Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This article is about the movie. For the literature, see Pulp magazine.
Half film noir and half black comedy, Pulp Fiction weaves through the intersecting storylines of Los Angeles gangsters, fringe characters, petty thieves and a mysterious attache case. Following Quentin Tarantino's more traditional crime movie, Reservoir Dogs, the storyline is chopped up, rearranged and shown out of sequence, a technique borrowed from French nouvelle vague (New Wave) directors such as Jean Luc Godard and François Truffaut and from low-budget American crime films such as Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956) and Don Siegel's The Killers (1964). The highly stylized and fluid action sequences and deadpan dialogue was inspired by Italian neo-realist director Sergio Leone's famed spaghetti western pictures of the 1960s.
The movie was moderately controversial, partly due to the graphic (but largely off-screen) violence and partly due to its perceived racism, as Tarantino and Jackson played moderately sympathetic characters who freely used the words "nigger" and "motherfucker". Later, in response, director Spike Lee made a point of challenging Tarantino's attitude towards race relations in his movie Bamboozled.
The success of Pulp Fiction spurred studios to release a slew of 'copycat' films soon after that tried to duplicate the film's formula of witty and offbeat dialogue, an elliptical/non-chronological plot and unconventional storyline, and gritty subject matter. Most, if not all of these films, did not fare well at the box office and were dismissed by critics as inferior and derivative, though the raver film Go received some acclaim, and Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was a sucessful transplant of the film's basic premise into the underworld of London.
There are four main storylines in Pulp Fiction: Vincent and Jules; Mia; Butch; Honey Bunny and Pumpkin.
Vincent & Jules
Hitmen Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) head to a Los Angeles apartment to retrieve a stolen briefcase for their boss, gangster Marsellus Wallace, and to kill Brett (Frank Whaley ), the leader of a gang of petty thieves who had stolen it. The case is a classic MacGuffin, whose contents are never revealed except indirectly as a glowing yellow light (a homage to the 1955 Robert Aldrich film Kiss Me Deadly and the 1984 Alex Cox project, Repo Man). There has been speculation among fans that the case contains something of supernatural origin, possibly Marcellus' soul.
After a long and bizarre conversation led by the Scripture-spouting Jules, the pair shoot and kill Brett and two of his accomplices, quickly departing with the last of the gang, who in fact is Jules' informant, Marvin. Shortly afterward, while in Jules's car, Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in the head, killing him, and the two hitmen quickly try to find a place to hide and clean up the mess in the car with the aid of snotty suburbanite Jimmie Dimmick (Quentin Tarantino) and his oddly well-connected friend, the dapper and mysterious Winston Wolfe (Harvey Keitel). Jackson's and Travolta's characters had been reportedly inspired by the pair of hitmen played by Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager in Don Siegel's 1964 film, The Killers.
Marsellus requests that Vincent Vega shows his wife Mia (a failed actress and cocaine addict) a good time while he is out of town. They head to a (fictional) restaurant by the name of Jackrabbit Slim's, a slick 1950s-themed restaurant with lookalikes of the decade's top pop culture icons as staff (e.g., television impresario Ed Sullivan as the maitre d', and servers such as singer Buddy Holly and actress Marilyn Monroe), an option for patrons to eat at a booth or a replica of a period car, and a milkshake costing five dollars. Later, Mia overdoses after snorting heroin, believing it to be cocaine, and a fearful Vincent tries to save her life with the aid of a small-time drug dealer named Lance (Eric Stoltz) who had previously sold Vincent the heroin. She comes to her senses again however, after being stabbed in the heart by Vincent with a syringe of adrenaline.
Aging prizefighter Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) accepts a large sum of money from Marsellus, agreeing to "take a dive" (deliberately lose a fight) by allowing himself to be knocked out in the 5th round of his upcoming match. However, Butch double-crosses Marsellus, instead betting the money he received from Marsellus on himself (with, due to the fight's being fixed, presumably very favourable odds) and winning the bout, accidentally killing his opponent in the process. Although now flush with cash, Butch must quickly leave town as a vengeful Marsellus is hot on his trail.
Compelled to return to his apartment to retrieve a wristwatch with great sentimental value, Butch accidentally (and literally) runs into Marsellus while driving away from the apartment complex. In an ensuing scuffle replete with car collisions, gunplay and fisticuffs, Butch and Marsellus are soon afterward kidnapped by a pair of small-time pawnshop owners, and in a disturbingly comic/surreal scene Butch is faced with the choice of saving himself or aiding Marsellus, who is being tortured by the sadistic store owners. Butch's character and his situation appear to have been inspired by a similar character previously played by Robert Ryan in the obscure 1949 film noir classic "The Set-Up."
Honeybunny & Pumpkin
A pair of petty thieves (Roth and Plummer) discuss the merits of robbing restaurants while in a diner instead of their usual targets of small banks and liquor stores. Subsequently, they both hold up the diner, demanding all the patrons' money and valuables. Unfortunately for them, an armed Vincent and Jules are among the diner patrons.
The mysterious briefcase
A number of things can be observed about the stolen attache case recovered by shooters Jules and Vincent. The most obvious is that its latch lock combination is 666, the number of the "Beast" (Satan) as given in the Biblical Book of Revelation.
Whenever asked, director Tarantino has replied that there is no explanation for the case's contents. Originally, it was to contain diamonds, but this was seen as too mundane; it is simply a MacGuffin. As noted before, it's possible Tarantino, a longtime film buff, had been influenced by Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly (1955) in which a briefcase glows because it contains a small nuclear device.
This being said, fans have offered up several theories, the most popular of which says that Brett had made a deal with Marsellus Wallace for Marsellus's soul. (This deal may have also included the unseen Antwan Rockamora ("Tony Rocky Horror,") explaining why Marsellus had him thrown out a fourth-story apartment window.) The exit point of Marsellus' soul was probably in the back of the neck, covered by a band-aid (the truth in real life being that actor Ving Rhames wanted to cover up a visible keloid scar). Each time the briefcase is opened, a golden glow is emitted. Why Brett had to be killed by Marsellus' men for buying Marsellus' soul is unclear. It could be speculated he just changed his mind, and wanted it back. However, when Brett is killed, a similar golden light flares across the screen, showing Brett's soul depart from his body. Before Jules safely returns Marsellus' soul to "quit the life" (as a hitman) and leaving to "walk the Earth", he tells the asking resturant robber that it contains "his Boss's laundry", but that may or may not have been a flippant remark .
Other theories include the golden Elvis Presley jumpsuit from True Romance or the stolen diamonds from Reservoir Dogs, also by Tarantino. Some suggest it was a would-be present from Marsellus to his "party girl" wife Mia: a stolen Academy Award. The fact that Tarantino sensed beforehand that he might be "robbed" of his Best Picture Oscar adds a tiny speck of credibility to this last theory.
|John Travolta||Vincent Vega|
|Samuel L. Jackson||Jules Winnfield|
|Uma Thurman||Mia Wallace|
|Harvey Keitel||Winston Wolf|
|Amanda Plummer||Honey Bunny|
|Maria de Medeiros||Fabienne|
|Ving Rhames||Marsellus Wallace|
|Christopher Walken||Captain Koons|
|Quentin Tarantino||Jimmie Dimmick|
|Steve Buscemi||Surly Buddy Holly Waiter|
|Lawrence Bender||Long Hair Yuppie Scum|
- The Quentin Tarantino Archives Unofficial fansite & international community
- Everything Tarantino Unofficial fan site
- What's in the Briefcase? From the Urban Legends Reference Page
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