Monday, November 16, 2015

My 21-year-old theory about 'Pulp Fiction'

You know any of them old jokes? No, but I know an old theory.

It's all about Travolta, man!
I don't know why this popped into my head today, but I started thinking about a theory of mine concerning the movie Pulp Fiction. This was an idea I started toying with back when the movie was new in 1994, and it never got any further than some primitive, now-obsolete Usenet discussion groups. In those bygone days, I was probably frequenting or something similar. I think this idea of mine found some traction there, but it probably only amounted to a single stranger saying it was "kind of interesting." That was enough for me back then. Likes and RTs hadn't been invented, so we had to make due with what was available.

Anyway, my theory was that Pulp Fiction, at least the parts concerning the Vincent Vega character, was a movie-length tribute to the career of star John Travolta. It starts with the character's name. Vincent was also the name of Travolta's character on Welcome Back, Kotter. The "Vega" part was simply an acknowledgement that Travolta was a superstar. The actor became famous through television but never did another recurring role on a series after Kotter. That's why Vincent claims never to watch television. He knows he's not on it anymore, so what's the point? And his offhand question to Jules, "What's a pilot?" is a punning acknowledgement of Travolta's own well-known love of aviation. The actor is a certified pilot with five aircraft and a private runway.

Synonymous with disco.
Okay, now we get into more specific nods to iconic Travolta roles. Uma Thurman's Mia Wallace actually calls Vincent "cowboy" at one point, obviously bringing Urban Cowboy to mind. Also, when she's trying to lead Vincent to the intercom in her home, Mia says "disco" when he finds it, referring to the genre of music with which Travolta became synonymous after Saturday Night Fever. Having Vincent and Mia win a dance contest, meanwhile, is another obvious Fever parallel. A less-obvious one is when Vincent's partner, Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), decides to give up being a criminal, which he refers to simply as "the life." This is analogous to a sub-plot from Fever in which Travolta's character, Tony Manero, has a brother who is leaving the priesthood. And where does Jules live? Inglewood, CA, a near-perfect sound-alike for Travolta's own home town of Englewood, NJ.

Pulp Fiction references Grease a few times, too. Not only do Mia and Vincent visit the 1950s nostalgia-themed eatery Jack Rabbit Slim's, which he calls "a wax museum with a pulse," but Vincent also says that he'll be "a fucking grease spot" if Mia overdoses while in his care. And then there is Mr. Vega's antagonistic relationship with boxer Butch Coolidge. To say the least, Butch and Vincent get along poorly throughout the entire movie. This, I suggest, is an in-joke referring to the fact that Bruce Willis provided the voice of the baby in Travolta's Look Who's Talking from 1989.

Anyway, that's my theory, which is mine. There's not much more to it than what I've already described in the paragraphs above. I just wanted to record it here for posterity. Thank you for indulging me.