Power to the She
Pulp Fiction and Feminism
“I don’t give a damn what men find attractive. It’s unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same.” –Fabienne
Femininity is a set of ideals for what women should be. Femininity is made up of both socially-defined and biologically-created factors. Femininity is embodied as a surface performance. In the movie Pulp Fiction, stereotypical traits of the female gender are used to place women into two categories. One being emotional, scared and helpless, and the other being controlled, powerful and seductive. Mia Wallace, Fabienne, and Yolanda are the main women who are engrossed in an American crime film which makes for a riveting movie plot when the two categories of women are immersed together. The primary female character is Mia Wallace, played by Uma Thurman. The other two prominent women are Yolanda (Amanda Plummer) and Fabienne (Maria De Medeiros). When comparing all three, Yolanda and Fabienne are seen as fragile and weak.
During a scene in Pulp Fiction, Yolanda and her husband, Ringo (Tim Roth), try to rob a restaurant and its customers. Yolanda reveals her frail personality through childlike actions. She cannot control herself as she becomes loud and frantic in a juvenile manner because a more experienced gangster has a loaded glock pointed at her husband. Her husband attempts to calm her down by calling her by her nickname, “Honey Bunny”, which portrays to the audience that Yolanda cannot function in stressful situations without the help of someone to put her nerves to rest. Yolanda yells “I gotta’ go pee”, “I wanna go home”, reinforcing her fragile self cannot handle what it takes to succeed in a familiar Quentin Tarantino predicament. Along with Yolanda, Fabienne is also depicted this way. She is the girlfriend of Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis). Fabienne’s physique is small and thin and Butch treats her small and thin; he speaks to her softly and simply which reassures her in times of distress. As an illustration for this point, there is a scene in which Butch becomes angry and throws objects, Fabienne cowers in the corner as she feels powerless to Butch’s anger. These two females’ actions are in sharp contrast to Mia Wallace’s powerful, confident and seductive actions in the movie. As a wife to a top notch gang boss in the city of Los Angeles, she quickly learns that in order to survive in the big city, she must become the epitome of a tenacious woman. Pulp Fiction is not only an engagement of the acts of crime and redemption which creates the intriguing atmosphere, but also sheds light on the tendencies that society uses to categorize women.
There is a trickling theme of mystery in Pulp Fiction. Not through the crime but through the character Mia Wallace. Her relationship with her supposed husband, Marsellus Wallace, is suggested but details are never shown or given. Marsellus asks his employee, Vincent (John Travolta), to take Mia on a date. This adds to the mysterious illusion.
Mia makes the audience unconsciously question her marriage with Marcellus. As a viewer, you can tell Vincent is nauseously nervous and Mia takes advantage of this as she toys with him, using her seductive ways even through an intercom.
Tarantino uses a lips shot to describe Mia. Her red lipstick draws attention. The color red is a power color symbolizing the juxtaposition of passion and danger. By one simple and direct shot of only a tiny aspect of Mia, one can gather she is powerful, dedicated and aggressive. Her aggression is exposed at dinner as she is in control of the scene. Vincent does whatever she wants. Any girl who can get a terrifying assassin to dance the twist at her command is what I would call a powerful woman. The evolution of their growing relationship is shown here. From the start, Mia Wallace was a mystery to Vincent Vega as well as to the audience. This makes the audience, along with Vincent, have to work to understand the true essence of Mia. Vincent unravels her seductive aspect when Mia lets her true feelings for Vincent show through. She sheds the sexual ploy and switches over to a fun-loving woman. This new characteristic puts her on the fence between the two categories of women portrayed in the movie. Soon after, she falls to the helpless side.
Ironically, the intelligent and powerful Mia Wallace dumbfoundedly mistakes heroine for cocaine. Once she intakes the heroine, all her power is stripped from her. Vincent frantically rushes to help her vulnerability by giving Mia a shot of adrenaline to the heart.
It often goes unnoticed; however, Quentin Tarantino hand picks the playlists for his movies after a much thought process. He allows the background music to add an element to the story which often times people do not realize. As Vincent Vega walks into the Wallace’s house to pick up Mia, the song “Son of a Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield is playing. Mia’s provocative attitude is displayed through the lyrics. Springfield’s voice is very soulful as she sings about the preacher’s son seducing her. The preacher’s son appears innocent and the singer walks willingly. We can interpret the song as a foreshadow to Mia seducing Vincent and setting a sensual mood early in the night. Quentin Tarantino’s main goal is to use songs in a diegetic way. To this point, the music in the scene where Vincent comes to pick up Mia is playing from Mia’s record player proving she purposely put on a song about seduction and forbidden romances.
On the obvious side of things, at first glance of Fabienne, Mia and Yolanda, it is not difficult by any means to pick out the confident, dangerous and enticing girl versus the calm, reserved and oblivious girls. When we put on costumes, we are trying to hide what is underneath, but in reality, the costumes disclose details of what is actually underneath. Both Yolanda and Fabienne, the weaker female characters, differ from Mia in their appearance as well as their actions. They wear neutral colors, no makeup and have softer features. Yolanda’s ninety’s look resembles what would be called “a hot mess.” Her unbrushed hair and purple, cotton A-line frock makes for a juvenile look. Fabienne wears a washed out, baggy, floral dress with an inky bowl cut hairstyle representing her laid-back personality.
“Girls like me don’t make invitations like this to just anyone.” -Mia Wallace
Mia, on the other hand, gives off a darker impression yet the most attractive, with her black hair, darker skin, red lipstick and typically dark clothing. This is exemplified in the most common shot of Mia, later turned into the movie poster. She is lying on a bed with a seductive look on her face, a gun placed before her and a cigarette in her hand (both societal power symbols) to be portrayed as beautiful, powerful, intelligent and seductive. Being the most alluring woman in the movie adds to her authority because society tends to equate beauty and power.
Pulp Fiction, gore and all, brings to attention femininity by offering a nuanced take on female characters that films of similar genres do not. Some would say the female actresses are buried behind their predominant male significant others. One must look deeper into the films to truly see the importance of the female roles displayed. Even though Tarantino downgrades these female characters, we must remind ourselves that without them the film would not be complete. They provide mystery and exhilaration, forming the plot and changing the logistics. Tarantino is not a feminist; he just enjoys forcing his viewers to seek out his characters’s values. “It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem real when you watch them on a screen.” -Anthony Burgess
Tarantino, Quentin. “The Internet Movie Script Database (IMSDb).” Pulp Fiction Script at IMSDb. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.
“Pulp Fiction.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulp_Fiction
Klamann, Seth. “Putting the Pulp in Pulp Fiction — Artifacts Journal — University of Missouri.” Artifacts Journal RSS. ARTIFACTS, Apr. 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.