Allusions to Popular Culture in True Romance
Quentin Tarantino, screenwriter of Tony Scott’s 1993 action film True Romance, is known for cramming his scripts chock full of pop culture references. True Romance is itself something of a pop culture movie. Protagonists Clarence and Alabama love watching movies and listening to Elvis. The references to movies and music might be seen as gratuitous, but the allusions to popular culture in True Romance serve to develop the characters and to add more depth to various scenes.
The opening moments of True Romance establish Clarence as a hardcore Elvis Presley fan. This adoration certainly makes Clarence are more emotional character, but his fandom also contributes to later scenes in the film. His obsession serves as grounding for his hallucination of Elvis early on. This, in turn, sets the rest of the plot in motion. Also, this obsession leads to a distraction later on, when Clarence reads Elvis articles while Alabama is in danger back at the hotel. So, on a basic level, the constant references to a famous public figure serve the very obvious purpose to progress the storyline. Clarence’s interests, in a very realistic way, lead to his successes and failures in the film.
It is important that Clarence and Alabama spend their first date at a movie marathon and a comic book shop, because this develops who they are as protagonists. They are more human because they have down-to-earth, normal interests, and this makes it easier to connect with them. As a result, we become more excited and more emotionally involved when they become involved in dangerous events. This factor is much deeper than mere plot progression. Things become more intimate between the audience and the characters, and also between Clarence and Alabama themselves. Emotions are, after all, what drive the love story of True Romance.
In one scene, movie buff Clarence is confronting the deadly Drexyl. Drexyl ominously invites him to sit and watch the movie on TV. Clarence states that he has already seen the movie, The Mack, and he fires off a great deal of movie trivia after his refusal. Interestingly, Clarence’s knowledge of movies serves to provide him with some leverage. Along with Clarence’s towering height over the seated Drexyl, Clarence’s statement intimidates Drexyl as the tension mounts and they prepare to fight. Tarantino is attempting to create a new kind of hero, armed with a brain filled with trivia, who strikes fear into the heart of the villain. This is an unusual example of the use of allusion in film, since not every screenwriter uses allusions create buildup. This shows that allusions are not merely for character development. They can also change the dynamic of a situation depending on the scene.
We can see from these examples that allusions serve a multitude of purposes. Tarantino does not throw in references to movies and music randomly. Through the film’s many allusions, the plot progresses, characters are developed, bonding occurs between characters, and the emotions of a scene change. Clearly, there are calculated methods employed with the references in True Romance.
Scott, Tony. True Romance. New Line Cinema, 1993. Film.
(Image courtesy of http://www.circlecinema.com/archive/true-romance-graveyard-shift)