It’s been 25 years since this film showed up on the big screen and changed the way you look at burgers, the boss’ wife, the boxer, and the man who will help you clean your car should you accidentally have someone’s brains spattered all over the insides…
It also gave us a drinking game: every time Samuel L Jackson cursed, you would…
One was too young to be allowed into the movies when Sholay, Deewar and Zanjeer ruled Indian screens, so Pulp Fiction was simply mind-blowing. It’s one of those films I wouldn’t mind just hearing on vinyl just like the Sholay double LP, simply because the visuals have stayed with me, all these years.
For me, this film made me wonder again: how do I never remember theorems in math, but can remember how many toasters were there in the pawn shop in Pulp Fiction. Why do I remember every dialogue in the film, the number of sips Samuel L Jackson takes from the 7Up Big Kahuna Burgers glass when I struggled to remember which elements appeared in what order in the periodic table?
‘Say what again, I dare you, I double dare you to say what again you…’
Every time someone says, ‘What?!’ to me, my inner Jules wakes up and I find myself wishing I could simply shoot them dead instead of explaining. This scene from the iconic movie Pulp Fiction is more known for an inane discussion about why ‘Royale with cheese’ is ‘What they call a burger with cheese in France...’
Quentin Tarantino brought so much casualness to the violence in the movies that you watched the film slack jawed. I remember having boldly entering the theatre playing this very ‘adult’ film in Hong Kong giggling nervously at the violence and the smart dialogue because ‘it is not the ‘done’ thing to enjoy violence that much!
And after that you saw more shark-finned hem white shirts on women than ever! All because Uma Thurman wore one to Twist at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. We didn’t care how ridiculous we looked in those flared at the ankle pants Uma Thurman wears (she’s five feet nine to our silly five foot nothing!).
Of course we bought Bolo ties the moment we could lay our hands on them. Everyone wanted to be as cool as Vincent Vega. Those of us who could not bring ourselves to curse, watched Samuel L Jackson in awe. He has made that curse his own since the movie and has used it in every film after…I suppose Gangs Of Wasseypur and its colorful language is a homage to Jules.
If you read about the film pundits will tell you about its circular narrative and how the non-linear story telling was a technique seldom used… They’re not wrong, The one grudging concession I am willing to make to a monster called Harvey Weinstein is that he loved the script and the film ended up being the biggest grosser for an indie studio like Miramax. It was proud to present Bruce Willis as one of the biggest names, but ended up making everyone in the cast a shining bright star. Cannot imagine anyone else but Harvey Keitel as the man who could help clean up and help dispose off a dead body. He is the trope. He is ‘the guy’.
Every time someone says my aunt gifted me this, I channel my inner Winston Wolf and ask, ‘Were your Uncle Conrad and Aunt Ginny millionaires?’
I am not a religious person but the miracle that Jules gets stuck on (Ezekiel 25:7) is truly a revelation. One has since seen many Bollywood films which use religious chanting as a backdrop to murder and gang wars, this movie just brought it into a sharper focus and gave it the coolth that goes with gangster in suits. Also worth remembering that this film had no original score by greats like Hans Zimmer, the film used pop music and tunes that you know are vaguely familiar… And that music went brilliantly with the incredible dialogue and the delicious ice cream coloured cars (Chevrolet Novas) that are shown in the film. Of course, Uma Thurman listening to music on her bed with a cigarette in her hand is the essence of pulp cool, methinks.
And the diner robbers calling each other Honey Bunny and Pumpkin will forever be etched in your brain. Amanda Plummer and Tim Roth made it special. And Bruce Willis as Butch the prize fighter who is supposed to take a dive and his ‘Any time of the day is good for pie’ Fabienne…
If you had to remember one dialog from the film, I would hope it would be Ving Rhames telling you in his calm voice, ‘F**k pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.’
I’m saving the best for the last though. And it’s called The Shawshank Redemption. One of the finest films we are going to see in our times. Truly incredible what 19 years of chipping away at the walls and a beautiful poster of Raquel Welch can do for a man.
This film is quieter than Pulp Fiction, but the language of the film is worth a rewatch and again. This is one film that warms you like a comforter around you on a snowy day, a warm cup of cocoa and the novella Rita Hayworth And Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King in your hands. Thank goodness for writer director Frank Darabont and Castle Rock Entertainment who gave him $25 million to make the film.
The unlikely friendship between Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Ellis ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman) is such a thing of joy, you don’t mind that this film has no female characters at all, and that the film is set inside a penitentiary (two factors that worked against the film when it was released 25 years ago at the same time as Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump).
‘Hope is a good thing,’ Andy tells Red, ‘Maybe the best of the things. And good thing never dies.’
Red is telling us the story of how Andy was an honest man, straight as an arrow, that he came to prison to be crooked. And how he was the only man who ‘crawled through 500 yards of shit and came out clean the other end.’
Yes, these are dialog from the film and I realise that I have absorbed the film like a giant sponge. Watching and rewatching it any time it shows up on TV. Again, this film is comfort food for the soul. You fall in love with Andy, slowly and surely, because you like his quiet manner. He works with numbers and saves Red, something that is rare and precious in real life.
The film grows on you. There are no flashy gun sequences in the film like Pulp Fiction, but it’s pure magic.
‘I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more grey.’
The film was shot in Ohio State Reformatory (one of the few reasons besides the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame and Cedar Point roller coaster in Sandusky, why I would want to visit the state), and despite the rough guards and the crude jailer there is something so human about the film that it is unforgettable.
And the sheer brilliance of, ‘Man missing on tier two cell two forty five!’
How does a man vanish like a fart in the wind…
Is this a movie about a simple prison break? Is this about the indomitable human spirit?
‘Believe what you want. These walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. After long enough, you get so you depend on 'em. That's ‘institutionalized.’... ’
Every time I find myself in a cubicle at an office, surrounded by corporate minions or in a mandatory scrum where instructions and progress reports are given, I think of this film. And yes, even though you have a corner office, somewhere that spirit of yours is being slowly but surely crushed. And as Red says, ‘In prison, a man will do almost anything to keep his mind occupied.’
Red has been told that it would take 600 years for anyone to cut through the walls, Andy does in 20 years. Patience and geology helped Andy escape and when Red is ready to join society, he traces Andy because he’s known to ‘find places’.
Last but the least, I wish all you readers a place to look forward to, just like Andy and Red. A place perhaps by the ocean…
‘You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. That's where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory.’
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.
Read her columns here.
First Published: IST