Pulp Fiction, Tarantino, and Artist Intent

As part of a freelancing gig I recently had to write an essay about the techniques Quentin Tarantino uses in Pulp Fiction that makes Pulp Fiction a neo-noir film. Here’s the thing, Pulp Fiction isn’t really a neo-noir film. Not by technique, anyway. It’s essentially a gangster film, and can only be considered neo-noir insomuch as gangster films and neo-noir films often share the same themes and stock characters. While researching and writing this essay, it got me thinking about artist’s intent and how often people looking for deeper meaning in film, or literature, or art find what they want without it necessarily actually being there.

Pulp Fiction has a perfect example of this phenomenon with the “What’s in the briefcase?” debate. Tarantino has gone on record as saying that the briefcase is essentially a MacGuffin and that there was never really any intent behind it. Yet the theories abound. Is it Marsellus Wallace’s soul? Is it the gold from Reservoir Dogs? It’s neither. Tarantino said as much.

I’ve had several experiences with these strange occurrences in college and with Granted. Sometimes people would give me their theories on things in my stories that I thought were better than my actual intent. Other times I was dumbfounded at their theories. Personally, I don’t believe in trying to guess an artist’s intent, regardless of the medium.

That’s not to say there is no room for meaning in ambiguity. That’s the fine line Pulp Fiction walks that Tarantino ruined with his candor. I think artists should leave certain aspects of their work ambiguous so patrons can find their own meaning. It’s the overthinking that bothers me. Some works are meant to be enjoyed on a certain intended level, and overthinking or overanalyzing something can harm one’s overall enjoyment and the overall enjoyment of the artwork for other people.

Understanding intent takes context, which is something people lack for most artworks. To properly appreciate artists’ intent, you should also understand when it was made, how it was made, and why it was made. In most cases, these are impossibilities. I think that’s why people ascribe meaning to things they shouldn’t. They are adding the context of their own lives to the artwork. Again, it’s hard to find fault with this. We should all be able to enjoy our favorite movies, books, or artworks because of their personal meaning to us. I think where it becomes a problem for me is either when that meaning is no longer personal, or the artist reveals their intent and people ignore it in favor of their interpretation.

This does beg a certain question, though: Is there a wrong interpretation? Because any form of artwork can only be enjoyed within the context of personal experience, would that make an artists’ intent wrong if it doesn’t match with Joe Shmoe’s interpretation because the artist lacks the context that Joe Shmoe is viewing the artwork in? Or is the original intent of the creator the final word on the subject?

In many ways, this debate is similar to religious exper… Shit, I fell into my own trap.

Welp, I guess overthinking is a part of human nature. My arguments are invalid.

1 Comment

  1. Daveler

    I don't think overanalyzing destroys people's enjoyment of the film. It's fun for them; that's why they do it. Overanalyzing destroys OTHER people's enjoyment of the film. Which is why no one will go see movies with me anymore.

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