The Pop Fiction of Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino celebrates his birthday today. At 56, he is not young anymore. He has definitely evolved as a filmmaker in ways more than one but one thing that has remained the same is the unabashed artistry that gave us his first film, Reservoir Dogs, almost 27 years ago. Tarantino’s ninth film ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ will be out in a few months. He had announced that he will retire after making ten movies. If he does, he will leave behind a body of work that has left a lasting influence on film art.

The Pop Fiction of Quentin Tarantino The Pop Fiction of Quentin Tarantino Source : YouTube Screengrab

Pulp Fiction needs no introduction. It is a cult classic. It also won the Palme d'Or in 1994 Cannes Film Festival. It is one of the most talked about films in modern history of cinema. It was only the second film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino who had already announced himself two years ago when he made Reservoir Dogs. Pulp Fiction was a huge blockbuster as it grossed over $250 million worldwide. The overwhelming response surprised the director him, as he said, ‘I always figured I would make a splash, I just didn't think I'd get to where I wanted to go in two movies.'

Quentin Tarantino's movies are "obsessed with pointing self-consciously to their own knowledge of the position they occupy" among the boundless stock of American pop culture and entertainment that it uses as a subtext to subvert the same. How can we tell whether films of Quentin Tarantino are any different themselves from the other Hollywood films which go as fast as they came?

The characters in Tarantino's films often engage in trivial conversations which may come out of nowhere. Through amusing dialogues, he humanizes his characters and makes them relatable. It also helps him add an intelligent layer to his films that promotes a serious conversation which also subdues the violence to an extent which come from his gangster film, martial arts, car chase and action B-movie influences. Having said that, we cannot ignore the dialogue heavy nature of Tarantino's films which holds key in interpreting his work from a philosophical standpoint. Tarantino's critique of capitalism, his characters' ethics, and the association of identity with language strike as prominent themes in his films.

Tarantino's philosophical fixations are evident in the character of Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction. Jules declares his intentions to ‘walk the earth, like Caine in Kung Fu'. Vincent Vega ponders on the iniquity of destroying a fellow person's car.

Nevertheless, much of his work's attractions to intelligent viewers has "less to do with any positive beliefs evidenced in the films than with their exemplifying a larger trend in pop culture towards movies, music, and books that flaunt their knowing enmeshment in and dependence on a multi-layered network of other texts. Part of what makes these films interesting to look at is the way they themselves "look at" prior films, sometimes through explicit repetitions (for example, the visual quoting in Pulp Fiction of set design from John Boorman's 1967 Point Blank)."

In an interview in 2004, Quentin Tarantino said: "I'm kind of making the same movie again and again and again." A constant pattern that has emerged in his filmography is that things go wrong as wrong as they practically could, many a times beyond their agency. There are instances of kindness and unyielding moral compass, however distorted, in a sea of violent and casuistic men.

Ella Taylor, a film critic, captured the response to Tarantino's debut on both sides: "Reservoir Dogs is one of the most poised, craftily constructed, and disturbing movies to come out this year. It's a fond genre movie that's forever chortling up its sleeve at the puerile idiocy of the genre: a heist caper without a heist, an action movie that's hopelessly in love with talk, a poem to the sexiness of storytelling, and a slice of precocious wisdom about life." she wrote in LA Weekly.

"When it pushes to extremes, it becomes an exercise in spurious, sadistic manipulation. At his most self-consciously ‘cinematic,' Tarantino is all callow mastery, and nowhere more so than in his favorite scene in which [Michael] Madsen, dancing around to the tune of "Stuck in the Middle With You," gets creative with a razor and a fairly crucial part of a cop's anatomy [his ear]. "I sucker-punched you," says Tarantino, all but jumping up and down with glee. "You're supposed to laugh until I stop you laughing." The torture scene is pure gratuity, without mercy for the viewer. "The cinema isn't intruding in that scene. You are stuck there, and the cinema isn't going to help you out. Every minute for that cop is a minute for you." He's wrong; the cinema is intruding. That scene is pure set piece; it may even be pure art. That's what scares me." Taylor criticized the film for its merciless excesses.

The violence is a set piece, it's art and indeed it is disturbing. Tarantino does have a visceral appreciation for what he creates. But it is understandable that the genre-defying and morally unsettling nature of his films is a mere style, an artist's projection of an otherwise "sublimated desire for freedom from the alienating rational and institutional restraints that separate us into arbitrary racial, sexual, and religious sub-cultures, into discrete social classes, into legislatively-defined law-makers and law-breakers, and the like."

Tarantino saw John Boorman's Deliverance when he was nine. He saw many more great films and became an aficionado which imprinted a lasting appreciation for the magical power of the cinematic experience. As others haves observed: "he loved the visceral effect movies had on him, even when he didn't understand what was really going on".

Afterall, cinema, like all other arts holds up a mirror before us, the screen is the canvas but the strokes are photorealistic, as it starkly informs us in the reflections of who we are and what we want to see-our very own individual concerns-"virtues and vices, desires and fears, longings and failings."

Reference: Richard Greene, K. Silem Mohammad - Quentin Tarantino and Philosophy, 2007.

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