Or simply: the “Top 10 Times Quentin Tarantino Has His Characters Sit Around A Table Talking About Stuff” as this piece of domestic apparatus on four legs has become a staple motif across the writer-director’s work. Don’t believe me? Check these out…
10. True Romance
The start of a beautiful, bloody friendship
Tony Scott directed this from a Quentin Tarantino screenplay and once again a table gets to play a role. This time we’re in a restaurant in a scene that is staged similar to those seen in Tarantino-directed films such as the opening café heist in Pulp Fiction and Mia Wallace’s date with Vincent and Jack Rabbit Slims. Here, flirtations take the form of Christian Slater’s Clarence asking Patricia Arquette’s Alabama what her favourites things are. Scott adds mood to the scene with his low lighting; you’d expect if Tarantino were directing the sequence would have been brighter, akin perhaps, to Scorsese’s café in After Hours. What the neon lights and moonlit exterior achieve is a more intimate portrayal of two characters beginning to get to know one another. It is, after all, the start of a great but troubled love story.
9. Django Unchained
“The science of phrenology is crucial to understanding the separation of our two species.”
There’s a few instances where Quentin Tarantino makes “his” table an additional characteristic of the scene and many times in which a table forms a key component of the mise-en-scene within Django Unchained. A couple of scenes stand out, not least the racist use of phrenology (the study of the cranium in order to discover character and mental abilities) by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin J. Candie to describe the difference between slaves and slave owners, or more precisely, white from black. In the scene around an elegant dinner table, Candie presents the skull of a black man and proceeds to saw off a portion. He reveals the piece of none as proof that African slaves are submissive by nature. It’s the defining reason why the slaves have not risen up against their owners.
In another scene, Tarantino marvels at Christoph Waltz’s ability to pull a pint as suave bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz. This precursors the writer-director finally getting to the point when Schultz offers Jamie Foxx’s enslaved “Freeman” the opportunity to win his freedom by working with him on his next bounty. Tarantino’s take on the western-revenge motif gives him the chance to recreate that classic saloon with the swinging “batwing” doors and the sound of jangling metal spurs on dusty wooden floors. The scene in Django Unchained takes place in an empty bar so the table on which the two characters place their beers has an increasingly dominant physical presence. Tarantino gives the inanimate object every chance to “shine” under the glow of his principle light that actually casts shadows over the animate objects of the scene making them almost secondary to the piece of set decoration.
8. Pulp Fiction
Honey Bunny and Ringo plot a restaurant heist
Similar to the scene that first welcomed Quentin Tarantino to audiences (the opening of Reservoir Dogs), Pulp Fiction finds us back in a café this time casually risk assessing a restaurant robbery. The main difference between this scene and the one in Reservoir Dogs is its scale (just two characters). It also culminates in the robbery taking place before our eyes (albeit after we return following other segments of the story). The restaurant table is an ever-present within the scene, their breakfast plates, coffee, condiments and an ashtray separating our two trigger-happy lovers. When we return to the restaurant later in the film, we see hitmen Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) enjoying their breakfast in the very same restaurant. Their paths cross with Honey Bunny and Ringo and the table motif is once again present.
7. Jackie Brown
Chicks with guns
This scene featuring Samuel L. Jackson’s Ordell Robbie and Robert De Niro’s Louis Gara uses only subtle references to a coffee table but it plays an important role nonetheless. Not least, it allows Tarantino to marvel at the soles of Bridget Fonda’s feet, appeasing the director’s foot fetish (another long-running motif in the writer-director’s work). More crucially, the coffee table plays a supporting role in developing each of the three characters within the scene – for example, Gara is aroused by Fonda’s flirtatious Melanie who uses the coffee table as a stage on which to draw attention to her bare legs. When she gets Gara a drink, she strategically places her feet next to the glass so he can’t help but look when reaching for his beverage. Also, when the phone rings we get insight into Ordell and Melanie’s volatile relationship as he orders her to answer the call. She does so impetuously, putting her bowl of food on the table as she gets up.
6. Inglourious Basterds
”I’ll have a glass of milk”
Quentin Tarantino has always been good at character introductions. From the simplicity of Jackie Brown simply standing on a moving walkway while the credits roll and Bruce Willis’s Butch sitting in mid-shot listening to Marsellus Wallace talk about fixing a boxing match to the entire cast of Reservoir Dogs being introduced over a conversation about Madonna’s Like A Virgin. He might just top them all with one of his greatest creations: SS Colonel Hans Landa, played so brilliantly by Christoph Waltz. Landa is so devastatingly effective because his cause as a Nazi is less about serving the Fuhrer and more about achieving his own sadistic ambition. This terrifying conviction comes through his introductory scene at a farmhouse. The table of the scene is in the farmer’s kitchen and has two important roles. Firstly, it sits atop a basement secretly hiding a Jewish family; secondly, it’s the stage for Landa’s glass of milk. The reference to the glass of milk is typically overstated by Tarantino (like the discussion of tipping waitresses in Reservoir Dogs) who uses it – his prime lighting focused on the glass – as an unthreatening counterpoint to the Nazi killer’s impenetrable hatred.
5. The Hateful Eight
Guns, Guns and More Guns
There’s a number of wonderful moments in The Hateful Eight where Tarantino’s “table” gets a chance in the limelight. Indeed, there’s multiple tables vying to be the most talked about. The first of note is the one at which Michael Madsen’s Joe Gage sits at working on his memoirs before the group sits down for stew around the community dinner table. But these sequences, a favourite of Tarantino’s where his characters sit around talking about “stuff”, aren’t quite as significant as the fleeting but otherwise thematically important decision to physically split Minnie’s Haberdashery down political lines. The dinner table becomes “neutral ground”. Tarantino also uses the tables within the room to add a little chaos to the heightening tension as Domergue’s gang hide their weapons under them.
4. Kill Bill: Vol. 1
Introducing O-Ren Ishii aka Cottonmouth and a particularly sharp sword
Lucy Liu does a “Salma Hayek” on the table in this brilliant scene from Kill Bill: Vol 1 in which she stamps her authority all over a yakuza gang by decapitating a member during a high-level meeting. The table is quite different from the ones we’re used to in Tarantino’s films – ultra-modern and styled like an extension of Japan’s neon lit city streets, its internal lights cast a harsh glow on the chins of the gangsters seated at the meeting. Centrally, two beams of illumination strike through its polished aesthetic like landing lights at an airport, here instead giving O-Ren a point of reference when wielding her sharpened blade with the precision of a master butcher.
3. Inglourious Basterds
Shoot-out behind enemy lines
In Inglorious Basterds, a barroom table is front and centre of one of the film’s best scenes. I’m talking about the shoot-out behind enemy lines when Michael Fassbender’s Archie Hicox inadvertently allows his disguise as a German Officer to slip. It’s a scene of nerve-wrangling tension which Tarantino heats up with some brilliant dialogue and wonderfully mannered pacing. The table, aside from a place to put the drinks, becomes part of the action when the two hardened soldiers on opposite sides of the war discreetly aim their guns at each other. At this point the table hides the threat of gunfire from a room full of Nazis but through the verbal sparring we know things are going to get bloody.
2. From Dusk Till Dawn
Salma Hayek dances on the table
For those that haven’t seen Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn, a film Quentin Tarantino wrote and starred in, words cannot describe with any distinction what Salma Hayek does in a barroom scene that involves the table motif. Hayek’s sexualised snake dance is the stuff of Tarantino wet dreams. She even satisfies his insatiable appetite for female feet by sensually pouring tequila down her leg as he himself sucks on her toes. Crucially, the table is central to the scene, giving Hayek’s half-naked dancer an intimate stage on which to tantalise her prey.
1. Reservoir Dogs
The “Dogs” talk Madonna, the meaning of “Like A Virgin”, and to-tip or not-to-tip a waitress
If Quentin Tarantino’s penchant for a good “around the dinner table” conversation had a conception date, you could pin it on Reservoir Dogs in 1992. Not only was this his first feature film as writer-director, it’s the FIRST scene of his FIRST movie. If proof that Tarantino likes his characters to converse across and around tables – be them restaurant tables, a barroom’s booth or a coffee table in front of the television – then look no further. Here, Tarantino gives himself most of the best lines as he discusses his take on Madonna’s song Like A Virgin. It’s a seemingly innocuous – almost irrelevant – precursor to the film’s bungled heist but is actually quite fascinating in its introduction to the dynamics of the group (Mr. White’s derision towards automatic tips for waitresses before eventually submitting to the consensus; Mr. Blue’s quiet sadism; Mr. White’s steely confidence). It’s also wildly funny.
Over to you: do you have a fave “table” scene in a Quentin Tarantino movie?