Pulp Fiction – Immersive Moments

Thoughts On: Pulp Fiction

Ok, we’ve reached the end of the segmented essay on Pulp Fiction. So far I’ve covered this film in terms of Tarantino, and then in terms of his message. What we’ll now do is explore its greater truths not as an arthouse movie, but a Tarantino classic that has a lot to say about how films are made and seen.

Pulp Fiction 3

In the last segment I gave a somewhat in-depth analysis of what the film means and what its absolute message is. I believe that this message has been designed into the film by Tarantino, but not as a primary function of the picture. His movies are very clearly about both himself and his audience enjoying themselves. In this respect I draw your attention back to the two definitions of pulp he provides us before the film starts:


1. A soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter.

2. A magazine or book containing lurid subject matter and being characteristically printed on rough, unfinished paper.

Whereas the last part saw Pulp Fiction as a magazine or book written with intentions, here we’re going to see it as a soft, moist, shapeless mass. This means that I am going to contradict myself, but so what? In the end you can choose to take away the film or the movie, or accept it as is, contradictions in tact. This means that all apparent structuring is designed only to disillusion, all imperfections are manufactured in to ensure you enjoy yourself. We can see this best with the non-chronological form. Tarantino does this to make a plotless film, to take away true cause and effect, to reduce the picture to a matter of moments. We see this best with Vincent’s death. It’s put in the middle of the film so we forget about it. There are also so many extraneous characters and sequences that pop in and out for the sake of pure entertainment in spite of sense or ex-machinas. What Tarantino manages to do here is what Harmony Korine wanted to do with Gummo. Korine wanted to construct a film that was much like a photo album. There are just snippets of character, events, situations and life. I’m not a fan of Korine’s work, or of Gummo. It achieves a few insane images that do stick with you…

… but ultimately just want to forget about. (Click the picture if you want to see the scene depicted). This comparison may seem to come way out of left field, but it really doesn’t. All we have here is the same film, or concept for a film, executed with different artistic ethics. Korine wants to create original, think-feely, postmodern, quasi-film. On the other hand, Tarantino wants to create something new, but still reminiscent of the films he grew up with, loves and constantly references. It’s in my personal opinion that Tarantino is, as a result, the better artist. With Harmony’s films there is an air of pretense. You see this in his interviews too. He’s clearly a smart guy with some very interesting ideas, but what he produces is lacking in texture, in depth, in grit, flesh, something to hold on to. Gummo in particular is just a load of empty moments pulled together. It’s the equivalent of a splatter painting or Duchamp’s Fountain…


These are both cool ideas that you could talk about at legnth, but they aren’t true art in my opinion. True art takes skill as well as concept, it takes engaging your audience, it takes actually reaching out and affecting them, not obliging them to assign meaning and join the cycle of pretense over something anyone could do without much effort. Returning to the realm of film, this is why Tarantino is the better artist, but I do have to say Korine does demonstrate skill in his cinematography, framing and editing. However, he seriously lacks the power to produce an engaging narrative, an immersive atmosphere or poignant message. This doesn’t mean blockbusters are better that arthouse films or that films are better than movies. I cite films such as Eraserhead, The Holy Mountain, Un Chien Adalou or anything by Tarkovsky as films that have grandiose concepts like Korine, splatter painters or Duchamp. What separates these films from Gummo or even the largely empty Spring Breakers is clear skill on the grounds of atmosphere, narrative and mood. Yes, Eraserhead might not intentionally mean much, but damn is it captivating. Yes, The Holy Mountain may be pointless, but it says a whole lot of nothing incredibly well. Yes, Tarkovsky is something you just have to stare up at in awe, by there’s a channel of respect running between him and the audience in the beautiful images he captures for us or the astounding sense of pacing and atmosphere he creates for us. Artist and audience shouldn’t be two people standing on either side of a mirrored window that is their art. Artists and audience work for and with one another to produce pieces that entertain, teach, inspire as to benefit both sides. Wow, we’ve run a long tangent from Pulp Fiction. Let’s bring it back…

So, Tarantino has constructed something both entertaining and artful, but how and why? We’ll start with how. This is Tarantino’s lesson to all you writers, so pens at the ready. Tarantino seems to abandon an idea of narrative to ensure each and every moment of his film engages. What does this means and does it make sense? It does make sense and it works because Pulp Fiction sucks out all the boring parts, not focusing on character arcs or narrative meaning, but the escalating moments of absurdity. The reason why Pulp Fiction isn’t put in the same class as Harold and Kumar, Pineapple Express or Dude, Where’s My Car? however is because it’s manufactured to hide what it almost is as well as the fact that it is what it’s trying not to be. To clarify, there are character arcs and narrative meanings in Pulp Fiction. Tarantino just hides them from us. Moreover, this isn’t one bad night film like Adventures In Babysitting because it throws away the rule book, intentionally breaking rules of structure and beats. What this all means is that Tarantino is writing the best shorts he can, that can ultimately be pieced together like a puzzle. He focuses all his energy on the diner scene or the one hard day Butch endures to ensure that momentum translates to the film. The lesson in this can be applied to writing chronological, solid narratives. Pulp Fiction teaches us the power of the scene, of the moment. And strangely enough, there’s a formula to these moments. Don’t worry though, it’s not a very helpful one. So, to reinstate what Pulp Fiction is before breaking down it’s detailed structure: the big picture is a few segmented moments, in these moments is further segmentation, and in each segment there is a constant cycle of character and conflict. In this you can see how the film may have been planned. I want to make clear this is all speculation – but speculation that makes a lot of sense (in my opinion). So, the film is obviously broken into chapters, simple blocks of action. These blocks of action are then split up. For example, inside the Gold Watch sequence there’s the flash back, taxi ride to the motel, night, morning, retrieval of the watch, fight with Marsellus, escape from the S&M dungeon. Inside each moment we’ll get a hint of character and then a bit of conflict. This is easiest seen in the flashback. We get to learn who the grandfather is, but then what he had to go through. We then learn about the father, but then what he had to go through. We learn about Koons, but then what he had to go through. Now, character doesn’t mean backstory, character means time with a person where they just behave. To understand this look at the Mia/Vincent conversation in the restaurant. The two just talk about meaningless things, they fall into a bit of back story, then there’s a bit of conflict with an implied connection brewing before an awkward silence (conflict). Conflict resumes with Mia returning to the table and them having to discuss the plot, but falls back into character with their dance. What’s most important is the meaningless, the (at times) philosophical-esque look at awkwardness, at bible versus, at trips abroad, at foot massages. The everyday and the everyday character always comes before conflict.

This is the cycle present throughout the film: character, conflict, character. conflict. This is so effective as it lets us get to know characters. This is VERY important. But probably not in the way you think. Many people think we get to love characters by learning their back story and seeing them go through hard times. This is absolute bull. How do I prove this? I can do this over and over. First, look at yourself. Did you have to learn all about your friends childhood before liking them? Did you have to see them go through tough times before sympathising with them? No. That’s nuts. However, have you become friends just by sitting next to someone in a class, living next door, working in the same space as them? I’m pretty sure this is how almost all relationships start. They’ll strengthen the more we get to know a person, but without knowing their complete history, or seeing them cry, you can develop a pretty strong bond with them. Why? And what does this have to do with writing? We develop friend this way because we are merely subjected to real characters. You see this all the time. Have you ever not liked what a person was saying, but still felt a sense of respect for them because they seemed honest? Have you ever despised someone because they seemed fake? Therein lies your answer. This comes down to character writing then. If you can convince an audience that your character is a real person, or has traits that ring true, you will create a loveable character. For another example I only need to cite my favourite film of all time: Amelie. I love this film unfathomably because… really? It’s just the way I feel. If I were to break it down without going into too many psychological misfirings in me, I just need to point to the opening. This is all to do with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s game: things I like, things I don’t like. (Also the title of an excellent short he created). In Amelie, Jeunet gives us a peak into character’s minds by giving us a peak into his own mind. The lists of thing his characters do and do not like come from his own nuances. In short we are spending moments watching him throughout the day that reveal who he is. That means, in a weird sense, I don’t really love Amelie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, which isn’t me admitting anything exciting, but bringing up another point. Writing is as much about who you are as it is what you create. This is the soul crushing thing about art. You are trying to project apart of you through a medium, and the thing people don’t like to tell you is that when you are being told your film or painting sucks, they kind of mean: I don’t like you, what you like or the way you think.

This all of course calls back to writing what you know. But, I don’t want to leave the point essentially saying you suck and nobody likes you or your art. Whilst there may be parts of you, the ideas you have or the things you try that don’t work, there may be some things that do. There may be an aspect of your own character that really resonates with people. What that is, I can’t tell you. This is why actually creating work (at a high volume) and actually failing (a lot) is so important. We aren’t really trying to find ourselves as artist, but the part of us everyone is willing to accept. That is why Pulp Fiction is so great (apart from that little moment of near racism discussed in the first part). Tarantino demonstrates great character. And this great character is what entertains. I want to pull back a moment to ensure I don’t leave you in a mess here. What I hope I’ve demonstrated is Tarantino’s manifested formula. He segments his films, breaks them down further and then constructs each moment by alternating between moments of character and moments of conflict. Some critique Tarantino for this because it produces films that are quite obviously moment after moment. They are disjointed in other words. This is also why Pulp Fiction is Tarantino’s best film. He plays into what he does best: creating moments. By using his formula you too may be able to create an ok film, but one that may be disjointed – especially if you use his formula on a chronological narrative. To tackle this you could do two things. The first is produce a natural, flowing narrative. This was all explained with the Silent Running post so I’m going to skip onto the second method. This is narrative that rises and falls. To see this we can stay with Pulp Fiction. As I already hinted at, all of Tarantino’s segments escalate. This is his main device used to entertain. Look at the Gold Watch again, he starts with a taxi ride, steps it up with some heated interaction between Butch and his girlfriend, he then flips the switch on that heat turning the seduction into aggression before introducing suspense, then a gun fight/chase, then horror, then catharsis with the escape. Look at almost any great movie here and you can see this aspect of escalation, look at Rocky, Platoon, Goodfellas, Godfather, Back To The Future… in fact, let’s stop. The list is almost endless. Films that don’t work start good and get worse, or start bad and stay bad. The films you forget are the ones that start good and stay good. Action must rise. This is writing 101. You’ve probably heard this a million times before and dismissed it or possibly misinterpreted it. Action rising doesn’t mean more things happening, or a huge fight, or even more conflict. Action rising means an intensification of everything you set up. Look at Leone here, he rises to a simple shootout. It works so well because he also brings characters closer to the end, demonstrating his best direction as to emote and produce suspense. You can even look at Linklater’s Before Sunrise. This is a film in which two people just talk. Action still rises though. What happens is Linklater’s, Hawke’s and Delpy’s character work deepens, intensifies, get’s all the better. Action rising just means making the story better. What this truly reveals then is what the best advice is: not very helpful. The best advice is broad and intangible. What you must figure out is how to grip it, make it tangible, something you can use. This is why watching films, reading and so on are the best ways to get better at your own art. You need to figure out how other people do things, what works and what doesn’t so you can then learn that all again, but relative to you. The path is long and winding, I know. But…

Let’s summarise with actual focus on Pulp Fiction. This movie works so well because it gives itself the room to concentrate on creating escalating moments inside an escalating plot. It gets better, intensifies with each moment that passes. And in each of these moments we are cycling between character and conflict, again, another rise and fall in action. By focusing on moments Tarantino creates an immersive experience and all by abandoning rules. By purposely reducing his narrative to pulp, this shapeless mass, Tarantino entertains making clear to us that the ineffectual is what resonates best, that weightlessness is the best form of entertainment.

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Pulp Fiction – The Line Evil Draws

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Hardcore Henry – Symphonies Of Destruction

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Pulp Fiction – The Line Evil Draws

Thoughts On: Pulp Fiction

I’ve already introduced the essay on Pulp Fiction in the first part where we discussed Tarantino and lessons in writing what we know. Next we’re going to be talking about the ‘film’ elements of the picture. In other words we’re going to be analysing the film as to pull apart its message.

Pulp Fiction 2

Pulp Fiction is a picture trying to do two things and this is perfectly demonstrated by the two definitions Tarantino gives us in the very beginning:


1. A soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter.

2. A magazine or book containing lurid subject matter and being characteristically printed on rough, unfinished paper.

This film is ‘Pulp Fiction’ meaning one of two things. It’s either fiction for the sake of fiction and entertainment. Or, it’s a film with lurid subject matter, but a piece of artwork nonetheless, a piece of art we can assume to be made with intentional messages. This is what I mean by saying this picture has strong elements of both ‘movie’ (definition 1.) and ‘film’ (definition 2.) in it. The true depths of Pulp Fiction are found in it’s movie elements that disguise themselves as something a little more profound that we can learn a lot from, and so, for that reason, we’ll save that for last. What we’re going to look at now are the confusing elements of the film, the ambiguity of the case, of the reason why Rocky Horror was thrown out of his window, what the gold watch means, what that bible verse means, why the film ends like it does and what the ‘miracle’ is all about. This sounds like a lot, but don’t worry it’s all connected and so won’t need extensive work to pull apart. In short, Pulp Fiction is about characters changing, an idea of fate and a question of justice. To understand this we have to focus on Vincent, Jules and Butch as the three main, and most important, characters. Before we start though, I’ll also clarify the sequence of events in the film as they can be easily jumbled:


Collecting the Briefcase

Vincent and Mia


The Gold Watch

The Bonnie Situation


We’ll start by jumping past the opening Diner sequence to focus on the briefcase and Marsellus throwing Rocky Horror out the window. In short, there are no answers here, but both concepts do have weight and meaning. Marsellus throwing a man through a window for doing something(?) and possibly to his wife, is all about control and tyranny. Whilst you could argue that nothing happened here as Mia said so, mmm… don’t believe her. Why would she tell the truth? I think something did happen, and to symbolise Marsellus’ character, set up the ‘date’ and make clear Vincent’s conflict. Marsellus is a very possessive man, willing to kill another for going near his wife, as a result, Vincent’s conflict lies in his respect for him. We see this in the hug the two share. (Remember here that Jules is never seen with Marsellus). This indicates that Vincent is immersed in gang culture, whereas Jules isn’t so much, and that the briefcase is a symbol for their commitment to both Marsellus and crime. This is reinforced by the end with Jules saying that his boss’ underwear are in the briefcase. This might as well be what is actually inside the case, with the golden light being a fabrication, a metaphor for perceived greatness, of respect and stature in the world of crime. The light in the case is the reasoning behind characters respecting and working under a man who, for no explicit reason, would give a person brain damage. The real ambiguity presented to the characters resultantly turns all their actions in and around the briefcase and Marsellus into questions. The primary question comes with the ‘miracle’ but we’ll return to that later. Suffice to say that that question is Jules’ whereas Vincent’s question comes with the Mia sequence. In short, Vincent is being asked if he wants to walk the thin line for Marsellus. In this Mia is symbolic of the trap of gang culture. She is almost the spoils of success – those that are out of Vincent’s reach. She is an archetypal femme fatale. Marsellus throwing Rocky Horror out a window makes clear to him that there are consequences for his pursuit or even involvement with her and crime. This is why when he’s in Mia’s bathroom he says ‘this is a test’. But the truth is, it’s not a test of his loyalty to Marsellus, but his own sense. Vincent’s association with Mia, Marsellus and gangs is what kills him. All in all, Vincent’s character is doomed. He refuses to change, to accept the futility of criminal activity and the looming dangers of gang culture. This is why Vincent is the only main character to die in the film.

Next we come to Butch and his Gold Watch. This is a very simple concept to understand. Butch, like Jules and Vincent, is trapped within gang culture, but he was raised as the son of a war hero (born into a line of war heroes). He, like his fathers before him, is a fighter and doesn’t really want to be associated with crime or evil. This turns the gold watch into a symbol of goodness opposed the golden light of tyranny in the briefcase. Very simple, no? Butch being the good guy is demonstrated throughout the film. He shows no real respect toward Marsellus in the beginning, or his henchmen, he disobeys, he wants to escape them, and is ultimately the real hero of the film. Butch, despite a rough temperament, always does the right thing. As I’m sure you’re starting to piece together now, there are three clear characters similar to Leone’s Good, Bad and Ugly. Vincent is the bad, Jules is the ugly and Butch is the good. But, Tarantino’s characters are strict archetypes of Leone’s and that’s why the end happens, but, before that we must finish up on the character of Butch with the structuring of the film. The reason why the narrative is so disjointed comes with an idea of consequence. With the first half characters and their conflicts are set up. We’ve done Vincent’s and implied Jules’ already. To clarify what Jules’ conflict is we only need to look at the moral dilemma he faces with the act of God. He is a character that questions Marsellus’ power whilst Vincent defends him. On the other hand, we have Butch who not only disobeys, but literally fights Marsellus – and almost to the death. Here we come the mid point of the film. Butch’s conflict is his being torn between good and bad, between freedom and imprisonment – being ‘Pulled back in‘ essentially. Moving past the mid point of the film we see the consequences of that. He’s literally pulled into a lair drenched in crime and obscenity, introducing yet another aspect of fate and destiny into the film. Whilst you could argue this scene is just an ex-machina, there are many instances of crazy things happening to facilitate the plot moving forward – the guy in the bathroom, the gun going off, Mia snorting the heroine, bursting into the wrong pawn shop. What is happening is an apparent inevitability, again, more questions. All of them manufactured. The question Butch is faced with is of his own goodness. And as we all know, he decides to turn back, armoured with the samurai sword. But before this, he kills Vincent. So, whilst Butch’s response to his life defining question granted him freedom, Vincent going on the date with Mia, deciding to stay with Marsellus, kills him.  This leads us onto Jules…

Jules is a very interesting character as he’s the ugly, he’s the true antihero of the film. He tries to do good, but the key ambiguity in the film comes with his fate, the consequences for his answers to the question posed by the miracle. He chooses to leave the gang, to speak to Marsellus, but what happened afterwards? In reality, I think it’s fair to infer that he was probably bumped off. Why would Marsellus just let him go? However, if this did happen, I feel Tarantino wouldn’t mind showing us . Instead, he leaves us with a door swinging shut and a question of our own: what is Jules’ fate? In that you probably understand what the miracle moment means. It demonstrates to Jules his probable end – being shot before his time is up. This is why he decides to try and walk. There’s a little more to this scene though that comes with an interesting bit of trivia we’ve probably all heard before. The bullet holes:

The most obvious thing here is that there are already three bullet holes in the wall that miss both Jules and Vincent. This seems to be a mistake, but could also be a metaphorical image. These could be the bullets the two have dodge beforehand, but also foreshadow the failed shooting that’s about to occur. However, the bullets shot all seem to have magically passed through Jules which implies that maybe there really was a divine intervention, that Jules should be dead. This gives reasoning for his conversion (and also Vincent’s refusal – he wasn’t saved). To understand how this all comes together we need to look at the bible misquote/fabrication. Again, another bit of trivia most will be familiar with, Jules isn’t quoting the bible, but paraphrasing whilst adding a lot of his own words. Let’s look at them:

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.

Let’s do a quick translation of this into more basic, understandable terms:

The path of the decent man is always obstructed by the unfairness of the selfish and oppressive man. [There’s always evil people].

Blessed is he who looks after others.

I [God] will avenge all off the oppressed, and the oppressors will know who strikes them down.

So, inside here are four characters, there’s the decent man (Butch), he who looks after others, the Shepard (Jules, maybe) the oppressor (Vincent/Marsellus (gang members)) and finally God. Jules is faced with the question of where he stands. Is he with Vincent and the gang? Or will he look after his fellow man (Pumpkin, the robber)? This should make his next few words all the clearer…

Now I’m thinkin’, it could mean you’re the evil man. And I’m the righteous man. And Mr. .45 here, he’s the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness.

Or this could mean you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. I’d like that.

But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’. I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd.

At first he puts the robber in the ‘bad’ category with him in the ‘good’. Next the robber’s in the ‘ugly’ (just trying to get by, but not too bad) with Jules in the ‘good’ again. But, what he accepts is that he is the evil, but can be good, leaving him as the ‘ugly’. In the end he accepts that he has a choice to make. However, that’s where the credits roll, again, leaving the lasting question: what happens to Jules?

And in that is the ‘film’ elements of Pulp Fiction, the questions Tarantino is ultimately asking us of forgiveness and fate. If Vincent is bad, Butch is good, what is Jules? Is he killed by Marsellus, is that why he’s not with Vincent the next day? Or did he escape his fate and walk the Earth waiting for forgiveness?

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Pulp Fiction – Writing What You Know

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Pulp Fiction – Immersive Moments

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Pulp Fiction – Writing What You Know

Thoughts On: Pulp Fiction

A disjointed run of events over a few days following criminal activity across L.A.

Pulp Fiction

I’ve talked about the difference between movies and films before. Films take narrative drama over entertainment whereas movies take entertainment as the primary factor. (All in a very rough sense). Pulp Fiction may be the quintessential movie, most probably the greatest movie of all time to an awful lot of people. But, in truth, there aren’t just movies and then films. There’s always going to be a blend of both inside a picture. We all assume, myself included, that Tarantino’s films are just fun movies, pure entertainment. I could agree with this across the majority of his filmography, but Pulp Fiction has always stood out to me as something more than things happening. We’ll get into the dichotomy of the film later on, but I’ll say for now that this is a picture designed to be both a film and a movie. Before we get into that I always like to assess a film before praising it as no film is truly flawless. The flaws in our favourite films are easy to ignore, and usually not worth anyone’s attention, but with Pulp Fiction we find a central critique that does split Tarantino’s audience. So, what we’ll do is analyse Pulp Fiction in three parts. Firstly we’ll look at Tarantino, then the film aspects of Pulp Fiction, after that the movie aspects, before rounding everything off. That said, let’s go…

Ok, we’ll start with critique. In short, Tarantino is the star of the movie. This in itself isn’t particularly bad, I mean, Scorsese is usually the star of his movies, but not to their detriment. We all know Tarantino quite well from interviews T.V, DVD extras and such. He’s quite the personality – and that doesn’t help the character of his movies. What I’m talking about here is his dialogue. Everyone knows this is the staple of his movies, but if you pay attention to the structuring of character’s sentences you can without a doubt hear Tarantino. This is one of the biggest faults in the film. Most of the characters, save accent, dialect and pacing, all sound more or less the same. This however is criticism I frankly hate to give because I write myself. Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you how hard it is to write and so we should just give him a break. The real task of writing comes with an idea of authenticity, which dilutes everyone else’s ideas of wanting all your characters to sound different. A famous adage of writing is to write what you know. We have all heard this before and have probably all been frustrated with it when trying to write ourselves. It’s easy to ask, ‘well, what the hell does that mean?’ as it seems like we’re being asked to write about our personal experiences, which, to a certain degree, we are, but that makes little sense as no one wants the life of a writer, they want heroes, fantasy, and a myriad of other things we can’t know. And that’s why personal experience is not the crux of the idea. The real truth of this statement is that we’re to write what we are good at. Keeping that in mind let’s return to writing characters with individual voices. To do this you must call upon one of two things. You can call upon your voice in all its variations as implied by situation. Or, you can rely on the archetypal stock voices we have in our heads from hearing others speak or seeing movies. The latter is the real danger in trying to create individual characters though, as when we do this we aren’t writing exactly what we know. We may have a good idea of what the guy running the corner store sounds like, thinks like, acts like, but, we only have the real insiders information on ourselves. To climb this wall you have to be a good character writer. You must be able to do what the actors do in that you embody new mannerisms, turning yourself into your characters so you believe that you are them, staying true to the adage write what you know. The trouble of this comes with you and what you are best at. If you are not the best character writer, or you aren’t too great at capturing a wide range of voices, let alone embody them, then you can come off as an awful writer. Worse case scenario you can come off incredibly offensive, even racist. We see this in many films, new and old. This is linked to ‘white washing’ in Hollywood, which is a concept a lot of people are paying attention to as of this moment with the new Dr. Strange coming out as well as the up and coming adaptation of the anime, Ghost In The Shell with Scarlett Johansson. I don’t want to get too deep into those films and that issue, but talk about where the problem starts.

This all comes back to writing what you know. When an audience wants you to write what you know, but at the same time portray minorities and produce individual characters, you are often being torn in two directions: toward and away from what you know. The most infamous example comes with Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

This is not the product of racism. This is the product of bad acting, writing and make-up. When I say bad, I don’t mean jarring and awful, but substandard. In short, it’s not good enough to not be obvious. This is what I mean by writing what you know. When you can push the illusion, when everything flows, you are doing something right. To ensure this you might just hire people of the same religion, nationality, skin colour, culture as the character – an easy fix (maybe). But this is nobody’s obligation. If I’m honest, which I have no qualms in being, I’m only interested in Ghost In The Shell because Scarlett Johansson’s in it. She’s a great actress, I love many of her films: Lost In Translation, Don Jon, Under The Skin, Her, even Eight Legged Freaks – not a great film, but I grew up with it. Why? I don’t know. We’re getting off point though. The central idea here comes with paying your way, of proving your worth. The reason why indie films don’t do as good as block busters is, quite obviously, linked to star power and being known. Stars are almost always incredibly talented, impossibly rounded, people. Think Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Emma Stone, Will Smith, Mila Kunis, Brad Pitt, Natalie Portman. We go to see their films because we know there’s a very good chance they will be good. If I say Lubna Azabal, Mads Mikkelsen, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Matthias Schoenaerts, Leila Hatami, Dominique Pinon you may not know who I’m talking about. And when you don’t know these names you don’t know if their films are worth seeing. This isn’t about just about star power or hidden talent though, this is all about writing what you know. We know when Leonardo DiCaprio does what he does, he’s going to blow it out of the park. In other metaphorical words, when he writes what he knows we get his true artistic character.

So, to bring this back to Pulp Fiction, to ask Tarantino not to write what he knows, to give his characters individual voices, is quite possibly asking him to be a worse writer. This is why I have no qualms with his style for almost every single second of his movies. However, in Pulp Fiction Tarantino’s style betrays him and he comes off as a bad writer in a small sections. This comes back to Tarantino being the star of his movies and is mainly about the use of the word ‘nigger’. This is by far the most polarising aspect of his movies and style. This was really emphasised with the release of Django Unchained. In Django I can see Tarantino’s argument pertaining to temporal verisimilitude, meaning, people were likely to say nigger around slaves in the South in the mid 1800s. The real reason no one likes to hear this and questions its usage in the film though comes down to Tarantino himself. We all know he’s a white man with a big personality who seems to be infatuated with black culture, quite specifically, ‘nigger’. I haven’t got an issue with this, but can understand those who do. To feed this into the narrative of the film and bring it all together with the central idea of write what you know, let’s zoom in on Tarantino’s cameo in Pulp Fiction. Now, I know I just said I haven’t got an issue with Tarantino’s use of the word nigger, but in this scene… I’m not even going to say it’s unnecessary or frivolous, it just makes him look stupid. Tarantino can sit at his desk and type nigger a thousand times for the same reason he can type motherfucker, shit, cunt, asshole, dick and so on all he wants. He’s feeding a narrative, a fantasy external to him. When you read said profanities on the page a good writer will not have you visualise themselves writing or saying them when it is not right to do so. The same goes for an actor, we’re not seeing them saying cunt, nigger, asshole, but their character – and only if they’re good. Tarantino is not a great actor. He’s the weakest element of the film in terms of screen presence. Moreover, Jimmie is the worst written character. It makes absolute sense that he’d be pissed when the two gangsters invade his house, but let’s pay attention to gangsters. No one, no one, in their right mind would stand in front of Jules, who has a gun, who has just killed a bunch of kids, who is equally pissed, who could easily kill you and your girlfriend, and say nigger. This is why Tarantino looks and sounds like a fool when he stands in front of Samuel Jackson, in his bath robe, holding a cup of gourmet coffee, saying nigger over and over and over. It doesn’t matter if Jackson hasn’t an issue with this, what matters is character choices. Jimmie, who is afraid of his girlfriend, does not hold the power or stature to say nigger to bloodstained gangster with a gun. As a result what the audience is inclined to do is assume Tarantino just wanted to say nigger, to seem cool, hip and a whole load of other nonsense.

What does this all mean? Well, it all comes down to Tarantino apparently not writing what he knows as both a screenwriter and actor. He should not have been in the roll of Jimmie. This is a major casting issue we will look back on as another…

Which is ultimately quite the shame, but all we can say is bad writing and bad acting. Bad choices. The truth in all of this is that Pulp Fiction is nonetheless a great film, just like Breakfast At Tiffany’s is. It’s faults are obvious, but easy to look past, but what remains is a lesson we should all try and learn something from. And what’s the lesson… write what you know. Get good and doing certain things, practice, know what your strengths and weaknesses are and play to them. This is what good writing is, what it is to produce anything great, it’s knowing your version of things, it’s knowing the best way you can tell a specific story. The ultimate goal here is also not looking like and asshole. When you write what you know you are writing what people expect of you – in a good way. This is not pandering to an audience. It’s trying not to be the class clown with so much potential that he seems to just be wasting. Either way, there’s a lot more to learn from Pulp Fiction in the next post…

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Fantasia – Magic

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Pulp Fiction – The Line Evil Draws

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Fantasia – Magic

Thoughts On: Fantasia

An experimental combination of music, abstract animation, spectacle and fantastical story telling.


Artistically, I think it’s safe to say that this is Disney’s greatest film. In short, this film is insane in so many ways, it’s utterly mesmerising, dumbfounding, awe inspiring, and a plethora of other things. I never used to like this film though. As a kid it was just boring, disjointed and meh. I think this is because this isn’t really a kids film. It’s conceptually complex, and when you don’t understand what the artists are trying to achieve you just see a conglomeration of shorts that can’t make up their mind as what they want to do. However, as I grew up, I began to understand the purpose of the film, it’s intentions toward bringing music to the screen, visually portraying sound – which it does perfectly. That said, there’s not much I can really say about narrative messages with this film, so we’ll look at it in parts and discuss ideas around it for this Thoughts On: essay.

We’ll start with the introduction. This is the easiest section to criticise (along with the other transitions) from a modern perspective. These are the parts of the film that haven’t aged well because how we consume film has changed drastically. Fantasia of course came out in 1940 where going to the pictures was a big event. There wasn’t video, T.V or DVD. You’d see a film when it was in select theatres and then never until it was possibly re-released. (Or until you got a T.V). This means Deems Taylor, the presenter, was there to mimic a real show, to guide an audience through an abstract piece of film they may only ever see once. Moreover, all original content has this element of Psycho in it. By this I mean the expositional ending of Hitchcock’s 1960 classic. Audiences were assumed not to be familiar with Norman’s condition, or the concept of psychosis, being a transvestite, Freudian psychodynamics and so on. But, with Psycho and psychological dramas becoming a huge hit in the 60s that lead cinema further away from monster pictures and toward slashers, the world became all the more accustomed to these abstract concepts. Thus, Psycho hasn’t aged perfectly (though, in my opinion, very well). The point is, we just don’t need the ending explained to us 50 years on. What has happened with Fantasia however is not the saturation of a market with films like it, but mere exposure. Also, music videos. I’m not sure of how you’d measure the influence of Fantasia over music videos and animation overall as it wasn’t a great success upon initial release, but what this film essentially is, is a conglomeration of astounding music videos. To a modern audience, Fantasia needs no introduction because… I don’t know, Kanye West. I mean Bound 2 (Explicit). Speaking of things ageing, yeah, no, Kanye West will not stand the test of time. At least he shouldn’t. This guy’s an idiot. And I say this purely based off of this video. We don’t need to get into Kanye West when talking about Disney though. So, to make the point again… Anaconda. If we can accept this without explanation, there’s no way we need Deems Taylor. So, in an around about way, that’s why the intro and proceeding transitory segments don’t work so well.

This brings us to the first short accompanied by Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. This is a perfect introduction, easing us into the abstract elements of the film. My only criticism is that this opening is a little too strong. It is utterly mesmerising, staying true to the music, allowing the images, colours and movement to work with note, rhythm and beat. This is, without a doubt, the best segment of the film. The artistry demonstrated with each and every frame of this opening segment blows my mind. There is unquestionable genius imbued in every brush stroke, colour choice, line of movement. Unquestionable genius. The juxtaposition of images in small parts is a little jarring, meaning the jumps from red to blue can be a little too explicit, but I feel it works into the tone of the song, keeping a solid sense of rhythm, bounce and fluidity, keeping the eye locked onto the screen and ear on the song. All in all, the opening sequence is one of the greatest segments of cinematic history. I have few adjectives left, so let’s just leave it at that and move onto the next sequence with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. This is another great sequence that manages to sustain the level of atmosphere and tone of the opening. It’s not as poignant, but of equal quality. My only issue with this segment comes with the fact that I love this piece of music. When you say you like a classical piece, what you really mean is you like a specific recording (maybe one or two) of it. At least this is the way I feel. There’s inherent beauty in the liquid free-flow of Tchaikovsky’s composition, layering of strings and winds and his sprinkling of light percussion. There’s just absolute quality embedded in his writing. However, some interpretations are going to be better than others. The recording of The Nutcracker by the Philadelphia Orchestra is ok, but I am not a fan of the nuances found in their emphasis of beats, and handling of undertonal rhythm. I’d only exhaust myself and you by pulling apart specifics, but suffice to say the music lets down the animation a little – and does so throughout the film, which is a real shame. Nonetheless, the opening two sequences are dazzling as they hold up to the eye down to the tiniest detail – especially the Toccata and Fugue short.

Next we have the pivotal short with the Mickey Mouse as a sorcerer’s apprentice who decides to bring a broom to life. There is a tonal jump here into the story-telling, non-absolute, program music. However, this is handled well with the set-up given by Taylor (maybe he’s not so useless) and the slow ease into action. The integration of music and story is also flawless here, so what we’ll do is pick apart the narrative it tells. To give a quick summary, Mickey has to haul water from a well outside, inside for the sorcerer. After a while, the sorcerer having retired, leaving his hat behind, Mickey decides to use the powers given by the hat to bring a broom to life as to do the work for him. Mickey then falls asleep waking up to a flood which he can’t stop as he’s forgotten the magic words to de-animate the broom. Instead he chops the broom into hundreds of pieces which of course just come back to life and drown the place. I’m not sure if you picked up on it, but this is a very common plot found most famously in Terminator. This is about automation. Whereas this archetypal story used to mean having others do work for you, or simply taking short cuts, is a not a great idea, with the technological progression of the present day this idea of automation is very real. This doesn’t mean we’re going to drown ourselves with electrical brooms, but, as the plot lines in Terminator implies, maybe it’s A.I that gets us. So, the allegory told is pointed towards an idea of work, of doing it yourself in the simplest terms. However, there’s a contradiction in the telling of the story in Fantasia that reveals a greater truth. The wizard is using Mickey just like Mickey was using the broom. In this sense, Mickey’s mistake was the mistake of the sorcerer – I mean, wasn’t he the one who left his hat behind? This turns the allegory into one of trust and responsibility. Automation isn’t a bad thing, A.I isn’t our inevitable apocalypse. Neglect is what kills us, not automation. In short, if you want your head in the clouds, fine, just make sure you at least peep down to Earth once in a while.

The next short is where the film looses audience members (especially upon initial release). Here there’s a jump into a scientific exploration of the young Earth set to Stravinsky’s, The Rite Of Spring. There are so many things I love about this section. I love the balls it took to make this, I love the atmosphere, I love the design of almost all of the dinosaurs. In fact, stylistically, the dinosaurs constructed for this short are my favourite attempt toward their animated portal in all film. The only one I don’t much like the look of is the T-Rex. His body is too squashed, off balance and stumpy. But, remember now that this is Disney’s third full-length animated feature. Before this there was Snow White and Pinocchio. There are mature subtexts to both of these films, but neither were so explicit to show animals (dinosaurs) killing one another. In fact you never see anything like this from Disney ever again. This is the main reason behind the tonal jump not working well. In Bambi there’s death, but it’s all implied (which makes it so poignant). In Cinderella a cat’s thrown out of a window to splatter, in Lady And The Tramp two dogs go at, in Tarzan we see his two dead parents, in Lion King there’s even more murder, but none of this hits the audience, and none of it is as up-front as Fantasia. No one is pulling any punches with this film and that’s admirable. But, it’s for this reason that the film probably failed in 1940. My only personal criticism of this segment. however, is that the music falls into the background. In fact, from this point on, the integration of action and sound is lost. Story takes over and it’s more like watching a silent film – which negates the purpose of the movie. However, we’ll come back to this, what’s interesting about this segment is what it makes so clear about animation as a whole. Animation has always been immersed in science – especially in dinosaurs. The first animated film with a true character was released in 1914 and called Gertie the Dinosaur. But it’s not just dinosaurs we’re interested in, it’s biology, it’s animals, creatures, monsters. Look at the top 10 highest grossing animated films of all time:

1. Shrek 2

2. The Lion King

3. Toy Story 3

4. Frozen

5. Finding Nemo

6. Despicable Me 2

7. Inside Out

8. Minions

9. Zootopia

10. Shrek The Third

(Taken from IMDB)

What connects all of these films? A significant element of monsters, animals or dinosaurs. The same is true for 43/50 of the highest grossing animated films. Each and every one has anthropomorphised animal characters or creatures. We seem to love them. Why this is, can’t be said for definite, but I think it’s clear that animation is intrinsically linked to fantasy. What’s the point of creating your own worlds if your not going to break some rules? But, fantasy is inevitably going to have its basis in reality, so, to convolute the process of inspiration, why not be inspired by the most alien things we know? Why not use dinosaurs, an amalgamation of humans and animals? We’ve been doing this as a species for as long as we have been telling stories. Whether it’s the buffalo on the caveman’s wall, the Egyptian Gods, creatures of folklore embedded in all cultures, books, plays, films, we’re fixated with the inhuman as a vessel to tell human stories. This has a lot to do with reality and how hard that is to accept for some people. When we look up at the sky and see tonnes of water that just floats, an apparent blue protective cap, balls of gas burning at thousands of degrees, huge suspended shining rocks, other distant rocks and clumps of gas somehow spinning around us, an infinite void containing… I have no clue,.. beyond… well, it’s a bit hard to comprehend to say the least. But what’s harder is accepting it, accepting the idea that this is all here for no apparent reason, that we may or may not be alone, that reality is nothing more than a question. When this is so hard to accept, we turn to the unreal, the intangible, ineffectual. This is true for all difficult apparencies in life. We turn to Hulk, Iron Man, John Wayne, John McClain, Keanu Reeves for heroes. We turn to Godzilla, zombies, mutants, ghosts to symbolise tragedy in its many forms. By distancing ourselves from reality we gain perspective and can begin to handle bigger concepts. That’s why fantasy is so important, that’s why cartoons resonate so well with children. With ineffectuality comes levity, there’s no real fear, but entertainment, and all the while we’re (kids are) subconsciously dealing with major issues. That, again, is why fantasy is so important, but also so dangerous. Fantasia’s use of science massively contributes towards its lack of success and all because it was a little too close to reality to fool us all into learning something, into seeing and imagining new things. This is the ultimate danger, the thin line animation treads in its poignancy and precision.

I feel like we just peaked there, but hold on we’ve still got the second half to do. So, let’s try do this a bit quicker. This strange ending of the first half leads us onto a small short that’s suppose to act as a palette cleanser. I’m talking about the soundtrack portion. This steps up the animation again with some ingenious characterisation and demonstration of sound through images. But, from this point onwards I feel that the film dips into a lower quality band. The sequence on Mount Olympus is quite disinteresting to me as it’s just things happening. The same can be said with the dance routine and ending. There is no support given by the music here, just mood. The music element falls away and the film becomes nothing more than a good silent film with a clever accompaniment. This doesn’t mean the film is bad overall, it just doesn’t live up to what it sets up with the first half – the introduction especially. What’s most interesting about these last shorts are the references Disney makes to themselves which demonstrates just who they are. We see this throughout the film in fact. There are a myriad of examples I could give ranging from the fish seen in Pinocchio, the dinosaurs in Dinosaur, the use of the bigger mammals in Dumbo, the use of mythology in Hercules, and many other small creatures used repeatedly across Disney’s entire cannon of films. If you see this once you’ll see it a thousand times, and it seems like Disney are referencing themselves here, but to link all of these together is not something I can do right now. Instead, I think the crossovers in design make clear the Disney style. In saying that, it becomes obvious that Fantasia really is a focal point of the Disney library. This is where everything truly original and nuanced that we get from them comes to the forefront or is at least implied. It’s with Fantasia that we can see the essence of Disney’s magic.

This leads onto last words. Magic is the central idea of this film. It’s through fantasy, tone, rhythm, sound and movement that Disney plays their illusion, making us believe, feel, an idea of magic. Irrevocable levity, that’s what you get from Disney. In  the end it’s a shame that this film isn’t water-tight, but perfection is a lot to ask. This is because perfection is a matter of subjectivity. This is also why, for me, Fantasia is a little lacking. It wants to please a wide range of people. It wants to have something for everyone. That’s why there’s a strong use of both religion and science, of abstraction and story telling. Fantasia’s main fault is that it’s trying to do too much, but, nonetheless, this is an astounding picture, leaving me the question: what do you think?


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Pinocchio – An Imperfect Wish

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Pulp Fiction – Writing What You Know

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Pinocchio – An Imperfect Wish

Thoughts On: Pinocchio

A woodworker prays to a star, wishing for one of his puppets to come to life, to be real boy.


This is a really tricky film to pull apart. This is because it seems so simple. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you it’s about right and wrong. To those people: have you watched this film?? What does Pinocchio learn? He learns that if you behave like a jack-ass you’ll become one, but, really, he doesn’t learn this. He sees this and then only just avoids becoming a full blown donkey. He learns nothing. Every mistake he makes is fixed by the fairy, or by some weird writer’s device… and then… the whale? The line through this narrative with the idea that it’s about right and wrong is very weak. It doesn’t explain all the crazy jumps in logic, all the insane imagery, the mixture of fantasy, absurdism, surrealism and a weird sense of hope. Nothing makes sense about this film when you take it at face value with its apparent themes and plot. My initial response to this was just a huge: WHAT THE FUCK!?!?!? But, I’ve been going over and over and over the film, and I think I have a grip on it. Before we get to that, I’d like to say that this is a pretty open film – as all films are to be honest. I wanted to mention this in the Snow White essay, but it didn’t fit the tone. Either way, let’s get it out now. I appreciate that Disney films are kids’ films, that they have a target audience. This means that whilst they have more complex meanings to tease out, they also have a simpler child friendly concept readily available. In other words, (forgive the metaphors) you can see a Disney film with your heart, or you can watch it, pick it apart with an analytical eye. If you watch Pinocchio with feeling, letting the narrative message guide you emotionally, then you’ll probably see it as a film about right and wrong with a few fun moments that don’t need to make sense. This is how most people watch films, with feeling. This isn’t wrong, but it’s not entirely right either. Art is founded on emotion, it’s how it translates its ideas. We have to feel what the artist wants us to feel. But, moral lessons are weak when based on feeling. I want to say that’s just my opinion, but… no. I have confidence enough in the concept of pragmatism, of sense and rationality, to say that life isn’t meant to be lived the way you want, by what feels nice and comfortable. I mean, that’s a key idea in the film with the whole concept of pleasure island. But, right now I’m talking about something a little wider than childish indulgence. I’m talking about intelligence, about being able to look at the world, not just wander through it. If a film has more to offer than entertainment, it makes sense to chase that down. Even if we are manufacturing meaning, if we are taking away from a film more than it thought it offered, what’s the harm in that? Films are like dreams. They are fantasies, these weird things we create and project to let us slip away from reality. So, maybe Freud is nuts. Maybe dreamwork is unscientific nonsense. Maybe it’s sniffing a brain fart and…

smelling the fart.gif

smelling the fart 2

… faking it in other words. But that’s all besides the point. The point is that we got from A to B. The road taken may have been weird, possibly wrong, maybe we were wearing the wrong boots, maybe there was a clearer path. But, we got to a better place nonetheless. All I want to say is that it doesn’t matter where the EUREKA!! moment happens. If it’s in the bath, don’t you dare hesitate, forget the towel, run down the streets and scream. Be careful though. Pneumonia and such. Anyway, let’s not get lost. Let’s get on with it.

If you don’t want to see Pinocchio as a simple story of right and wrong, you could take a more mature look at the film. In other words you fall into the trap of the phallic imagery. There is sense in this theory, and a succinct take away, but, well, let’s just pull it apart first. In short, seeing Pinocchio’s nose as a symbol of puberty reveals some dark , possibly homophobic, messages. There’s quite a few nudges and pokes toward the parents in the audiences with Jiminy, faces going red, cute women figurines and such. These could be seen as a reinforcement of Pinocchio’s sexuality. This is emphasised with the goldfish and Geppetto being alone. Without a mother, it’s possible Geppetto has a fear that his son doesn’t become a real boy, in that he may grow up gay. This means that show business and being an actor is both an insinuation of pretence and homosexuality. Pinocchio lying when he is saved by the fairy, his nose growing, is another double-entendre. It both implies an erection, that Pinocchio is maturing, but also that this expression of sexuality only makes it even more obvious that the kid is gay. This turns Pleasure Island into god-knows-what. It could be a trap, some kind of sex trade ring, or it could just be a place for boys to–I’ll leave it to your imagination. In the end you can either see the film from this position as either homophobic or tolerant. We see this through the whale which represents depression in Geppetto, but also an aggression. This comes with the realisation that his son is gay. For Pinocchio to help him out of this ditch, but then die, could be a metaphor for complete transformation. He becomes a real boy because his sexual preferences magically changed. Or, you could just see this as both Geppetto and Pinocchio facing this challenging moment and coming away all the better, Geppetto accepting his son as a real boy, as gay. Like I said, this is a valid interpretation of the film, but it does take quite a lot of assumption to start it rolling as well as a fair bit of attribution without sound evidence. You could also make the argument that this kind of a message is a bit before its time. Either way, from where you sit, you can see the film however you want – I’m just offering what I think is an interesting interpretation. We’ll move onto what I think is the most solid take on Pinocchio however after a quick Easter egg. Does it count if Easter egg isn’t even in this film? I don’t know – and no I’m not talking about Tangled with Pinocchio sitting up in the rafters of the Snuggly Ducking Inn. I’m talking about Shrek. So, of course in Shrek there are a plethora of references to fairy tales–especially those adopted by Disney. The huge outliers (non-references) in the movie are Shrek, Fiona and… not Donkey. He is a character derived from this film. On Pleasure Island some of the boys aren’t fully transformed into jack-assess, they can still talk. I won’t take it any further than that, but try watching Shrek again with the idea that Pinocchio is about coming out and the island is…. I don’t know… comment below, tell me what you think…

donkey - pinno

Ok, let’s get to it. To me, Pinocchio is best understood as a tale of inadequacy. Firstly we have Geppetto, a man that possible can’t reproduce, or simply never found a wife to raise a child with. This is symbolised with his work shop. He manufactures toys for children, keeping clocks for himself. He surrounds himself with an idea of time, time lost, time wasted, time to be wasted. This is a man living a pretty empty life. His only companions are the cat and the fish. The cat is a representative of himself, it’s playful, a little self-centred, but ultimately in search of affection. The goldfish is a projection of a woman. It’s a captive idea of a female presence in a lonely man’s house. It’s all really rather depressing to be honest. What Geppetto wants is a little boy, another version of himself possibly to live through. His vicarious experience of life through a child is what the film is centrally about – it’s about wanting to be a parent. But, we mustn’t forget Jiminy here. Jiminy is representative of the control parents wish they had over their children. Parents wish they could be there to watch their kid, to guide them through their personal moments of stress or strain. The core conflict of the film however comes with this, it is Geppetto. He doesn’t know what he’s doing as a parent. He’s just as naive as Pinocchio. This explains the disjointed logic of the film and the irrational plot lines. The biggest mind-boggler comes with the first seconds of Pinocchio’s birth (if you could call it that). Having one of your puppets come to life is not something you’d easily accept, you would not be dancing with a strange creature in the middle of the night minutes after you witnessed the horrifying miracle that was its animation. Chucky anyone? By seeing Pinocchio not as a puppet that’s come to life, but an idea of parenthood, this moment is much clearer in terms of character motivation. The second biggest what the fuuu….??? moment is the very next morning. Geppetto has just witness the impossible, he watched a toy, a few chucks of wood come to life and speak to him, and then he decides to send it to school. What!? I could easily write three films about the implications of the thing coming to life. Think of all the questions you’d have. Think of how the world would respond to this thing. Let’s not get into that. In fact, have you read my Bill & Ted post? If you liked the alternate history/fan fiction story line I constructed comment below or tell me on Twitter if you want to see the same thing done with Pinocchio. But, not seeing the film literally, the next morning is representative of Geppetto’s need for his child to be integrated into society, to grow and learn.

So, we’ve established that this film is about Geppetto’s fears as a father. All his fears are realised with the absurd diversions Pinocchio takes on his way to school – toward education and growing up correctly. Geppetto takes blame for this, which brings us to the end of the film. Before that we need to look at the key metaphor that is Pinocchio himself. He is a puppet. Seeing a child as a mechanism for your hands to work, to contort and control, is what Geppetto must learn not to do. Becoming a real boy is not just Pinocchio’s responsibility. It has a lot to do with how his father perceives and raises him. That understood we can come to the whale. The whale, just like with the previous theory is representative of Geppetto again. It’s here that you can say that you could adapt some of the interpretations of this analysis to strengthen the previous, but that’s all up to you. So, what the whale represents is depression again. It’s also the father Geppetto doesn’t want to be. This is linked to his cat and his goldfish. The cat has a few aggressive moments, but it is under Gepetto’s control. The whale is a whole other beast. Everything docile about it is torn away leaving behind pure hatred that consumes. The concept of everything being trapped in the whale’s stomach is thus linked to Gepetto’s home and life. His family become trapped in the pit of his failure. This is Geppetto as a bad parent, a parent that let his kid become a diligent, a parent that cannot run a home. The fish consumed by the whale are also representative of sexual frustration, of the proliferation and objectification of the goldfish metaphor. The end of the film is in turn Geppetto facing himself with the aid of his child. He learns that he may not know what he’s doing, that he too is a naive party in the parent/child relationship. This is what ultimately allows him to see Pinocchio as a real boy. The realisation of this is also what allows Pinocchio to figure out right and wrong. What’s right is that he sticks by his father and does what he is told. There are huge lapses in logic within the film for this very reason. There is also no solid ending. Jiminy gets the medal for doing nothing essentially because being a parent is 90% just being there. This is the crux of the film. It’s about endurance, of wanting imperfection, about wanting to try for a better life. Geppetto’s dream isn’t perfect, neither is the way he raises the kid, neither is the kid himself, but perfection doesn’t exist.

So, in the end, Pinocchio is a film about learning by not learning much, but by experiencing and altering the way you approach yourself and those around you. What all the characters learn is that we don’t always understand what we wish for, but better be grateful for the things we have and get. This is what makes wishing upon a star acceptable. It’s not about wanting the ludicrous, it’s not about wanting perfection, it’s not even about wanting something better. It’s about wanting another option, another path.

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Borgman – Hide Your Kids From The Philosophical Boogeyman

Thoughts On: Borgman

A vagrant terrorises an upper-class family.


Ok, this is a film that poses as a surreal piece with a twisted, complex narrative. It’s not. This is merely an ambiguous film with all exposition sucked out of it. What it wants is for you to interpret it, to give it your own meaning – which we’ll do – but, I don’t think ambiguity and complexity are synonymous, merely attributable, meaning, this film is as profound or complex as you want it to be. This may sound like I don’t like the film, but I think it technically very good, but hasn’t got much about it that’s very special. This is because Borgman is just a more convoluted version of Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana. And of course, Buñuel is a ground-breaking auteur, a pioneer in the surrealist movement with pictures such as:


Borgman, in short wants to be among these pictures. In my opinion, it’s not quite there. We can see this in the comparison to Viridiana. This film is about being made the fool, of letting kindness mask judgement. It follows a woman who aspires to be a nun who is sent to her uncle’s home, who she hates, where he tries to seduce because she resembles his deceased wife. In the end, she opens the home to poor people, giving them an inch but only allowing them room enough to steal as many miles as they please. This is Borgman in a more succinct narrative. Make no mistake though, I think Borgman is a great picture, so let’s not pass it off before analysing.

The best way to get into the film is with its opening quote and then multiple posters. We’ll start with the opening quote:

“And they descended upon the Earth to strengthen their ranks”

This sounds like a bible verse, right? It’s not. It’s designed to seem this way, possibly to imply a religious lesson in the film. For it to do this insinuates a critique of religion and the Christian perspective of life and philosophy. We can see this explicitly in the line ‘Christ is a bloody bore… he’s only interested in himself’. We’ll come back to this line later, but for now let’s concentrate on the quote above. As said, this is not from the bible, just a mere imitation, probably meant to mock the audience and religious practice simultaneously. The biggest question concerning the quote is of the ‘they‘. Who is descending? The first interpretation could come with the opening to the film. It starts with a farmer, a priest, and another man hunting down Borgman and his accomplices – who all live in holes under the ground. They are all characterised as being vagrants, people who just wander the Earth. For me the best way to look at these characters are as postmodern archetypes. This means they appeal to an idea of lawlessness, of the complete absence of definites – meaning there is no right way to live life (but there kind of is at the same time). On the other hand, the characters that chase them down are archetypal fundamentalists, they believe in work and they believe in God, meaning, love, compassion, and so on. For them to descend is similar to Angels, messengers of God, coming down from heaven. This fits nicely into the image painted by the imposing bible quote and the critique of religion inherent within it. Angels are demonised to object to the concept of God, of true answers and guidance through life. This gives reason for later elements of sexuality and of the lead woman being lured out of family life and into destruction. ‘They‘ being the farmer, priest and man of another time is my favourite interpretation of the quote as it also feeds into the title: Borgman. Borgman is a name that was given to landlords in the middle ages who worked for the King’s royal aristocracy. To give this name to a vagrant is to be ironic. This name is a facade Camiel puts up to get into the house. He pretends to be respectful, but also of a time passed, introducing a theme of history and ages into the film. We’ll come to all that later though. Before that, the ‘they‘ in the quote above could also be the vagrants themselves. This aligns with the end of the film in that they are building a society or army of vagrants, of postmodern thinkers. This means they are also fallen angels, making the interpretation all the more sensical. The last interpretation of ‘they‘ is that the upper-class family are taking over the world, which again links into ideas of tradition and the change the modern world has endured. Quote analysed, let’s look at the posters of the film. There’s quite a few (8)…

1. This is about control, the control Borgman has over the family. The key image here is the paper cut-outs with the string tying the family members together. This calls to the end of the film with the strange ballet dance with the ribbons. As a side note, there’s a point early on in the film where the family walk past a ballerina in their garden without noticing her. What this means, I’ll leave up to you. Anyway, the cut-outs are all about family ties. The concept her is:


This is intrinsically linked to Descartes’: I think, therefore I am.  This is a solipsistic look at life. If you believe you exist, you can’t trust the fact that others do also. This means your only justification for them being alive is that you created them, that because you are, so are they, that ‘we are‘. However, the film is about the dangers of this mind-set. If you think everyone should be alike, should believe exactly what you do, then you’re giving yourself ultimate power – which Borgman assumes. You could also link this to the family and modernity, in the lack of individuality we push on each other and children. This leaves the question of who is right, Borgman or the family? That’s up to you.


2. This is a simple one. It’s a reference to the thinker (the statue above). This again links to postmodernism and Borgman being a superior mind. He thinks whereas the family do not.

3. This is the catalysing image explaining why Borgman kills. We’ll come to this with the story he tells to the children about the pond and the white child. But, in short, this means that because you let Borgman into your home, you are essentially killing yourself. Borgman is metaphorically killing you with an idea of philosophy that’s symbolised by the monster that apparently looms at the bottom of deep waters.

4. One of the final images of Borgman dancing. This makes clear that he has no interest in women, merely luring Marina into a trap. This is a key image of neglect, of self destruction, putting the blame of the tragedy of the film onto Marina herself. This is her story, she essentially dictates everything that happens here.

5. This is simple. This is how Borgman manipulates the family, it’s his strange ritual that follows all the major changes in how characters perceive each other. Note here that Borman is made to look God-like. This reference to religion explains why the ritual works. He appeals to every anti-conservative idea in Marina. Again, he’s luring her into a trap through sexuality. He looms over her dreams, literally naked, changing her internal thought processes through psychological conditioning.

6. This is a little abstract, but quite simple. We can see Borgman’s face falling of his head. This is a visual metaphor for his transformation, of his capacity to cheat others. On top of his head in the forest. Here there’s the link into what is natural and makes clear the commentary on religion in the film. Borgan lives in the forest in the beginning because he believes in naturalism within humans, in postmodern reprieve. We are supposed to be wanderers, vagrants in other words. This is why he goes out into the world collecting others to join him. He doesn’t trust religious teaching. Moreover, not so many people are religious any more, but (in his opinion) still need guidance. Also there’s another reference to the thinker with Borgman crouched down. Moreover, this is an animalistic image, linking into ideas of fundamental naturalism in postmodernity again.

7. Another simple image. Again, sexuality, but the image is upside down to show the convolution, the trap Borgman sets. Also, we have natural imagery again.

8. The final image of Borgman’s victims. This explains the ritual we see throughout the film. Putting the bucket on the victims heads to ensure they plunge to great depths as never to be found implies the victims sink because of their brains – their minds, their mind-sets. For the weight to be put upon their head could be the weight of Borgman’s philosophy that they ultimately couldn’t comprehend.

Now you should have a pretty good idea of the film, let’s explore the story Borgman sneaks into the children’s bedroom to tell. I’m paraphrasing here to shorten the story, but it’s accurate nonetheless.

A white child stood on the edge of a lake in the forest. She was very wary as she knew that whilst the lake was not very large, it was very deep, as deep as a block of flats is tall. Something was alive in these waters, a beast with scales, a beak, 500 sharp teeth. It guarded a golden key to happiness. The white child cried. It could not dive deep enough to fetch this key.

When the white child went missing a search party was organised. People prayed in the church to Jesus, but we all know that Jesus is a bloody bore and is only interested in himself. Heavily armed divers went to the bottom of the lake. 15 minutes later they came up trembling with fear, unable to speak. The villagers asked what they saw, and after a while, they replied that ‘it’s no use, the beast is too big. The child has been swallowed anyway’. The mother falls to the ground and weeps, crying, ‘I want my baby back’. The villagers reply ‘you can’t mean that. The child would be half digested by now.’ In response the mother asked if there was ‘no one brave enough to get my baby?’ Antonius, a cripple stepped forward, saying he would fetch her. The mother kissed his hands.

This explains the film in its entirety. Firstly, there is the white child. This is  double-entendre. White means both pure and Caucasian. The child is both naive and western. This is important as it links into the guilt the mother expresses for being western. This is seen best through the teddy bear incident. The girl fills her toy with mud, with the Earth, ruining the it. The mother is outraged, saying that nothing should be intentionally broken in her house because a child in a third world country probably slaved over it. This guilt is essentially her hamartia, it’s what kills her. Doubting yourself allows Borgman to infiltrate your home and apply his own nihilistic ideas, killing you and taking your family. In this sense Borgman really is a boogey man for the modern age and for adults alike. Marina is the only person at fault here. She is the exact same character Viridiana is. She accepts this idea that she is a nurse (which Borgman convinces her she is – and so how to act). In doing so, she gives him an inch and he takes a mile. But, going back to the little girl. She is both naive and white so Borgman can change her, raise her as his own little nihilist. This film is then largely about parenting, about confidence in your own outlook on life, in your own philosophies so that you can teach your children, guide them through life before someone else snatches their hand away from you. This is what the huge creature represents – truth, one’s own view of the world – the guard of the golden key to happiness. Marina allows her children to slip into a mindless cycle as she doesn’t teach them any thing about life. This is why the school runs, but more importantly the Nanny is so important. She is a young woman incapable of caring for the children. It should be the mother’s job, but she pays it off. Irresponsibility is a huge theme here. Also, this is why Borgman is a gardener. He tends their garden. He controls how the children blossom. In this we can see the monster as ambiguity in itself, the question of life, of purpose. The children dive into these deep waters as they grow, go to school, ask questions – they are devoured by the monster. The mum refuses to jump in after them, instead asks someone else to (the school, Nanny, father). Who comes forward? A crippled man: Borgman. This is the film in a nutshell, he seduces the mother and takes her kids from her. He does this by conditioning the her and sedating the family (with his weird drinks). Over the course of the film Borgman works his way into the family by turning the mother against sense and against family. This also occurs with the father, but not so centrally. The father is primarily used to critique the way in which we conduct ourselves in a capitalist society. But this is all clear in the film.

That’s everything. I missed a few details such as the animalistic imagery on the T.V, with the domesticated dogs and the wolves alike – but they should be pretty self-explanatory when you re-watch the film now. There’s also the image of the eggs that bookend the film. Borgman has his cracked in the beginning, but in the end his accomplices are frying some. In the beginning he has no followers, no young people, fresh eggs. In the end he’s got some and is ready to start the conditioning. So, to summarise, this is a film about responsibility in parents. It’s about not being made the fool of, of not doubting yourself because of your place in history and in the world. What this film implores is that we think, develop our own philosophies, not rely on religion, and pass our life lessons onto our children.

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Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs – Purity, Innocence, Insanity

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Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs – Purity, Innocence, Insanity

Thoughts On: Snow White

This is the start of a new series…

The Disney Series

Running away from her evil stepmother that wants to kill her a young girl stumbles upon the home of seven dwarfs.

snow white

First of all, shouldn’t it be dwarves? I think dwarfs is the common and preferred spelling, but I’m with Tolkien. Dwarves makes more sense. I mean: wolves not wolfs, scarves not scarfs, right? On the other hand you could argue barfs not barves. I don’t know why you’d want to though. Nonetheless, dwarfs is what I’ll use here I suppose. Sorry for the boring semantics, let’s get on with it. Ok, so most people will be familiar with the concept that the seven dwarfs represent the seven stages of cocaine addiction, playing into the euphemism of ‘snow white’. This is quite an interesting take away from the film, with solid enough evidence, but I don’t like it much. This is because it doesn’t tie into the film’s narrative too well, apart from saying that the woman was a nutty addict who was paranoid, but more so delusional. I see no intentional message in this theory apart from: don’t do drugs. But then, umm… Dumbo? Alice In Wonderland? They aren’t great anti-drug campaigns are they? So, instead, Snow White is better interpreted as meaning purity. But before we start the analysis from this assumption, let’s make clear that this is a somewhat conservative film, but it’s not sexist. People love to throw this at all the old films. You see this in the massive objection to princesses and I guess this follows the way in which all art has changed over the last century or so. It has been put into the hands of the everyday person, taken out of the selfish grips of the rich. This means that art doesn’t portray kings, queens and higher class as much today, instead: us average Joes. And when kings and queens are depicted, well, it’s not in a flattering light. Game Of Thrones anyone? Anyway, I’m getting off point. What I’m trying to say is that princesses have been shunned a little in animation. This is most obvious with Pixar. They’re tied to Disney and they’ve only ever made 1 film featuring a princess and that was Brave. Whilst I don’t think this is a bad thing, I also don’t see any harm in the older ‘princess’ films. In this I mean I don’t think they portray harmful messages to little girls at all. They’re almost always about personal strength and perseverance. Whilst some characters do want men, they don’t need them. Which one of these princesses is a weak damsel in distress?

At most you could argue Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. I disagree though. We’ll come to Sleeping Beauty another time, but hopefully we’ll debunk the Snow White claim today. The biggest criticism you could give any of these characters is that they’re a bit naive, or dumb (Ariel). Firstly, we’re dealing with teenagers most of the time, so… what do you expect? But, we’re also playing into childish fantasy. Characters can be naive because their worlds aren’t very dangerous – they’re places where true love exists, come on. If anything people should be concerned with the princes. But, you know what? Who cares? Not men. We’re just not the kind to care about our portrayal in movies. Why? We’re lazy I suppose – or just comfortable in ourselves. Uh-oh. Let’s not go down that path. On we go…

Ok, as touched on already, Snow White is about an idea of purity, of celibacy in a certain sense. Boring, I know, but the mechanics of how this is told is quite interesting. Before we can get into metaphors and symbols though, we have to look at the set-up. First, there’s the evil stepmother. This is a very interesting image, but more so, a cultural phenomena. Stepmothers just are evil. Why? Well, you could argue in this day and age it has something to do with parents divorcing and finding ‘better’ partners, which evokes a lot of spite from many perspectives in the family – especially from a kid stuck in the middle. But, the evil stepmother is an image dating way back to the 1600s with the Brothers Grimm, who of course wrote both Snow White and Cinderella. By the way, divorce was first legalised (in England) in 1857 and was quite rare until nearly 100 years later. So, that idea of torn kids kind of goes out the window here. However, stepmothers were somewhat common back in the 1600s as they’d replace a mother who had passed away. So, these women are trying to fill a huge void in a child’s life – which must be a colossal challenge, possibly insurmountable. This means that the attribution of ‘evil stepmother’ could possibly be linked into some form of parental complex. I’m no psychologist, so let’s not make a blanket statement, but infer that maybe Snow White may have some mummy and daddy issues. First of all, where are they? We get no back story at all. The only allusion to what could have been Snow White’s dad is the skeleton left in the cage in the evil stepmother’s dungeon. Maybe killing him is what makes her evil, I mean, she was willing to kill a 14 year old girl for no reason other than jealousy, why wouldn’t she kill a king for complete control over a kingdom? Oh, and 14 years old!? Yeah, that changes your perspective of everything. But hold on, don’t let your imagination run. We’ve established that Snow White may have some psychological issues at least concerning the missing father and mother. This means her image of men and women alike are distorted. This girl probably has no clear image of love. Moreover, she’s nothing more than a slave, made to work as a scullery maid, knowing she is a princess. That has to mess you up. This turns the film into a psychological drama in my opinion and we can see just why with the introduction of prince charming.

Snow White dreams and wishes of being found by her true love, and when a prince just turns up at her door, she falls in love. Now, pause. This is a moment easily mocked, but we’re paused, so just give me a moment to explain it. In fact, here’s a lesson. Any time you see a ridiculous moment like this in a film, book, play, whatever, and it’s near the beginning, never assume bad writing. This is my lesson to you and it might just change the way you look at a lot of things. The set up to films are always key moments that speak to every other part. Anyone who’s ever written anything knows this. The introduction is called an introduction for a reason. You are introducing the tone and ideas of your story. You are setting down the rules. When a girl sings, ‘I’m looking for my true love’, and then he turns up, you know the writer is making a statement. This has got to be obvious. So, what does this mean? Well, my favourite take on this is to assume what we are seeing is a projection of a character’s imagination. For Snow White this means we are getting to see what her idea of true love is: a good looking prince with a horse and a good ear. But, she pulls away in fear, hiding in her tower, all coy and such. But, what else happens? The evil step mother sees it all. Now, assuming Snow White is also projecting her own perspective onto her, we can infer that she has a strange idea of competition with this woman. Maybe the queen’s jealousy does exist, but I don’t think the magic mirror is being looked into by her alone. Snow White embellished the hatred – and all because of her distorted view of family and love. This all culminates in the attempted murder, but Snow White’s beauty saves her. You could argue that this is sexist, however, if my looks could save me from being stabbed to death, my heart literally torn out, then shit, call me a superhero. Seriously though, ideas of beauty will become more clear near the end. What the wood scene reveals though is Snow White’s capacity to view the world as she feels. When she’s horrified, logs turn into crocodiles, branches want to grab her, animals and trees want to devour her. This secures the idea of her projected imagination and is our segue into the depths of Snow White’s mind.

Here, we’re jumping to the seven dwarfs. But, to recap, what the film has set up is, daddy issues, first (possibly true) love and now is giving us more men. Why? In short, the seven dwarfs are Snow White’s process of coming to terms with men in her own mind, so she may mature–a bit young for a 14 year old kid, I know, but what can you say? Kids nowadays, huh? Anyways, Snow White imagines 7 child-like men to make them less formidable. There are so many so she can literally break down her perspective on them. This is pretty simple actually:

Doc: He’s Snow Whites projection of the man that cares or looks after a woman. She makes him the leader, but bumble and stumble, to dilute this idea of power – make him kinder.

Happy: Simple projection of a happy man.

Sleepy: Again, simple projection of a tired man. This also plays into the idea that he works. will come home from the diamond mine (kind of high maintenance, huh?) and be tired.

Dopey: Another simple projection of a man that primarily serves the idea of making him harmless and loveable.

Grumpy: Here anxiety comes into play a little. Snow White bundles all her negative perceptions of a man into a guy she feels she can ultimately change (which she does).

Bashful: Here’s where things get interesting. Snow White wants a man that isn’t so outgoing, easily put under thumb in a certain sense. Cute in other words.

Sneezy: This one makes little sense until you take into account he has hay fever and Snow White loves flowers. Flowers could be a euphemism, and for Sneezy not to be able to come near, let alone sniff them starts to bring in themes of celibacy. He is able to carry flowers later on in the film though which I’ll leave to your own personal interpretation.

So, this is Snow White’s idea of a man split into seven harmless, doll-sized bodies. It’s perfect if you think about it. It’s not only her way of looking at men as harmless, friendly people, but the little girls who are watching and then having their parents buy the literal doll-sized men. So, Snow White, over the course of the film, spends a day with these ideas of men, allowing her to walk into the arms of Prince Charming instead of running away. That’s more or less everything you need to know about the film to see it in a different way, but let’s dig a little deeper and look at the conflict with the stepmother.

I think I can convey everything I want to say here with three images:

Get it? If you didn’t, let me assist with a quote:

“Apple pies…make the mensfolk’s mouth water”


The apple is a symbol for one’s virginity. Of course a cherry is a more obvious image, but we’re dealing with a kids film that can’t show people dying on screen. They can’t be that explicit–it’s pretty obvious nonetheless. This all means that Snow White recognises the attention she may attract from men and, as a 14 year old girl (yeah, I think a bit of conservatism is acceptable here) probably shouldn’t indulge herself. Sexuality is made taboo here for the sake of purity, for the sake of maintaining the idea of Snow White in a child. In this sense the evil queen isn’t literally killing her, but figuratively doing so, ruining her image. But, the woman isn’t leading her into prostitution here. This all comes back to Snow White. She sees the stepmother as demonic figure of sexuality who took her father from her. I mean, this is the real reason step-parents are made out to be evil. It hurts to imagine our own biological parents doing the grown up time. But, thinking of a stranger and a biological parent? Yeah… not cool. But, what would be is stealing that naughty step-mommy away and teaching her a lesson. Hence, the plethora of porn videos. I’m sorry we got to that, but there you go. The stepmother teases Snow White with the apple to dare her to become like her – an apparent sexual demon. A little extreme, so you could just say that she dares her to develop sooner than she should. There’s one more detail to explore before we can jump to the end of the film: the animals. I like to think of the deer, rabbits and birds as Snow Whites friends, possibly representative of the other maids in the castle (if there were any). They are simply her friends looking out for her best interest, but they are also constructs of her own imagination. They are her sense. That means the apple scene isn’t a dumb girl doing a stupid thing, but a conflicted girl trusting a pretty good disguise despite the alarms going off in her head. She then has the dwarfs come to the rescue, or at least chase away the evil step mother because they are Snow White’s confirmed projection of non-sexual men. It’s simply her saying, ‘no, I’m not that kind of girl’. And that is why she’s not a damsel in distress.

Ok, to conclude, let’s look at the end. Snow White falls victim to the step mother, but manages to fight her off with her newly developed principals. The coma, or sleep she endures is a transitory period possibly of depression and internal conflict. However, in this she grows past the idea of failure, of immaturity, of the dwarfs and allows the idea of love come back into her life as she feels she’s responsible enough to deal with it. In this sense her old self literally died. This is a metaphor for maturity. This is upheld by the time she remained asleep. We can infer from the seasons changing that she was asleep for a year, which means she was 15 when she awakened – which is an acceptable age of consent in some places nowadays, but more widely accepted further back in time. Moreover, Snow White waits for spring, a metaphor again. This one’s obvious. It’s until she’s ready to blossom that she waits – the spring metaphor is even used in her songs sowing this was her intent from the beginning. So, with her maturity, Snow White can come out of her deathly state to travel to the kingdom in the sky, an implied heaven. This means, it’s either going to be a great wedding night, or Snow White’s still a little damaged and delusional inside, but a nice ending nonetheless. But, really she’s not walking away with an actual prince. He’s a representation of a man and maturity. And that’s the story unraveled. In the end it’s about waiting until you’re ready to love. Simple.


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