Pulp Fiction (1994), written by Quentin Tarantino, is loved by cinephiles. Let’s analyze the screenplay.
- Draft Read: “May 1993 last draft”
- Type: Spec
- Page Count: 163
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): Los Angeles
- Plot Structure: Nonlinear, Spanning multiple days
- Genre(s): Action, Gangster
- Theme(s): Addiction, Murder, Fate
- Protagonist Change: n/a
Seeing as I read this script (I believe for the second time in my life) a couple of weeks back and knowing that it is one of the most analyzed screenplays of all time, I figured I would share my general thoughts on some of the script’s core elements.
Pulp Fiction’s most iconic feature is that the story is presented in a nonlinear way. Yes, the story is a linear one, but that’s not how we see, or in my case read, it. I just analyzed Back to the Future (1985), which I also called nonlinear, because it kind of is? Isn’t it? Well, maybe my initial interpretation is wrong, because Back to The Future definitely follows a pretty progressive flow of cause‐and‐effect sequences, whereas Pulp Fiction does not.
Now let’s pivot to the plot itself; unique subplots that intersect at high-pressure points. Each subplot in itself isn’t that interesting, at least on the surface: a boxer decides not to throw a fight, a young couple plan to rub a diner, and so forth.
Where the script comes together is through the master use of emotional manipulation. The primary way this seems to work is the use of URGENCY. Urgency is usually felt as anxiety, and I wrote a blog post on how emotions, such as anxiety, are often used poorly in screenwriting.
What do I mean by urgency? Let’s look at a few scenes. The couple robbing the convenience store need money. There’s an urgency there. And the screenwriters add to it by noting (Page 1), “Their dialogue is to be said in a rapid-pace “HIS GIRL FRIDAY” fashion.” Speaking of His Girl Friday (1940), I need to read that script.
How about the boxer? He needs to get out of town.
The cocaine overdose? Save the girl!
The bondage scene? Escape before they come for you.
So in essence; lot’s of urgency.
And how about the sequence with Mr. Wolfe? There isn’t really any urgency on the surface… except for the man’s wife coming home… And that is definitely an urgent matter!
There are of course many ingredients in the secret sauce that make Pulp Fiction a beloved film. The script is a good one, although with the frequent grammatical mistakes and atypical structure, a script reader probably wouldn’t call it anything amazing on the first pass; an important reminder that sometimes the best scrips require the writer to try something different.