Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"I Had What Alcoholics Refer to as a 'Moment of Clarity.'": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part XXIII

Go to Part XXII: "I'm Winston Wolf. I solve problems."

Establishing two-shot of Jules and Vincent at breakfast.

Cut to the Hawthorne Grill where Jules and Vincent sit eating breakfast. We join them mid-conversation as they talk about The Wolf and how cool he was. Then they proceed to the famous “pigs are filthy animals” conversation. The two are shot in the same frame together until they begin talking about the possible miracle they witnessed in the morning. Now they are shot singly in profile, emphasizing their disagreement. Vincent reiterates his position that what they saw was a freak occurrence and Jules can’t agree.

Jules and Vincent are shot in single shots to emphasize the disagreement between them.
VINCENT: The miracle you witnessed. I witnessed a freak occurrence.
JULES: What is a miracle?
VINCENT: An act of God.
JULES: What’s an act of God?
VINCENT: When God makes the impossible possible. But this morning I don’t think qualifies.
JULES: Hey Vincent, don’t you see that shit don’t matter. You’re judging this shit the wrong way. It could be God stopped the bullets, he changed Coke to Pepsi, he found my fuckin’ car keys. You don’t judge shit like this based on merit. Now whether or not what we experienced was an according-to-Hoyle miracle is insignificant. What is significant is I felt the touch of God. God got involved.
VINCENT: But why?
JULES: That’s what’s fuckin’ with me. I don’t know why. But I can’t go back to sleep.

Jules has decided to quit the life of crime and “walk the earth.” He will wander until God puts him where He wants him to be. At this point in the conversation the camera cuts in tighter on both characters as the tension in their disagreement escalates, but also to emphasize the very personal nature of the decision Jules makes. Also notice Vincent’s choice of words in that first line above. He’s drawing a distinction between what he saw and what Jules saw, despite them having witnessed the same event. This point highlights one of the central aspects of the film that I’ve talked about before – that differences in perspective have a significant bearing on what the ‘truth’ of a situation is. Vincent and Jules witnessed the same event – a man opened fire on them and completely missed. But their responses and approaches are very different.

The tighter shots here as they discuss Jules' plan to 'walk the earth' heighten the tension and reflect the personal nature of the decision Jules has made.

Their conversation is interrupted by a cut to Pumpkin yelling, “Garcon! Coffee!” At this point the audience realizes we’ve come full circle to the prologue and that this restaurant is about to be held up. Perhaps the most observant of viewers will have noticed that this is the same diner from the opening scene. For the first-time viewer, all kinds of thoughts begin rolling through your head. You know that Vincent and Jules are potentially ruthless killers and this scene could turn into a bloodbath. But again, Tarantino turns the tables on his audience.

The cutaway shot to Pumpkin calling for more coffee serves as a reminder of where the film started. Now we anticipate the impending conflict between the robbers and the murderers.


  1. Have you ever noticed that 'Pumpkin' says the 'Garcon. Coffee.' bit differently in the two times we see him say it?
    Someone highlighted that to me recently and since then I had never found out why QT scripted it that way.
    Would it be because the first and last scenes are in different perspectives; so it is Jules and Vincent's point-of-view the second time we see that part?

    1. You know, I never noticed that particular line was spoken differently. I'll have to take another look.

      If you continue through to my next installment, you'll see I discuss the different line (not just different reading) spoken by Honey Bunny as they start the robbery. In the opening scene she says, "Any of your fuckin' pricks move, and I'll execute every motherfucking last one of you." In the final scene it's, "I'll execute every one of you motherfuckers."

      My argument has always been that this is not a gaffe, but Tarantino did it on purpose. Why script it two different ways? Different line readings I can understand and I'm willing to let the "Garcon" line be interpreted as just a different 'take'. But the Honey Bunny line I'm certain was done with intent.

      So then why? I say it is about different perspectives. In the first scene, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny are the heroes of a movie we never get to see. In the final scene, Jules is the hero of a movie for which we've seen a significant portion. I believe it's tied into this idea that any character in any story is the hero of his own story. And a writer can choose or not choose to write it that way.

      We see this when Vincent gets killed. In that moment he's the villain in Butch's story. But in the overdose section of the movie, Vincent is the hero and we're right there with him. We want him to succeed. When we're with Butch we want Butch to succeed. It's shocking when Vincent gets killed not just because Travolta is the star of the film and we're not expecting it, but because he was the protagonist earlier.

      This is my long way of coming round to the point that differing perspectives are certainly part of what Tarantino is exploring throughout the whole film. I didn't really touch on this too much in my analysis because it's actually something I only just started thinking more deeply about recently and not so much when I wrote the analysis many years ago.