After years of repeated thematic motifs and unchanging, stereotypical characters, films within a genre often lose their vitality. The conventions become predictable and the underlying myth becomes boring and banal. The innovative director will seek to revitalize a popular myth through a "generic transformation" (Cawelti 520). This essay shall demonstrate how Quentin Tarantino borrows a traditional myth from the gangster genre, subverts it and subsequently installs a new, unorthodox myth in its place. The end result is a new type of film that reaches beyond the established confines of the gangster genre.
As with Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde, the radical innovations included in Pulp Fiction make it hard to situate the film within mainstream cinema; it is, as John Cawelti would agree, "difficult to know what to call this type of film". While Penn's film and Tarantino's Pulp Fiction clearly acknowledge the conventions of the gangster genre, it is only as a point of departure. Tarantino introduces enigmatic characters and complex incongruities which combine to successfully remove his film from the "conventions of a traditional popular genre" (Cawelti 505).
Cawelti describes the myth within the gangster film as "affirm[ing] the limits of individual aggression and violence ... show[ing] how violence evokes its own inevitable doom" (Cawelti 516). In Pulp Fiction and Bonnie and Clyde, the directors subvert the "traditional elements" and the "traditional mythical world ..." (Cawelti 505) is confounded. Thus begin the generic transformations. The directors thoroughly undermine the traditional myths and effectively replace them with myths of their own construction. The complexities of structure, character and theme within Pulp Fiction exceed the conventional boundaries of the gangster genre and the myths commonly associated with gangster films become inadequate. The narrative leads to non-romanticized situations and characters that appear too realistic to be contained within the "inadequate" boundaries of the gangster myth (Cawelti 510). Here then, Tarantino is effectively exposing the inadequacies of the gangster myth.
The myth of the gangster is exposure by first firmly establishing the conventional gangster persona. Within the gangster environment, a darkened night club for example, the gangster looks the part; black suit, jewellery, sunglasses and the inevitable guns construct the image of menace. So too do his mannerisms, the gangster is a cocky, self-assured tough guy.
The story within the film titled "The Bonnie Situation", provides an example an undermined gangster myth. Here, the two gangsters, Jules and Vincent, must retrieve and deliver a package that has been stolen.