Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Jules, You Give that Fuckin' Nimrod $1500, I'll Shoot Him on General Principle.": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part XXIV and Conclusion

Go to Part XXIII: "I had what alcoholics refer to as a 'moment of clarity.'

The Tarantino "Mexican Standoff"

Vincent gets up to go to the bathroom (remember he was visible over Honey-Bunny’s shoulder in the prologue) and a few seconds later the robbery starts. This time, Honey-Bunny’s line is “Any of you fuckin’ pricks move and I’ll execute every one of you motherfuckers.” It is slightly different from the “I’ll execute every motherfucking last one of you” she said the first time. This is another bit in the film often cited as a continuity error. Again, it doesn’t make sense that this is a mistake. Why would Tarantino have recorded the line of dialogue twice with different words each time? He also shoots the second half of the line from a different angle than in the prologue. This is another example of Tarantino having a little fun with his audience and suggesting that different perspectives and perceptions of the same event will produce different versions of the truth.

Honey Bunny is shot from a side angle as opposed to the front angle of the first scene in the film, suggesting the dialogue line change is related to differing perspectives.


Tarantino uses the hand-held camera one more time as the robbery commences, suggesting the chaos that ensues from these two loose cannons.

As Pumpkin gets over to Jules (whom we already know has his gun under the table and wallet out) we wonder when the shooting will begin. When Pumpkin threatens to kill him, Jules gives a little and takes his hand off the briefcase. He opens it for Pumpkin and we see the mysterious glow once again.

The most interesting theory I’ve heard regarding the contents of the briefcase is linked to the bandage. The theory states that when Satan takes a soul it exits through the back of the neck. For the record, I’ve never seen Christian documentation to support this. To follow the theory through, however, Marsellus has sold his soul to Satan. That explains the bandage on his neck. The combination to the briefcase is “666,” the sign of the devil. And if you want to believe that Jules and Vincent were saved by an act of God, then it would be because they were saving Marsellus’s soul. My feeling is that the case is a McGuffin[1], as Hitchcock would have called it. It is merely a plot device. It does not matter what’s in the case. Would your enjoyment or understanding of the film be increased if you knew what was in that case? Not at all.

As Pumpkin stands transfixed by the contents of the case, Jules manages to disarm him and Honey-Bunny goes crazy shouting. Jules controls the situation now. He makes Pumpkin subdue his lover and relax and Jules does his best to keep everyone “cool” like “three little Fonzies.” He has Pumpkin sit across from him and proceeds to talk calmly.

JULES: Now, here’s the situation. Normally both your asses would be dead as fuckin’ fried chicken. But you happened to pull this shit while I’m in a transitional period and I don’t wanna kill you, I want to help you. But I can’t give you this case, ‘cause it don’t belong to me. Besides, I been through too much shit over this case this morning to just hand it over to your dumb ass.

Vincent returns from the bathroom with his gun aimed at Honey-Bunny. Jules tells Vincent to hang back and not do a thing. Jules lets Pumpkin take the money out of his wallet and keep it (it’s $1500). Jules tells him he’s buying Pumpkin’s life with that money. He goes on to recite the Ezekiel speech after which he expounds on his idea of what it might mean.

JULES: Now I been saying that shit for years. And if you heard it, that meant your ass. I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was some cold-blooded shit to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass. I saw some shit this morning made me think twice. See now I’m thinking, maybe it means you’re the evil man and I’m the righteous man. And Mr. 9mm here, he’s the shepherd protecting my ass in the Valley of Darkness. Or it could mean you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. Now I’d like that. That shit ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re the weak and I am the tyranny of evil men. But I’m trying Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.

Then he lets them go and Pumpkin and Honey-Bunny walk out of the diner. Vincent and Jules then get up to the tune of “Surf Rider” performed by The Lively Ones. They amble toward the front door. They stop and face the patrons. They each put their guns in the waist band of the swim trunks they’re wearing and walk out the door. Cut to end credits.

Holstering their guns in their Bermuda shorts before leaving the diner.

It may be difficult to imagine, given the abundance of copycat films that followed, how original and inventive Pulp Fiction was at the outset. Some people have complained that Tarantino’s playing with time is a gimmick designed to fool audiences into thinking that he’s being clever. I take issue with that belief. “It isn't the structure that makes Pulp Fiction a great film. Its greatness comes from its marriage of vividly original characters with a series of vivid and half-fanciful events – and from the dialogue. The dialogue is the foundation of everything else.”[i] Besides which, Tarantino doesn’t play with time in the film just to be different. If you piece the film back together chronologically you’ll find that the story arcs change dramatically. The first thing that happens in chronological order is the post-credits conversation between Jules and Vincent and the last is Butch riding off with Fabienne. Without the re-ordering of events we would leave the theater shortly after Vincent (one of the heroes) has been killed. The way Tarantino wrote it, Vincent is alive and walking out of the diner, gun tucked safely into his swim trunks. Rather than let it play out conventionally, Tarantino bookends the film with the most important scene of the film which is the climax at the diner. It is this critical scene of Jules redeeming himself by saving two souls that is the real heart of the film.

Nor does Tarantino’s use of pop culture references make him simply clever at being an audience-pleaser. Instead “Pulp Fiction is the work of a film maker whose avid embrace of pop culture manifests itself in fresh, amazing ways. From surf-guitar music on the soundtrack to allusions to film noir, television, teen-age B movies and Jean-Luc Godard (note Ms. Thurman's wig), Pulp Fiction smacks of the second-hand. Yet these references are exuberantly playful, never pretentious. Despite its fascination with the familiar, this film itself is absolutely new.”[ii] One mark of a great film is that multiple screenings will reveal richer depths and texture than the initial viewing. Watch Pulp Fiction once a year and it is highly likely you will continue to find new pleasures within its frames.


[1] Alfred Hitchcock films often feature a McGuffin – a device employed strictly to move the plot along and keep the audience interested. The contents are irrelevant. All that matters is that its contents are important to the characters. See also Ronin, Dir. John Frankenheimer, USA, 1998 (United Artists)


[i] Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times, 10 June 2001.
[ii] Janet Maslin, New York Times, 23 September 1994.

2 comments:

  1. Great analysis of the film! Thanks for writing this.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Here's an interesting little piece of analysis that fits nicely tacked onto my own work.

    http://vimeo.com/51733259

    ReplyDelete