Memory, Metaphor, and Time: Volume 2
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Temporally twisted tale-telling techniques had been nabbed by a maestro going by the moniker Q.T.—who I'd first encountered when he'd orchestrated a jewel caper with a color-coded cast of gangsters dubbed the Reservoir Dogs. The muse to his latest chronologically chaotic two-part revenge epic Kill Bill (see my review of Volume 1) had clued me in on the case, but to get the scoop I needed to tap into The Fiction—I needed to know his motives.

Pulp Fiction's disorienting expression is a credit to its noir heritage; encapsulating the momentum of Dogs interwoven with noir/neo-noir flavor, black comedy and ultra-coolness in a multi-temporal fashion. At once The Fiction was a reflective work of neo-noir and a unique creation unto itself; its method is perhaps its most pronounced feature.

The surrealistic format of The Fiction seems to serve several purposes—the first a credit to the noir heritage from which it hails. Film noir has received props for coining the "flashback" as a storytelling technique, plying a twin temporal movement approach to the narrative that functions both in "real" time and "memory" (or "remembered") time. Since Double Indemnity (1944) first applied this style—opening with a "real" time confession, cueing a "flashback" that takes viewers through "remembered" time, eventually integrating the two tracks to conclude the film—it has become a staple of noir. Of course, this device is not limited to the genre, and Q.T. definitely embellished on it in practice.

Second, each vignette sets up a self-reference which will payoff later in the narrative structure—the way a joke gives set-up for the punch line—clues are deposited early on to cue connections later in the film. It's as post-modern as post-modern styles get, providing keys like "gold watch" to express themselves later. A more serious thematic aspect of this is that each episodic event provides a discourse on redemption; in chronological order these conclusions would be lost.

For example, when Butch (Bruce Willis) is first presented with his father's gold watch, it’s a hilarious—almost mock spin on the cinematic motif of masculinity, honor, and duty. Complete with Christopher Walken as Captain Koons in a role reminiscent of the classic Vietnam-era work of masculinity, honor, and duty: The Deer Hunter (1978). Koons states: "Your birthright," handing him the watch that had been lodged in his ass for years. In an ironic twist, the watch actually plays an integral role in Butch's own test of manhood—going back into the fray to rescue his sworn enemy from a deplorable fate in a cross between samurai honor and the proverbial "leave no man behind."

The film's ultimate redemptive tale centers on Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), whose exchange with partner Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and constant quoting of scripture (before he puts a cap in someone's ass) underscores the more spiritual aspects of the theme—exploring determinism and free will. No sooner has Jules accepted his "fate" in reverence to an "act of God" and submit himself to wandering the land Kung-Fu Caine style, does this choice get put to the test, forcing him to choose between mercy or the violence he has become accustomed to.

Pulp Fiction's non-linear order is essential to effectively expressing its interrelated stories—it ushered in a neo-noir revitalization usurping some of the very values the sub-genre was founded on. It departed from pessimism, alienation, and despair to concoct a warped vision of morality, salvation, and hope. There were still uses for the deconstructed construct that hadn't been explored yet—it was time to get philosophical on the matter...

Don’t miss part one of Josh’s series: “Memory, Metaphor, and Time: Volume 1
And watch for “Memory, Metaphor, and Time: Volume 3”—coming on July 28!

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