Pulp Fiction

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  • Topic: Katana, The Passage, Sword
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  • Published : March 2, 2005
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Pulp Fiction (1994) is a mesmerizing, violent and entertaining movie. It has a bizarre cast of characters, a nonlinear sequence of events and endless references to pop culture. The underlying theme of the movie, however, deals with religion and the transformation of two characters: Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Butch (Bruce Willis).

In the beginning of the film, Vincent (John Travolta) has returned from a stay in Amsterdam, and the conversation between Jules and Vincent deals with what Big Macs and Quarter Pounders are called in Europe. As the movie moves on, other references are the Fonz on Happy Days, Arnold the Pig on Green Acres, the band Flock of Seagulls, Caine from Kung Fu, TV pilots, and other such topics. At first viewing, these kinds of references seem to be a kind of comic relief set against the violence the audience witnesses on the screen. These brief, pop-culture symbols and icons are more than just comic relief. They are the way these characters make sense of their lives.

In past centuries, people were "connected by something they saw as larger than themselves, most often religion, which would provide sense and meaning for their lives and which would help to determine the value of things." (The Sage, p.10) Such a larger context is completely absent, however, from Jules's and Vincent's lives. This explains why the film is so saturated with these pop icons. The empty and subtle icon phrases are the reference points by which we now understand ourselves and each other. These references comes to a real climax when Vincent and Mia (Uma Thurman) visit Jack Rabbit Slim's, where the host is Ed Sullivan, the singer is Ricky Nelson, the waiter is Buddy Holly, and the waitresses include Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield. In the film, the pop cultural symbols are set into sudden words against a passage said to be from the Old Testament, Ezekiel 25:17:

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the
selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity
and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is
truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.

Jules always quotes this just before he kills someone. The point is that the passage refers to a system of values and meaning by which one could lead one's life and make moral decisions. However, that system has no connection with Jules's life and as he realizes later, the passage is actually meaningless to him.

In addition to the pop references in the film, its dialogue on language is concerned with naming things. What's a Big Mac called? What's a Quarter Pounder called? What's a Whopper called? When Ringo (Tim Roth) calls the waitress "garçon," she tells him: "‘garçon' means ‘boy'." When Butch's girlfriend refers to his means of transportation as a "motorcycle," he insists on correcting her: "It's not a motorcycle, it's a chopper." When a Hispanic cab driver, however, asks Butch what his name means, he replies: "This is America, honey; our names don't mean shit." The point is clear that in the absence of any lasting ambition or value and meaning, our language no longer points to anything beyond itself. To call something good or evil makes it so since there's no higher authority or criteria by which one might judge such things. Jules quotes the "Bible" before his executions, but he might as well be quoting the Fonz or Buddy Holly.

This absence of any kind of system for making value judgments, this lack of a larger meaning to their lives, creates a kind of gap in their existence that is soon filled by power. Lacking any structure and principle for their lives, Vincent and Jules fall into a hierarchy of power with the crime boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving...
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