I watched Pulp Fiction last night – streamed it on Netflix. I couldn’t help but notice that something was funky about the timing of events. I tried to sort it out in my head, but gave up and consulted the Wikipedia entry (linked above). And there I found out that it exhibited ring-composition, more or less.
What made sorting things out so difficult is that the film involves three or four interlinked stories (depending on how you count them) and the episodes are not told in order. I’m not going to attempt a plot summary here; for that you should consult the Wikipedia entry. But here’s how the Wikipedia lays the story out:
1. "Prologue—The Diner" (i)2. Prelude to "Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace's Wife"3. "Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace's Wife"4. Prelude to "The Gold Watch" (a—flashback, b—present)5. "The Gold Watch"6. "The Bonnie Situation"7. "Epilogue—The Diner" (ii)
The film opens in a coffee shop where a young couple decides to rob the place and its customers. They begin the robbery and then that segment stops. The robbery finishes in the seventh and last segment. Similarly the 6th segment completes the story begun in the 2nd.
The 5th segment completes, shall we say, an aspect of the story that we have in the 3rd segment. In the 3rd segment Vincent Vega takes his boss’s wife to dinner, but is worried about how to treat her; he’s afraid of earning his boss’s displeasure and thereby getting killed. In the 5th segment he’s killed, though that has nothing to do with his treatment of his boss’s wife. As the Wikipedia listing makes clear, the 5th segment involves a different story line from the 3rd segment.
The 4th segment is in the middle, though its story continues into the 5th segment. The flashback sequence in “The Gold Watch” is the oldest incident in the whole film, predating all the other events (which happen in the space of a few days) but two or three decades.
Here’s the chronological order of the film segments (again from the Wikipedia):
4a, 2, 6, 1, 7, 3, 4b, 5
Wikipedia also notes: “Sequences 1 and 7 partially overlap and are presented from different points of view; the same is true of sequences 2 and 6.” Note also that the segments that frame the film, 1 and 7, are at the chronological middle.
Clever film. Interestingly enough the Wikipedia article quote Tarrantino as saying, "I wanted it to look like an epic. It's an epic in everything—in invention, in ambition, in length, in scope, in everything except the price tag." Hence the slippery ordering of things.