspective in the film. And there was this perpetual feeling of pointlessness--that the director was giving us a small vignettes that would never make any sense--small chunks of life that were nothing more than that.

FLG wanted to object, but then realized he couldn't. Was that it? Was Pulp Fiction pointless? Indeed, what is the point of any of Tarantino's movies?

Then FLG began thinking. James Cameron's major running theme is man's technological hubris. David Lynch's is that the tragic poet is an illusionist, at least according to FLG. What is Tarantino's?

So, FLG started mulling this over and realized something. Tarantino, like Hitchcock, uses MacGuffins, a plot device to get the ball rolling but then is discarded. In Pulp Fiction, it's the contents of the case. In Reservoir Dogs, the diamonds. FLG hasn't watched Jackie Brown in a while, but it's probably the drugs.

And then there's the multilinear storytelling, which further undermines the story. FLG means, you get the story started with a disposable plot device, and then you chop up the story into itty-bitty pieces leaving not much left. So, the story isn't the point at all.

Obviously, and FLG should've thought of this immediately, it's about characters. Unique, over-the-top characters with colorful backgrounds. (Kinda like FLG.) Oh, and FLG can't forget the fantastic dialogue that Tarantino writes. Oh, great dialogue and violence. Can't forget the violence.

Violence, right. Okay, now FLG is getting it, he thought to himself. Going back to Hitchcock, at least FLG thinks it was Hitchcock, he said if I show you two men sitting in a restaurant booth talking about the weather outside, then the audience is bored. If I first show you a ticking briefcase under the table, then the audience will be hung on their every word, even if it's just about the weather.

And then some notable Tarantino scenes started running through FLG's mind. The scene in True Romance between Chistopher Walken and Dennis Hopper. Tim Roth and his girlfriend talking about robbing liquor stores before deciding to rob the diner. Jules and Vincent talking about hamburgers with Brett before they kill him. The Wolf takes the time to say "Pretty please with sugar on top" to placate Vincent when they are talking about how to clean up a dead body. Mister Blonde bantering with the cop he captured while holding a knife. That scene in Inglourious Basterds where Christopher Waltz is talking with the farmer hiding the Jews. Or the scene where Brad Pitt is talking with the capture German soldier and threatening to unleash the Bear Jew. And then it hit FLG.

Tarantino's theme is on highlighting the instantaneous connections between people. The moment. Nothing more. For example, Jules and Brett had a connection about hamburgers even though one was going to die a few minutes later. Same with Walken and Hopper.

Well, that and redemption. Lots of redemption themes in Tarantino movies. But that's less important than the instantaneous interactions, connections, and relationships between people. It's not so much that life is pointless, but that it's a series of moments between people that are, FLG doesn't know the best word, autonomous or discrete from one another. It's about savoring the moment you have with the people around you because, well, they might kill you the next second.

So, FLG understands Emily's comment about the perpetual feeling of pointlessness. And she was correct. Tarantino is giving us "chunks of life that were nothing more than that." But she's thinking nothing more than that for the characters or the story. FLG feels like Tarantino is using those small chunks of life to make larger statements about the human condition. (Insert Plato's critique of the poets here.)


Hilarius Bookbinder said...

I had always taken the 'point' of Pulp Fiction, such as it is, to be in the disparate fates of Jules and Vincent: Jules realizes what it is he's spent his life doing, wants to change, and gets away free to walk the earth. Vincent thinks Jules is crazy, and succumbs to the logical end of the violence he's fostered.

You could probably apply the same thing to Inglorious Basterds, were one so inclined, but I tend to think most of the plot is in service of killing a bunch of Nazis. What makes that first 20-30 minute scene so visceral is something else entirely.

George Pal said...

It’s understandable Ms. Hale is confused. Tarantino dumps more pop culture onto his characters and into his movies than any director I can recall, though in his defense, that’s been one of several similar Hollywood trends. He piles it on just as the Coen brothers productions are dense with period and place. If there’s anything of life and relationships in these movies one has to, like FLG, dig, think, and work to keep from being distracted by all the cinematic frou-frou

Ms. Hale might think of renting some French films for awhile – just to get a fix.

Andrew Stevens said...

I'm with Hilarius (and FLG in the body of his post). The point of Pulp Fiction is redemption. Jules redeems himself by saving Ringo and Butch redeems himself by going back for Marcellus, both saving people they have no reason to save. This is the key to the non-linear structure as well. Logically, the film should end with the climax of the redemption of Jules, but we also have to see the fate Jules avoided (via Vince). This happens later in time as it has to, but should be seen beforehand to preserve Jules's redemption as the finale of the film. (It also leaves the audience wondering what happened to Jules throughout that segment.)

However, the story of Vince and Mrs. Wallace is pretty pointless and doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the film. A master storyteller would have incorporated the theme of the film into that segment as well, but Tarantino isn't quite that good. You could actually cut that whole section out and lose virtually nothing from the film.

jason said...

and she's wrong about the points being random--the movie is telling the story of different characters: Butch, Jules, and Vince. That's why the narrative jumps around in time. Andrew--good point about the Vince/Mia section-maybe their connection is supposed to highlight his demise, but that doesn't sound right to me.

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