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Pulp Fiction (BFI Film Classics)
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The University of Sydney. University of Adelaide. University of Newcastle Library. University of Technology Sydney. Different aspects of movie violence will be examined to determine how Pulp Fiction ends up giving its audience more laughs than terrors. This paper focuses on two different situations: Jules Samuel L.
Jackson and Vincent John Travolta in the breakfast scene where they shoot Brett Frank Whaley who tried to fool their boss, and the scene where Mia Uma Thurman overdoses and Vincent helps her. Violence in movies is extremely popular and nothing new; it has always been present in cinema. On average, in the most popular genres of , there were However, it is not all violence which can be considered entertaining. The context of the violence and the circumstances in which it is experienced plays an important role.
For instance, people watch a horror film in order to experience, in safety, emotions that are usually associated with dangers of real life. Basically, in order to experience pleasure from exposure to violence or threatening images, the audience has to feel safe and secure in its surroundings. Also, there must be clues that the violent images presented are produced for the purposes of entertainment and consumption Goldstein , There are three different forms of cinematic violence when analysing visual violence: ritualistic, symbolic and hyper-real Giroux , Ritualistic is the type of violence which is utterly banal, predictable and quite often stereotypical and can be seen in the movie franchises such as Terminator Cameron and Die Hard McTiernan This is where Tarantino excels with Pulp Fiction; its delivery of violence is presented through strange situations, which makes the audience less horrified by it, and the violence loses its seriousness along the way.
One of the key techniques of Tarantino's hyper-real violence is the play between hope and fear: the threat of violence is offset by the hope that everything will be resolved peacefully, which often leads to moments of comic relief amid the overall menace.
In the breakfast scene, Tarantino exemplifies this pattern through rapid cuts, change in dialogue topics, random conversation prior to the killing, discovery of the briefcase, lightning and banal decorations, which suggests normality.
What they do not talk about is the task at hand, which is not mentioned at any point, except while taking out their weapons and wishing they had shotguns instead. They even hang back to discuss the massage further before entering the apartment. Here, the camera no longer joins them; it stays planted in front of the door, and pans to look at them as they walk away. The visual language tells us that the apartment is the first priority; the camera appears almost impatient as the discussion continues, and that creates tension.
Just before entering the apartment, they continue to talk, and Vincent says that he has to take care of Mia while Marsellus is out of town. Jules points to his head, as if she were to be killed, but Vincent assures that it is just good company and not a date or a hit. This specific conversation is shot from behind so we cannot see their faces; no emotions or anything are revealed. These random topics trivialize the violence that is about to unfold and works to cloud the violence. For the breakfast scene, the average cut occurs every four seconds which is far quicker than the overall average of the movie.
The many cuts are in contrast, not only to the rest of the film, but especially for the long scene prior to the breakfast scene. This has the effect of altering the tempo in such a way that the audience ends up feeling uneasy and this is only relieved when the gunfire ends.
It is important to note that Tarantino uses natural lightning and diegetic sound to emphasize the acting of the actors in the breakfast scene. This interplay of light and shade on screen with bright spots in between dark corners plays with our expectations that violent scenes often take place in low-key lightning and it is not very likely in the middle of the day in a dull student apartment.
This also gives the scene a humoristic tone considering how bizarre it all is. The dialogue then shifts to their breakfast, something less serious, and here it is shown several times that Brett is having a Big Kahuna Burger. In fact, when Jules asks about where he got his burger, the bag is visible at the bottom of the screen, which leads to the earlier conversation regarding the Quarter Pounder, and Brett is complimented on being smart.
He also asks in a polite manner if he can drink some of their Sprite, and the camera is kept on Jules far longer than anticipated.
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This helps to build up tension while giving the scene a bizarre and darkly humorous tone. Tarantino uses the humorous dialogue between Jules and Brett and the casual attitude in order to delay the violence through the entire scene. This way, he also makes the audience impatient, as mentioned earlier; the threat of violence is there and eventually we need it to be relieved. Depth of field also plays an important role in this scene: we see Brett wiping his forehead of sweat and being nervous which makes him appear vulnerable and scared, while Vincent casually checks for the briefcase in the background, without any regard to the action and with only the diegetic sound of him searching through pots and pans.
This gives the audience a feeling of the fear that Brett feels, but we are not certain if we should expect any violent acts, as Vincent shows no anxiety at all. Vincent is not shown in the scene, but we see him breathe smoke into the scene, and the lack of camera motion is important to emphasize how casual and immobile Jules is as he takes out his gun and shoots the guy on the couch. The angle gets lower as Jules asserts more dominance and power. Again, this builds up tension while giving some comic relief; he chooses to apologize for breaking his concentration but ignores the murder he just committed.
The violence is unexpected yet at the same time expected. It is important to mention the quick shift in gear: until this, one second he was complimenting Brett and enjoying a soda. The next moment, he is back to business. Eventually, Jules pulls his gun on Brett and asks him what Marsellus Wallace looks like and the whole conversation from here on escalates quickly.
Here they could leave, but then all the tension would be in vain. The majority of this scene is shot with a hand held camera; this helps to give a sense of disorder and immediacy to what is going on.
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Meanwhile, Lance and Vince are still arguing. As each of the three characters speak, or in this case yell, the camera pans back and forth between them. Using this technique, Tarantino creates a great sense of space for his audience. They know where everyone is located and are aware of both the off-screen and on-screen space. Also, this extremely long take lasts for over one and a half minutes. The long takes make every action seem to last longer and, seeing as though Mia is quickly dying, this unsettles the audience and begins to infuse suspense and fear in them. Vincent and Lance are arguing about who of them should give Mia the shot, which draws out the scene and injects humour.