The characters in “Pulp Fiction” cannot stand alone because they’re each fulfilling familiar cinematic tropes.
“The guy going out with the boss’s wife and he’s not supposed to touch her — that’s in ‘The Cotton Club,’ ‘Revenge,'” the filmmaker explained. “The middle story, the boxer who’s supposed to throw the fight and doesn’t — that’s about the oldest chestnut there is.”
The only exception, the only story of the three that follows a truly unconventional arc, is the story of two of the oldest fixtures in Hollywood: hitmen.
“The third story is more or less the opening three minutes of ‘Action Jackson,’ ‘Commando,’ every other Joel Silver movie — the hitmen show up and blow somebody away. Then they cut to ‘Warner Bros. Presents’ and you have the credit sequence, and then they cut to the hero 300 miles away. But [in ‘Pulp Fiction’] the killers come in, BLAM-BLAM-BLAM — but we don’t cut away, we stay with them the whole rest of the morning and see what happens to them after that. The whole idea is to have these old chestnuts and go to the moon with them.”
Each of these “chestnuts” alone wouldn’t do the job, though. Every character had a role to play in someone else’s story — that’s what kept “Pulp Fiction” so interesting. Seeing traditional cinematic tropes played out again is one thing, but seeing them interact? That was fresh and exciting.
“It was the idea of taking these chestnuts and putting them together and then actually having the characters kind of intertwine,” Tarantino told American Film Institute. “It all kind of takes place in one city, and it’s an environment that they all live in. The characters kind of know each other but you don’t know that for a while.”