Pulp Fiction - The Line Evil Draws

Thoughts On: Pulp Fiction

I've already introduced the essay on Pulp Fiction in the first part where we discussed Tarantino and lessons in writing what we know. Next we're going to be talking about the 'film' elements of the picture. In other words we're going to be analysing the film as to pull apart it's message.

Pulp Fiction is a picture trying to do two things and this is perfectly demonstrated by the two definitions Tarantino gives us in the very beginning:

1. A soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter.
2. A magazine or book containing lurid subject matter and being characteristically printed on rough, unfinished paper.

This film is 'Pulp Fiction' meaning one of two things. It's either fiction for the sake of fiction and entertainment. Or, it's a film with lurid subject matter, but a piece of artwork nonetheless, a piece of art we can assume to be made with intentional messages. This is what I mean by saying this picture has strong elements of both 'movie' (definition 1.) and 'film' (definition 2.) in it. The true depths of Pulp Fiction are found in it's movie elements that disguise themselves as something a little more profound that we can learn a lot from, and so, for that reason, we'll save that for last. What we're going to look at now are the confusing elements of the film, the ambiguity of the case, of the reason why Rocky Horror was thrown out of his window, what the gold watch means, what that bible verse means, why the film ends like it does and what the 'miracle' is all about. This sounds like a lot, but don't worry it's all connected and so won't need extensive work to pull apart. In short, Pulp Fiction is about characters changing, an idea of fate and a question of justice. To understand this we have to focus on Vincent, Jules and Butch as the three main, and most important, characters. Before we start though, I'll also clarify the sequence of events in the film as they can be easily jumbled:

Collecting the Briefcase
Vincent and Mia
The Gold Watch
The Bonnie Situation

We'll start by jumping past the opening Diner sequence to focus on the briefcase and Marsellus throwing Rocky Horror out the window. In short, there are no answers here, but both concepts do have weight and meaning. Marsellus throwing a man through a window for doing something(?) and possibly to his wife, is all about control and tyranny. Whilst you could argue that nothing happened here as Mia said so, mmm... don't believe her. Why would she tell the truth? I think something did happen, and to symbolise Marsellus' character, set up the 'date' and make clear Vincent's conflict. Marsellus is a very possessive man, willing to kill another for going near his wife, as a result, Vincent's conflict lies in his respect for him. We see this in the hug the two share. (Remember here that Jules is never seen with Marsellus). This indicates that Vincent is immersed in gang culture, whereas Jules isn't so much, and that the briefcase is a symbol for their commitment to both Marsellus and crime. This is reinforced by the end with Jules saying that his boss' underwear are in the briefcase. This might as well be what is actually inside the case, with the golden light being a fabrication, a metaphor for perceived greatness, of respect and stature in the world of crime. The light in the case is the reasoning behind characters respecting and working under a man who, for no explicit reason, would give a person brain damage. The real ambiguity presented to the characters resultantly turns all their actions in and around the briefcase and Marsellus into questions. The primary question comes with the 'miracle' but we'll return to that later. Suffice to say that that question is Jules' whereas Vincent's question comes with the Mia sequence. In short, Vincent is being asked if he wants to walk the thin line for Marsellus. In this Mia is symbolic of the trap of gang culture. She is almost the spoils of success - those that are out of Vincent's reach. She is an archetypal femme fatale. Marsellus throwing Rocky Horror out a window makes clear to him that there are consequences for his pursuit or even involvement with her and crime. This is why when he's in Mia's bathroom he says 'this is a test'. But the truth is, it's not a test of his loyalty to Marsellus, but his own sense. Vincent's association with Mia, Marsellus and gangs is what kills him. All in all, Vincent's character is doomed. He refuses to change, to accept the futility of criminal activity and the looming dangers of gang culture. This is why Vincent is the only main character to die in the film.

Next we come to Butch and his Gold Watch. This is a very simple concept to understand. Butch, like Jules and Vincent, is trapped within gang culture, but he was raised as the son of a war hero (born into a line of war heroes). He, like his fathers before him, is a fighter and doesn't really want to be associated with crime or evil. This turns the gold watch into a symbol of goodness opposed the golden light of tyranny in the briefcase. Very simple, no? Butch being the good guy is demonstrated throughout the film. He shows no real respect toward Marsellus in the beginning, or his henchmen, he disobeys, he wants to escape them, and is ultimately the real hero of the film. Butch, despite a rough temperament, always does the right thing. As I'm sure you're starting to piece together now, there are three clear characters similar to Leone's Good, Bad and Ugly. Vincent is the bad, Jules is the ugly and Butch is the good. But, Tarantino's characters are strict archetypes of Leone's and that's why the end happens, but, before that we must finish up on the character of Butch with the structuring of the film. The reason why the narrative is so disjointed comes with an idea of consequence. With the first half characters and their conflicts are set up. We've done Vincent's and implied Jules' already. To clarify what Jules' conflict is we only need to look at the moral dilemma he faces with the act of God. He is a character that questions Marsellus' power whilst Vincent defends him. On the other hand, we have Butch who not only disobeys, but literally fights Marsellus - and almost to the death. Here we come the mid point of the film. Butch's conflict is his being torn between good and bad, between freedom and imprisonment - being 'Pulled back in' essentially. Moving past the mid point of the film we see the consequences of that. He's literally pulled into a lair drenched in crime and obscenity, introducing yet another aspect of fate and destiny into the film. Whilst you could argue this scene is just an ex-machina, there are many instances of crazy things happening to facilitate the plot moving forward - the guy in the bathroom, the gun going off, Mia snorting the heroine, bursting into the wrong pawn shop. What is happening is an apparent inevitability, again, more questions. All of them manufactured. The question Butch is faced with is of his own goodness. And as we all know, he decides to turn back, armoured with the samurai sword. But before this, he kills Vincent. So, whilst Butch's response to his life defining question granted him freedom, Vincent going on the date with Mia, deciding to stay with Marsellus, kills him.  This leads us onto Jules...

Jules is a very interesting character as he's the ugly, he's the true antihero of the film. He tries to do good, but the key ambiguity in the film comes with his fate, the consequences for his answers to the question posed by the miracle. He chooses to leave the gang, to speak to Marsellus, but what happened afterwards? In reality, I think it's fair to infer that he was probably bumped off. Why would Marsellus just let him go? However, if this did happen, I feel Tarantino wouldn't mind showing us . Instead, he leaves us with a door swinging shut and a question of our own: what is Jules' fate? In that you probably understand what the miracle moment means. It demonstrates to Jules his probable end - being shot before his time is up. This is why he decides to try and walk. There's a little more to this scene though that comes with an interesting bit of trivia we've probably all heard before. The bullet holes:

The most obvious thing here is that there are already three bullet holes in the wall that miss both Jules and Vincent. This seems to be a mistake, but could also be a metaphorical image. These could be the bullets the two have dodge beforehand, but also foreshadow the failed shooting that's about to occur. However, the bullets shot all seem to have magically passed through Jules which implies that maybe there really was a divine intervention, that Jules should be dead. This gives reasoning for his conversion (and also Vincent's refusal - he wasn't saved). To understand how this all comes together we need to look at the bible misquote/fabrication. Again, another bit of trivia most will be familiar with, Jules isn't quoting the bible, but paraphrasing whilst adding a lot of his own words. Let's look at them:

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.

Let's do a quick translation of this into more basic, understandable terms:

The path of the decent man is always obstructed by the unfairness of the selfish and oppressive man.
[There's always evil people]

Blessed is he who looks after others.

I [God] will avenge all off the oppressed, and the oppressors will know who strikes them down.

So, inside here are four characters, there's the decent man (Butch), he who looks after others, the Shepard (Jules, maybe) the oppressor (Vincent/Marsellus (gang members)) and finally God. Jules is faced with the question of where he stands. Is he with Vincent and the gang? Or will he look after his fellow man (Pumpkin, the robber)? This should make his next few words all the clearer...

Now I'm thinkin', it could mean you're the evil man. And I'm the righteous man. And Mr. .45 here, he's the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness.

Or this could mean you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish. I'd like that.

But that shit ain't the truth. The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin'. I'm tryin' real hard to be a shepherd.

At first he puts the robber in the 'bad' category with him in the 'good'. Next the robber's in the 'ugly' (just trying to get by, but not too bad) with Jules in the 'good' again. But, what he accepts is that he is the evil, but can be good, leaving him as the 'ugly'. In the end he accepts that he has a choice to make. However, that's where the credits roll, again, leaving the lasting question: what happens to Jules?

And in that is the 'film' elements of Pulp Fiction, the questions Tarantino is ultimately asking us of forgiveness and fate. So, why don't you tell me? If Vincent is bad, Butch is good, what is Jules? Is he killed by Marsellus, is that why he's not with Vincent the next day? Or did he escape his fate and walk the Earth waiting for forgiveness? Comment below.

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