The existential horror of buying ‘Pulp Fiction’ posters in college

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It’s getting to the point in the year when the fluorescent white walls of my new apartment have turned from a welcoming canvas where new school year aspirations can be freely projected, into a helpless tapestry of laziness. If one were to Google search “interior decorating for serial killers,” images of our apartment would likely show up as a top result. Of course, with a non-existent college budget, making our apartment mildly presentable is limited to one thing: posters. And as a film lover, I know it must be written somewhere that I am legally obliged to plaster my college room walls with movie posters. 

Scrolling through a list of five dollar movie posters early last week (when I’m rich maybe I’ll shell out for laminated prints), I soon found perfection. A stone-faced Uma Thurman, with a cigarette casually hanging from her right hand, stared back at me from a dimly lit bedroom like a modern day Mona Lisa. What could be more perfect than Quentin Tarantino’s quintessential 1994 masterpiece, “Pulp Fiction”? Sharply insightful, endlessly quotable and hilarious upon every watch, I embraced it in a way I did with few other films. Upon seeing the poster, I quickly added it to my cart.

And then I stopped. If dorm room posters are as much a college staple as beer pong, what does that make a fucking “Pulp Fiction” poster? I wanted to pick a movie that I honestly cared about, sure, but what impression would I give off if my wall looked like that of every other conceited film kid? I’m a complicated human — I have just under two decades’ worth of unique life lessons and emotional history — so my personality cannot be reduced to the cliched pretension that compels me to choose between “Pulp Fiction” and “Fight Club” for the honor of watching me sleep at night. I stopped shopping and tried to distract myself on Reddit instead.

But a few days later, the realization slithered back. I was hanging out with my friend and his family late Saturday night, as we embarked on the classic ritual of aimlessly scrolling through Netflix. My friend had expressed interest in “Pulp Fiction,” and I was trying to convince his reluctant sister that it was the right choice. She asked why and I responded instinctively: “it’s the greatest movie ever made.” The bluntness of my statement took me by surprise.

My sense of shame returned. Am I really that basic? That much of a white suburbanite? Over the next few days, I reflected on my favorite movies: from the Christopher Nolan epics I watch on endless repeat to the life-changing hypnotism of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” I thought of the beating dreams echoing in my head from “Whiplash.” Although I am my own man, with my own heart and eyes, my favorite films could be easily predicted by a computer analyzing “ages 18-24, white male interests.” 

I want to say that I watch movies solely for my need to consume art. But of course this would be a lie. For me, movies have always been about communication. As “Pulp Fiction” shows so well, in a modern world without a unifying religion or ingrained societal traditions, we relate to each other through the pop culture (and most importantly for me, the films) we share. After all, I didn’t spend days binging old movies last summer just because I couldn’t wait to experience every second of “The African Queen” —  I was studying a language. So as much as I may like “Pulp Fiction,” I knew I needed a film that proved to others that I am something more. 

Yet, by Monday, the penitentiary imposed by my empty walls seemed to squeeze further in around me — so I was forced back online. Soon enough, the blood-red top caught my eye and the paper crinkles of the “Pulp Fiction” poster rippled across my screen once more. I wanted to hate it, or more accurately, I just wanted it to disappear. But there it was — mesmerizing as ever. And in this pure adoration was a valuable truth that even I found difficult to hide from.

 It’s a sickening feeling to know how far from unique we really are, because it proves just how indistinguishable and small we are on a planet of eight billion people. But there is nothing small about how “Pulp Fiction” makes me feel. Its power is absolute, and regardless of why the film captivates me, it does. It may sting to be reminded that we’re no different from everyone else — but the emotion we derive from our world and our movies remains tangible regardless of how we compare to others. So sure, if I wanted to buck the cliche I could buy a photo of surrealist modern art. But it doesn’t matter — in the end, we are who we are, and we enjoy what we enjoy.

I ended up caving that Monday night, buying a neon-splashed portrait of hitmen Jules and Vincent to help lighten up the apartment. But I plan to hang it in the living room area, and not my room. Instead, I went with a “Casablanca” poster for my overhead wall.

 It’s classier, I think. 

Contact David Newman at [email protected].