Monday, February 21, 2011

"That Was Fuckin' Trippy": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part X

Go to Part IX: "Is that what you'd call an uncomfortable silence?"

As Vincent speeds along the streets, taking Mia to Lance’s house, notice Tarantino no longer uses a process shot for the moving vehicle. He maintains realism throughout the overdose sequence. After Lance hangs up the phone and just as Vincent drives up onto the lawn, Tarantino switches to a hand-held camera for most of the scene. This gives an immediacy and sense of disorder to what’s going on.
Here, the lack of a process shot adds to the realism of the scene.
On the lawn, Vincent has to convince Lance to help him out by clueing him in to the fact that he’s got Marsellus Wallace’s wife dying on his lawn. At this point we know, and we presume Lance knows, what Marsellus can be capable of when he’s angry, so Lance knows what he has to do.

Notice the humor Tarantino laces throughout this entire scene: Lance and Vincent arguing; Lance and Jody arguing; Vincent’s question after Lance’s demonstration of how to administer the shot, “I gotta stab her three times?” Trudi sitting stoned on the couch simply watching from the background.
Vincent and Lance argue about who's going to give Mia the shot, drawing out the scene and injecting humor.
From the point at which Lance is preparing the hypodermic, the frequency of edits increases dramatically as do the close-ups, both of which add to the tension and anticipation of what’s to come.

Of course you don’t really administer an adrenaline shot directly to the heart for an overdose. You would never get a hypodermic through the breastbone, but where would the drama and excitement of this scene be if all they did was give Mia an intravenous injection in the arm?

Just before Vincent readies himself to give the shot, we see Trudi finally get up off the couch to see what’s happening. As Lance counts one, Vincent raises his arm up high above his head. Following that shot is a close-up and push in on Mia’s face; close-up and push in on the needle; close-up and push in on Lance as he counts ‘two;’ close-up and push in on Vincent; close-up and push in on the red dot on Mia’s chest; close-up and push in on Jody’s face, looking excited about what’s happening; then finally a ‘three’ count and the injection. Tarantino draws out the tension and milks this part for all he can. All those close shots and push-ins make the audience anticipate the thrill-ride that follows as Mia springs up, almost imitating a vampire who has just been staked through the heart. The intensity of the situation is broken when Jody announces, “That was fuckin’ trippy,” and everyone relaxes when they see Mia is okay. In Ebert’s Great Movies essay on the film he talks about this scene:
Close up of the needle.

Close up of Vincent before the injection.

Close up of Jodi, anticipating the piercing.
“When the needle goes into the heart, you'd expect that to be one of the most gruesome moments in the movie, but audiences, curiously, always laugh. In a shot-by-shot analysis at the University of Virginia, we found out why. QT never actually shows the needle entering the chest. He cuts away to a reaction shot in which everyone hovering over the victim springs back simultaneously as Mia leaps back to life. And then Jody says it was ``trippy'' – and we understand that, as a piercer, she has seen the ultimate piercing. The body language and the punchline take a grotesque scene and turn it into dark but genuine comedy. It's all in the dialogue and the editing.”[i]
Everyone breathes a sigh of relief after realizing Mia is okay.
Vincent and Mia drive home in silence. Again, there is no process shot in the background, maintaining a sense of realism.
Once again, no process shot is used as Vincent and Mia drive home in silence.
Back at the doorstep, they agree to keep the incident to themselves in order for them both to avoid Marsellus’s wrath. To break up the tension a little bit, Mia finally tells her “Fox Force Five” joke that she was too embarrassed to tell at dinner:

MIA: Vincent, do you wanna hear my “Fox Force Five” joke?
VINCENT: Sure, except I think I’m still a little too petrified to laugh.
MIA: No, you won’t laugh ‘cause it’s not funny, but if you still wanna hear it I’ll tell it.
VINCENT: I can’t wait.
MIA: Okay, three tomatoes are walkin’ down the street. Papa tomato, mama tomato and baby tomato. Baby tomato starts laggin’ behind and papa tomato gets really angry, goes back and squishes him. Says, “Catch up.”

Vincent allows himself a tiny chuckle. That joke still makes me laugh out loud every time I see the scene, if for no other reason than because it’s such an absurdly stupid joke following a harrowing sequence of events.



[i] Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times, 10 June 2001.

Go to Part XI: "And now, little man, I give the watch to you."

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