Saturday, March 19, 2011

"I'm Gonna Get Medieval on Your Ass!" Pulp Fiction Analysis Part XVIII

Go to Part XVII: "Bring out the gimp."

Butch is just looking for an excuse to run Zed through with the samurai sword.
Butch grabs Zed’s keys and makes for the front door, but stops before leaving. As he listens to Marsellus’s moans from downstairs, the camera pushes in, showing Butch wrestling with his conscience. He can’t simply leave that man down there to be tortured. So he looks for a weapon. The progression of weapons here is symbolic and also rather amusing. Butch is going to decide what kind of hero he wants to be. First he picks up a hammer to be a regular guy grabbing the first weapon he sees. Then he finds a baseball bat, recalling Joe Don Baker in Walking Tall[i]. Next it’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre[ii] and Leatherface’s chainsaw. Then cut to a high angle shot looking down on Butch as he sees his weapon of choice hanging on the wall. It is a samurai sword, the weapon of a true heroic warrior. A samurai is the kind of hero that has honor and will fight to the death to defend the less fortunate. Tarantino loves the “honor among thieves” theme that plays out in old samurai films and nowhere is this more apparent than here. Because of his experience killing Vincent earlier, Butch knows he can descend into the awaiting hell to kill again. For him, this is going into battle.

Butch stops on his way out the door to consider whether he should descend to the basement to save Marsellus.

The progression of weapons choices begins with a hammer.

Will Butch walk tall with a baseball bat?

How about a chainsaw?

In the end the true heroic weapon calls down to Butch from above.

He makes his way downstairs and into the back room where we see the horror of what’s been going on. Zed is raping Marsellus while Maynard goads him on. Butch kills Maynard then turns the sword on Zed, who looks down at his gun. Then Butch, like Dirty Harry, encourages him to pick up the weapons just to give him an excuse to kill him. Before he can kill Zed, however, Marsellus is up and brandishing the shotgun. He fires a single shot at Zed’s groin, leaving him moaning in agony on the floor.

Butch asks Marsellus, “What now?” He wants to know if Marsellus is still holding a grudge about the boxing match, but Marsellus goes into a monologue about his plans to torture and kill Zed. Then he tells Butch what their deal is:

MARSELLUS: There is no more me and you. Not no more.
BUTCH: So we’re cool?
MARSELLUS: Yeah, we’re cool. Two things. Don’t tell nobody ‘bout this. This shit is between me, you and Mr. soon-to-be-living-the-rest-of-his-short-ass-life-in-agonizing-pain-rapist here. It ain’t nobody else’s business. Two – you leave town tonight. Right now. And when you gone you stay gone or you be gone. You lost all your L.A. privileges. Deal?

Butch has been redeemed by going back to save Marsellus’s life. Marsellus recognizes this fact and so redeems himself by letting Butch off the hook. Butch makes his getaway on a motorcycle named “Grace,” after all. We should recall at this point that Butch was watching a Vietnam War film about Hell’s Angels fighting the Viet Cong. They, like Butch, are soldiers without an army fighting for honor.

Go to Part XIX: "Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead."

[i] Dir. Phil Karlson, USA, 1973 (Cinerama Releasing Corporation).
[ii] Dir. Tobe Hooper, USA, 1974 (Bryanston Distributing Co.)

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