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Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue provides the basis for the most unforgettable moments in Pulp Fiction, even amid scenes depicting an accidental gunshot to the head, drug overdose, fetishist leather rape, and a back-to-the-50s dance contest. Written by Tarantino and Roger Avary, the screenplay’s spoken word resonates more than the sordid underground activities of the story’s gangsters, drug fiends, boxer, and hitmen. Laden with pop-culture references and barbed humor, Tarantino’s energetic discourse makes an otherwise appalling procession of horrific events unfurl into a dark comedy of errors. Though seemingly frivolous, Tarantino’s oddly poetic and sharply written dialogue deepens characters, enough to make his complex plotting secondary to the joy found in his stylistic prose.
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Or think about the two well-dressed gentlemen driving while they chat about the differences between Europe and America in an early scene; their conversation becomes devilishly sardonic when suddenly they stop and open the trunk to arm themselves for a hit. Tarantino introduces his hitman duo Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) this way, and then continues their conversation into the realms of television pilots and the sensuality of foot massages. Tarantino wants us to appreciate words, the naturalism-yet-eccentricity in his conversations, but in a way that slyly separates us from the topic at hand, if only for a moment. And just when the audience has lost themselves in conversation, the characters do something that shocks us. Not formulated around a sequence of events, but rather a dramatic, metaphysical progression whose foundation rests in dialogue, Pulp Fiction’s famous non-linear structure advances through a series of stories. Each story exists ostensibly as short film, each demanding its own individual analysis; observing their placement, however, and how they function dramatically, or not, depending on the order in which they unfold, retains the film’s greatest, genius oddity. Having employed this structure on his first film, Reservoir Dogs, wherein he used the device more for filling in the background to a cops and robbers yarn, with his second film Tarantino links seemingly unrelated adventures in lower Los Angeles. Each is told in its entirety, challenging the audience after viewing to reshuffle which story actually comes after which. But if audiences arranged the stories in chronological order, they would not make sense dramatically.
Still, the similarities in some details of plotting techniquein the three works points out the essential unity of mystery fiction,whether it is pulp, Golden Age, or American Renaissance.