Celebrating the rambunctious diner that “Jack Rabbit Slim’s” from ‘Pulp Fiction’ is…
How can someone dance badly, hilariously and brilliantly at the same time?
Look no further than Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace (played explosively with a mesmerizing charm by John Travolta and Uma Thurman) in Pulp Fiction.
Every single detail about the fifties-styled restaurant “Jack Rabbit Slim’s” including dining booths fashioned out of classic vintage cars, in-house race tracks, waiting staff dressed up as popular stars, and the club’s customary couple dance contest are in essence, everything Quentin’s highly-stylized masterpiece stands for – self reflexive back humour steeped in meta and littered with inside jokes, a postmodern quirkiness that reeks of a callous irreverence, and most importantly, a genius blend of uber-cool vibrancy and a queasy discomfort of an imminent misadventure.
But before we discuss the actual bomb of a scene, let’s first take a look at how Quentin describes the setting/space that leads up to the drama, in jaw-dropping detail.
EXT. JACKRABBIT SLIM’S – NIGHT
In the past six years, 50’s diners have sprung up all over L.A. giving Thai restaurants a run for their money. They are all basically the same. Decor out of an “Archie” comic book, Golden Oldies constantly emanating from a bubbly Wurlitzer (piano), Saucy Waitresses in bobby socks, Menus with items like the Fats Domino Cheeseburger or the Wolfman Jack Omelette, and over-prices that pay for all these bullshit.
But then, there is JACKRABBIT SLIM’S, the big mama of the 50’s diners. Either the best or the worst, depending on your point of view.
A big sign with neon-light figure of a cartoon surly cool cat jackrabbit in a red windbreaker towers over the establishment. Underneath the cartoon is the name, “JACKRABBIT SLIM’S”. Underneath that is the slogan, “Next best thing to a time machine.”
Now, see the amount of detailing that has gone into establishing the backdrop of the brewing outburst. You haven’t gotten a single word about the diner’s interior yet, but even before that, a vivid mental picture flashes, right? A detailed description about the restaurant’s ambiance along with the eventualities will happen later, but this is the level of brilliance being unleashed on us.
Moving on, we get a charming conversation featuring self-referential bursts of genius and the now-sensational 5 dollar shake.
Somewhere in the middle of the discussion, Vincent looks around and calls the place “A wax museum with a pulse rate”. He is not making random small talk. He is speaking your mind now. You are being lead into an idea.
More delightful talk about manufacturing bull-crap just for the sake of ‘etiquette’ or establishing closeness follow. The characters get defined with every spoken dialogue. And it keeps coming. On the way to the showdown, you stumble upon flecks of gold like these… “That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special: when you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence!”
Both the characters get real-stoned, with Mia in particular, powdering her nose with a big line of coke, off the washroom sink. Quentin grips us tight with a strangely-palpable tension regarding the multi-fold repercussions.
But after all this scene building, what Travolta and Thurman unleash on the unsuspecting audience, at that particular intersection of the narrative, by subverting every possible convention of a star stage performance, is nothing short of outrageous! We expect pounding action and thrills. But what we get instead is a bizarre, unimaginable piece of movie-magic.
Yes, agreed, its indeed a ‘twist’ contest. But, the actors go about the jig with an indisputable air of OD’ed hotheadedness and a body-language screaming of the “crack-rush”, making the whole thing seem like one insane cocaine trip. And it’s instantly infectious. You watch the oodles of edgy fun with a spring in your feet, a smile in your lips and despite all these, a fidgety knot in your stomach. Yes, the name is QT.
Travolta and Thurman literally go possessed, after a while. They scarcely ever touch each other or even move their feet. Every other part, however, goes sleazing. Thurman, in particular, aces the hip-thrusts and the shoulder-twirls with a super-suggestive scoff. Watch her giving those sassy glances in between, as she keeps spewing the “I don’t give a shit” look, and you’d know what I am talking about!
Just when you are grinning at the way Travolta is letting his non-existent twisting skills go on an almost-scandalous rampage, Thurman improvises akin to a true-blue crackhead, contorting her hand into an elephant’s trumpet. It makes no sense, but you gape. Travolta is least bothered. He starts off with the ambitious two-finger face mask step, as if he had spent a lifetime perfecting it. Together, they define the word ‘rambunctious’ that night.
Quentin, in his final draft, writes this piece of brilliance as Mia and Vincent dance to Chuck Berry’s “You can Never Tell”. They make hand movements as they dance. The description ends there. Yes, for real!
But, it’s more than enough for the talented actors to digest the conflict, take the baton over and own the moment. You know why? The context and the content, with all their idiosyncrasies, have been painstakingly laid out by QT to the minutest detail, even before we had gotten the first glimpse of the dance-stage.
The magic, deservingly, follows.
And, its indeed a sight to behold. And cherish. Even twenty-three years from now.