Let’s Analyze “Pulp Fiction”!

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I LOVE Tarantino’s movies! He always seems to know what camera effects to use at just the right moments to enhance the scene.  I chose to analyze a famous scene from the movie Pulp Fiction where the two main characters and their hostage are in a car debating. I’m going to take notes as I’m watching the clip so I can jot them down as soon as I notice something, so I apologize in advance that this will not be in paragraph form.

Step 1: Watching Without Listening

1. According to Roger Ebert, things in the foreground are more important than what’s in the background. Which is why Marvin, in the back seat, is blurred out when the 2 important guys are talking in the front. Also in the front, the dominant individual is on the right while the “sidekick” is on the left.

2. In the beginning, the camera doesn’t pay attention to who’s talking, but only the expressions given off by Jules; showing how he doesn’t have much interest in what Vincent is saying to him. This also functions as the scene’s Establishing Shot (according to the Top 20 Cinematic Techniques video), showing where this scene is going to play out rather than jumping straight into the characters’ argument. I noticed Tarantino does this a lot in his movies; he sets the stage before focusing on the characters’ interactions.  After this moment, the camera begins to cut between whomever is talking.

3. When Marvin starts talking at 0:49, the camera is still blurry, probably implying that he’s still not invited into Vincent and Jules’ conversation. However, after he’s done speaking, the camera cuts to Marvin’s point of view from the backseat, but not the direct POV through his eyes.  This makes the audience seem like an invisible character next to Marvin in the backseat, watching this play out from a different perspective. Even though Vincent is clearly talking to Marvin now, we still don’t get to see him in the shot for the rest of the scene. Probably showing how he’s still not important enough in that scene to get his own screen time.

4. I guess the cut to the back window as the blood covers it is a way to show the gruesomeness, STILL without showing Marvin. He just wasn’t meant to be in this scene, yet he’s extremely important.

5. After the blood explosion, both Vincent and Jules are being showed in the shot at the same time, showing how theyre both imporant at the moment. However Jules seems to be more dominant in the shot because the camera is shot from his side of the car. Imagine of this moment was shot through the front windshield of the car. This would put Vincent and Jules on equal levels. Tarantino didn’t want this because Jules is clearly the boss between the two. I also noticed that Vincent is more blurred out in the background, not as much as Marvin was, but just enough to show that Jules in the foreground is more important.

Step 2: Listening Without Watching

1. The soothing sound of the car driving along the road was the first thing I noticed. The sound sort of puts us in the car with them. Despite the fact that they’re arguing, the sound of the car is still sort of relaxing.

2. Tarantino likes to keep things as natural as possible in his movies, which is why during average-human-scenario scenes like these, he doesn’t add any additional background music or unnecessary sound effects. If these were added to this shot, the meaning might be changed or the scene would be dictated by the sounds. Plus you can already feel the heat between the two without music telling us “this is a heated argument.”

3. The dialogue seems like just an average human conversation that escalated a bit too much. Vincent was so involved in the conversation that he wasn’t paying attention to his gun. I’m trying to imagine this scene as if I hadn’t already seen the movie. If i were just listening to it as an audio drama, I wouldn’tve known why a random gun went off if Vincent hadn’t said what happened. Speaking of the way he said it, I found it hilarious that he said” Aw, I shot Marvin in the face…”all casually, as if he didn’t just SHOOT SOMEONE IN THE FACE!

4. The atmosphere in the car changed from heated arguing to panic after Marvin got shot. Without even being there, the audience can feel how frantic the characters feel just by how the dialogue is layered on top of one other, sentences being cut off and shouting.

Step 3: Watching and Listening!

1. Tarantino uses the audio dialogue and the camera shots to keep us at the center of the action in the car without even being there.

2. Huh…I didnt notice this before. The speaking dialogue is so clear, as if it was recorded in another, more enclosed location other than in the car. I know if I tried to record myself talking in my car, I would still get some kind of background noise and my voice wouldn’t be heard as easily.

3. At 0:33 Vincent looks directly at Jules to confront him head on, after he’d been looking forward and away from him the whole time. He does this to show his seriousness in the topic. Meanwhile Jules doesn’t once turn to look at him. This isn’t because he’s busy driving (because he later turns to look at him after Marvin was shot) but it’s because he had no intent to change his mind on the matter. His decision was final.

4. At 0:52 Vincent does the turn again to talk to Marvin just as he did when he got serious about Jules’ responses. He ends up sounding alot more serious during those 2 turns in this scene.

5. Now we finally see Jules look at something other than the road at 1:00 (see, told you he was just ignoring Vincent’s glance earlier!) He looks at the back seat multiple times, as his voice gets louder and louder, clearly more concerned about what just happened than what they were discussing before.

Maaann, this couldve all been avoided if Marvin had an opinion. Oh well.

I never noticed how much went into this scene, and if I did I was probably not consciously aware of it. Tarantino clearly takes all aspects of perspective and audio into account when he creates these legacies, and he tries to make each scene a slice-of-life scenario; things that could happen to any average person.

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