"I love you, Pumpkin…"


“I love you, Pumpkin.”
“I love you, Honey Bunny. Everybody be cool this is a robbery!” (Pulp Fiction, 1994)

Is there anybody who has not heard this quote from Pulp Fiction? Throughout the history of cinema, we can find endless classic movie lines. In order for movie quotes to achieve world-wide fame, they must fit in with the culture of other countries. Their sense of humour and, of course, the translation must be accurate in the target language. So, how are these lines made to sound as good in other languages as in the original version? Translators must take up the gauntlet and rise to the challenge.

Good translation is the key to the success of movies. If the translation is good then the film will be a success, but if it is bad then the movie will probably flop at the box office. What makes movies successful in other languages is their ability to play with words and idioms. Let’s go back to the classic film Pulp Fiction, and check out one of its many famous lines in both its original and Polish versions.

Bruce Willis as Butch Coolidge says to Mia “Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.” Such a short sentence, but the sound of the rhyme makes it difficult to translate. E. Gałązka-Salomon dealt with this translation superbly, by translating the movie line as “Zed zszedł,” in Polish. This brilliantly transmits the sense of atmosphere in the scene.

“And now for something completely different…“ (Monty Python’s Flying Circus)

What about hilarious English quotes, like these from Monty Python? Only one word can be used to describe the translation of these into other languages: challenging. T. Beksiński, responsible for their translation into Polish and said to be one of the best in his trade, contributed towards the “Pythomania” movement in Poland. However, some people accuse him of adding Polish words to the ‘Flying Circus’; words which do not exist in the original English version. For example he added “Jarocin”, which is the name of a Polish town that annually holds an alternative music festival. The question is: if he were to leave the English name, would it be as comically successful in Poland as the Polish version? Based on his diverse knowledge of both English and Polish culture, Beksiński decided to use Polish names. He thought this would be the context most familiar to his Polish audience. We can argue whether he was right or not, but one thing that is certain is that there is nothing better than “Lovely spam! Wonderful spam,” according to the original Monty Python quote.

“I just know before this is over, I’m gonna need a whole lot of serious therapy. Look at my eye twitchin…” (Shrek, 2001)

Sometimes, unfortunately, professional translators (and not those just translating for fun) simply translate sentences without taking care with regards to the meaning of the text. For instance, in a dialogue between Wolverine and Jean Grey in the film X-men, Cerebro – a machine for finding mutants – was literally translated as “brain”:

“Do you…?”
“Do I…use Cerebro? No. It could be a little…dangerous for me.” (“Do I… use a brain? No. It could be a little…dangerous for me.”)

Can everything be translated correctly? It probably depends upon the skills of the translator, their knowledge about both languages as well the cultures of both countries. Some sentences, even when not translated into the target language, can become a part of that language. For example, “Are you talking to me?!” from Taxi was used in the Polish comedy ‘Kiler’ (in English “Killer”), and became fashionable and one of the most used phrases between young people.

The fate of movie lines is unpredictable. As Forrest Gump would say, translation “is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get”.

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