Earlier this week I wrote about finally seeing Pulp Fiction. I admitted although I thought it was a good film I didn’t like it. I addressed how it suffers from many complaints I usually have against Quinton Tarantino films. I specifically complained about the storytelling and the pacing. Today I will discuss how I would “fix” Pulp Fiction.
This kind of article is not new to the Internet. My favorite writer of fiction came to my attention through his thoughts to improve the Star Wars prequels. I will admit this is a bit different. Most people view the Star Wars prequels as inferior to the originals. Pulp Fiction is probably still seen as Tarantino’s masterpiece. It is the standard by which we measure his later films.
There is also the “who the hell do you think you are” question with such a blog post. Many critics consider Pulp Fiction not just Tarantino’s greatest film or one of the nineties’s best films, but one of the best films of all time. I’m a guy with a blog and a self-published short story on Amazon. I somehow doubt Quintin will call me be a script doctor.
Still, Pulp Fiction has issues as a story. As a film it is a good film with some great scenes and beautiful direction, Where it fails is as a cohesive story.
To reiterate, the story has three main POV characters and a jumbled timeline. This is not something that needs changing. Despite its chronological non-linear structure it has a clear beginning, middle, and end. The middle occurs after the beginning, we know this from Mia’s “I never thanked you for dinner” comment, but after the end, we know this from the fact that Vincent and Jules still have the case they deliver to Marsellus Wallace after he pays Butch to throw the fight. Still, the middle occurs in the center of character development because its key concepts, the “wages of sin is death” suffered by both Vicent and Marsellus and the fact that even someone who did wrong can be an agent of good, shown by Butch’s rescue of Marsellus, setup Jules’s conversion in the third part in story terms.
The principal problem is that end. “The Bonnie Situation” is the fundamental problem of Pulp Fiction. If “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife” shows us the lifestyle of the criminal with its risks and excitement, and “The Gold Watch” shows us how it ends badly when other criminals or just a chance element show up, the ending part has to setup leaving that lifestyle and associated fate behind.
It starts strongly with the connective piece between the pickup that introduces us to Jules and Vincent. The miracle of the hidden shooter in the bathroom firing six shots at close range and missing gets Jules thinking. It is after that we go off track. Specifically, we go off the rails when Vicent accidentally shots Marvin. In a strong story, Marvin’s death would have reinforced Jules’s thoughts. It could be a second miracle or, perhaps, an anti-miracle. The accident that will end him just as easily as the missed shots saved him. Used that way the accidental shooting could be a call back to Vincent’s death in The Gold Watch. Will Jules have a gun pointed at him that accidentally goes off? Perhaps, leave his gun outside when he goes to the shitter only have it used on him?
Instead, we get a classic Tarantino bit, featuring the director himself, of pointless dialog and absurdist comedy. The Bonnie Situation is an overly stylized section, as I pointed out Tuesday, that does little to advance the plot. The question becomes what would a strong plot furthering section look like.
I think the stronger piece would follow them to see Marsellus. You can still have the brains cleaning and them change, but don’t spend so much time on it. Have Jules call Marsellus, not Jimmy, and then meet Wolfe at the junk. The clothes are just what they have found in some other car instead of being borrowed from Jimmie.
This gives us a time for another scene, one with Marsellus. Have them arrive in the bar as Marsellus is finishing up with Butch, as they did in the earlier scene. Vincent and Jules deliver the package. Marsellus talks to Vincent about his escorting Mia and Vicent leaves.
Then we have Jules tell Marsellus exactly what he tells Vincent his would tell him Marsellus in the original movie. Now we get Marsellus’s reaction to all of this. What is Marsellus’s reaction? Disbelieve will be his first reaction. Then, a version of Vicent’s bit about what they call that is a bum. Because that would sound harsh coming out of Marsellus’s mouth. Maybe he could warn Jules that at some point he’ll come back, just like Vincent did from Amsterdam, and want his job back. Marsellus could say he won’t know if he would take in a bum.
In the end, Jules walks out of Marsellus’s bar to just walk the earth, like Kane. He starts walking in LA in the stupid outfit and goes to the diner for breakfast. This picks up where we saw him at the end of the movie and ties back to the beginning. The scene can more or less proceed as written, but without the unneeded complication of Vincent coming out of the bathroom. The conversation with Vincent, now transferred and expanded into one with Marsellus, is omitted. We get to the robbery sooner.
And Jules has his first adventure walking the Earth. Instead of just seeing him and Vincent leave the diner, we finish with a long shot of him walking away down the street.
After we make these changes, I add one tiny change to the end of “The Gold Watch”. When Marsellus tells Butch to leave LA instead of, or in addition to, the line, “You have lost your LA privileges,” Marsellus tells Butch, “Have adventures and don’t stop until you reach the place God wants you to be.” This will sound odd coming out of Marsellus’s mouth, but will foreshadow the line by Jules on where he will go. Now Marsellus’s letting Butch go takes on a different tone. We wonder why he didn’t take out Butch and why Butch came back. Now they foreshadow Jules’s choice about getting out of the life.
Yes, I would also cut down the time spent making sure Vincent is high in “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife”, but that’s a minor change. That affects pacing. The bigger changes listed above affect the structure of the story. I would probably omit the driving sequence and just let him be high in the apartment and walking to the table in Jack Rabbit Slim’s
As I said, I’m a nobody writer with a short story to my credit. Quinten Tarantino is a famous and well-respected film maker. I probably should not be telling him what to do.
But we are both storytellers. He has a good story. It could have been great. I want to have great stories. So I’m learning from the mistakes of a master to train my ear to story.