Fifteen Years of Pulp Fiction

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Pulp Fiction. I can’t believe it either.

Pulp Fiction was a pop-culture phenomenon, not only resurrecting the career of John Travolta, but elevating the careers of several others, especially the brilliant Samuel L. Jackson.

I’ve met people who were repulsed by the grisly violence, foul language and drug use of the film. I’ve encountered others who claim that Resevoir Dogs is a better film (nonsense). Others like the film for the grisly violence, foul language and drug use, but I don’t believe they actually appreciate the film to the fullest.

You see, I believe that despite all of the hipster post-modern lingo, heart stabbing injections, Deliverance references, etc. that Pulp Fiction is actually a film about redemption.

Tarrantino used two main devices to tell this story: a fake Bible quote and non-linear storytelling.

Samuel L. Jackson’s hitman character Jules recites a manufactured version of Ezekiel 25:17 before killing people:

Along the way, Jules experiences what he regards as a miracle and decides to abandon the life of a hit man to “walk the earth” in a way that has echoes of the lillies of the field. Vincent Vega, Jules’ partner in crime ridicules him for choosing to become a bum.

The brilliance of the non-linear story telling is that the viewer knows that Vincent will soon be bleeding to death in a bathtub after being shot multiple times. We don’t know what happens to Jules, but we do know what happens to Vincent. The wages of sin, in other words, are death.

This becomes all the more clear when Ringo attempts to rob Jules in the diner:

Jules is trying real hard to be the shepard, and whatever happens to him, it’s better than what happens to Vincent.

This is how I interpreted Pulp Fiction, and I was relieved to see the Thomas Hibbs offer that the film can be interpreted in this way in his brilliant book Shows About Nothing: Nihlism in Popular Culture from the Exorcist to Seinfeld.

Tarrantino seems to be an unlikely source for a covert religious allegory, but there it is, hidden in plain sight.


5 Responses to Fifteen Years of Pulp Fiction

  1. Are you sure that the film is not mocking redemption? There is so much irony that it is hard to tell what is straight.

  2. Marcus Winters says:

    i had been told before that it’s Marcellas’ soul in the suitcase — anyone else here that?

  3. Matthew Ladner says:

    I’ve read that QT never had a definition for the suitcase. There is a stage term for such an object, but I don’t remember what it is.

  4. Patrick says:

    I think he cut the movie up that way because he realized it was crap and that was the only way to trick people into thinking it was brilliant.

  5. matthewladner says:

    I forgot the Patrick category of Pulp Fiction viewer (didn’t get it because he was 12 years old sneaking to watch it on HBO;-)

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