Pulp Fiction: Shortcomings of a “Neo-Noir”
The remarkable stylistic conventions of classical film noir have made it one of the most memorable and recognizable film genres to this day. Each film noir picture is uniquely told though it use of degrees of darkness, contrasting lighting, rain-covered city streets, isolated protagonist, and devious dames that effortlessly lure men into a cold trap of criminal deeds. Pulp Fiction, a film by Quentin Tarantino, is said to be one of film noir’s strongest roots with its setting of a dark, criminal underworld. While the film does play around the edges of traditional film noir, it cannot be accurately be claimed a “neo-noir” due to several variances it takes with some of the most fundamental elements of film noir. Many visual and narrative devices have taken a different route in such a manner that one cannot classify it as conventional film noir. One of the most obvious breaks that Pulp Fiction makes from traditional film noir is the film being shot primarily in the daytime. When one thinks of film noir, they automatically think darkness because it is always the film’s visual theme. The symbolic use of heavy shadows and key lighting is what makes film noir so great and gives the overall grim mood to the picture. When the murders occur the lighting is very dark, and most of the time, only illuminates the killers face as he is firing the bullets such as in The Killers when the two assassins come and kill the Swede. This style shows how emotionless the murders are as we only focus on their face from the lighting, thus giving the audience a very cold and dark feeling. We never get this feeling or situation in Pulp Fiction as all of the killing is done in the daytime, with the room well lit. There are no murders at night; in fact there are only two night scenes shot in the entire movie. There is not as much emotion or overall visual effect that we usually see with murders in film noir.
A similarity we see between classic film noir and Pulp fiction that adds to the visual detail of the film is constant smoking. Almost every character in Pulp Fiction smokes and they do it every chance they get. In classical film noir this smoking added to the effect of the darkness and lighting because the rooms where always filled with smoke which increased the feeling of uncertainty and gloom. In Pulp fiction, it has a greatly diminished symbolic effect because of the shots always being in the daytime. The only scene that compares to classic film noir is the shot of Butch in the taxicab with Esmarelda. This shot is the only one in the entire film that comes closest to a typical noir setting. This scene is shot at night in a cab traveling in the city streets of Los Angles. There is heavy contrast lighting from the streetlights and the camera angle is shot from the third-person facing the two characters in the car. From this view the audience gets a great visual picture of their faces because of the contrast of light that only illuminates both Butch and Esmarelda. Butch asks for a cigarette and Esmarelda gives him one right away, striking the match on the dash as we see in most noir films. Now the setting is dark and the car is filling with smoke, which gives a great setting for Esmarelda to ask, “what does it feel like to kill a man?” This moment is a perfect resurrection of classical film noir because we see the murderer and a questionable femme fatale having strong interest on what it is like to take a life. As Butch claims that he did not know that he killed the man until she told him, there is a pause, and then he tells her that he does not feel “a damn thing.” This is the cold moment we see from the noir style but they usually last much longer in traditional film noir. In contrast, the scene in Pulp Fiction ends abruptly as Butch leaves the taxi and goes home to Fabienne, whom he is having an intimate relationship with. The mood of the movie completely changes and all possible questions about...
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