Jack Mathews was far too apologetic in his defense of Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" against those who consider it morally repugnant ("Can 200 Critics Be Wrong? (Maybe)," Calendar, Dec. 26). In his lame defense, he argues that "it's only a movie," twice reiterating one critic's argument that it's "rubbish about scum." He also agrees that "bored" critics who found the movie "refreshing" and "invigorating" inadvertently sent off their unsuspecting readers to see it and are therefore to blame when these unfortunates recoiled in horror and dismay at the mayhem on the screen!
Certainly, those used to a staple diet of G or PG movies might find the shenanigans of "Pulp Fiction" proof positive that they should sign up at the nearest "Save the American Family" booth. Is that the fault of the critic? After all, the movie comes with an R rating and even a cursory reading of most of the reviews should alert readers to its content. Certain movies require some level of sophistication. One wouldn't pick a piece of atonal music as a way to introduce someone to the joys of classical music if their only previous exposure had been the romantic excesses of Andrew Lloyd Webber. At the same time, to enjoy "Pulp Fiction" is not quite like trooping off to your local Coliseum to see lions rip apart Christians! After all, it's "only a movie."
Ironically, beneath the violence (much of it off-screen) and intemperate language of "Pulp Fiction" lurks a movie far more moral--and less pernicious--than, say, the racist and misogynist "True Lies," which many lapped up without any guilt whatsoever. If anything, it is closest to early 17th-Century Jacobean drama that was lurid in content but full of a fiery rhetoric that still rings true, nearly 400 years later. Compare, for example, John Ford's play of that era, " 'Tis Pity She's a Whore," with "Pulp Fiction." In the former, a sister gets pregnant from a highly charged--and guilt-free--
incestuous relationship with her brother. To protect herself, she marries a hotblooded suitor who, on discovering the truth, plots to kill her entire family. In the final scene, the brother cuts out his sister's heart and presents it to the outraged husband who proceeds with his plans. At the same time, the play is full of brilliant speeches on the nature of good and evil, heaven and hell and the meaning of love.
Tarantino works along the same lines. His work is "decadent," a word I prefer to the more judgmental "perverted" that Mathews calls it. Like Ford, Tarantino takes the genres of his time and rather than developing them into higher forms of art uses them for lesser means. But both work in highly moral frames of reference. There is no existential emptiness here. In fact, Hollywood should love this film! In it, one person gets to ride off into the sunset, redeemed, as in the best Eastwood and Wayne movies. And when was the last time viewers could have whole chunks of the Bible cited to them from a character who believes in spiritual redemption? Ultimately, this character renounces his life of crime to "walk the earth," though Tarantino has him "walk the earth" like a character from a television show! Most probably, it is this sense of outrageous audacity that frightens viewers used to more genteel resurrections.
And through it all we have some of the most brilliant lines of dialogue this side of our best playwrights, Mamet and Albee. No, Mr. Mathews! Tarantino and his fans have nothing to be ashamed of. I say, "Long live 'Pulp Fiction!' " Hopefully, students will be studying it 400 years from now!