A Facebook Conversation About Pulp Fiction

I’m a Facebook addict, but it is a nice place to live when not visiting the material realm because I have cool friends. I know a lot of people who don’t like Facebook because their “Friends” are too boring or angry to post anything that is interesting – or that isn’t infuriating or depressing. While times of national crisis often make Facebook a harrowing place to live, I’ve found that I have some very thoughtful, articulate friends that make superb conversationalists – especially if the conversation is low-stakes, but sometimes even if we discuss the crisis of the moment. Most of my buddies are folks I met in the real world, not online, and they are generally educators or work for libraries or museums or in the entertainment, art, or music industries. As a case in point, I’d like to share with you a particularly great conversation I had with my friends James Rovira, John Nelka, Jason Miller, Bill Murphy, Tom Molinaro, Erik Heine, Matthew Hester, Brian Stevens, and Daniel Farris about how to evaluate Pulp Fiction.

Marc DiPaolo is watching Pulp Fiction. (Movie · 8,177,045 Likes)

My second time through. First was the year it was released. I like it much better so far. I thought the drug stuff was a real turn off back then. I didn’t mind it as much this time. I get a lot more film school jokes now. (“I’ll have the Douglas Sirk steak.”) I like the no CGI and the great conversations and seeing everyone so young. Travolta is the coolest. And Samuel L.? Whoa.

January 30 at 10:42pm · Edited · Like · 2

Jason Miller Bruce Willis. Christopher Walken. Harvey Keitel. Steve Buscemi as Buddy Holly.

January 30 at 10:49pm · Unlike · 2

Marc DiPaolo I even like Lemon Pie. I missed Buscemi. I gotta go back.

January 31 at 7:22am · Like · 1

John Nelka I can’t believe you’ve only seen this once before

January 31 at 7:20am · Like

Marc DiPaolo John Nelka: my default Tarantino reaction: “That was a deeply unpleasant masterpiece. I respect it but never want to see it again.” Except for Death Proof and Reservoir Dogs, which I straight up don’t like. But I’m in an exploitation movie zone now and I respect the activism of QT’s last two movies, so I just picked up all his films (minus the above 2) and will be watching them in a marathon. I wonder if Jackie Brown is still my favorite. Must re-see all. For now, PF doesn’t freak me out any more. It is just a brilliant black comedy post-modern noir.

January 31 at 7:26am · Edited · Like · 1

Erik Heine I’m glad that my default QT reaction is the same as yours.

January 31 at 7:39am · Unlike · 1

Brian Stevens Remember when the movie first came out, you ordered a Royale With Cheese from a teenage kid working the cash register at McDonalds who was too young to see the film and didn’t know what you were talking about?

January 31 at 7:39am · Unlike · 1

Marc DiPaolo Yes! My finest hour. I tried it again three years ago and got a laugh that time, but you weren’t there.

January 31 at 7:47am · Like

Jason Miller Jackie Brown is still my favorite of his movies, but I love them all. The only two directors whose entire oeuvre I have in my DVD/blu-ray library are QT and Wes Anderson.

January 31 at 9:36am · Unlike · 1

Marc DiPaolo They’re good picks for favorites. The closest I come to liking all a person’s output is Mike Leigh but I don’t dig Kiss of Death.

January 31 at 9:41am · Like

Daniel King Farris Awesome film.

January 31 at 11:16am · Like

Tom Molinaro Pulp Fiction is the only Tarantino movie I liked. Guess I just outgrew a taste for revolting violence in film

Marc DiPaolo In a weird way, Pulp Fiction is a deeply religious movie.

January 31 at 10:25pm ·

Matthew Hester It’s very religious in the way something like this is religious.

No Church In The Wild. It’s a religion of the street, a faith of those who fight, who kill, as their livelihood. Ghetto gospel, with boxes of golden light as the Christ figure.

January 31 at 10:28pm · Like · 1

Marc DiPaolo And if Samuel L. Jackson wants to leave that way of life? The “walk the earth” future and the death/damnation of Vega sits oddly with the funny shooing of Marvin. I don’t get the whole suitcase thing or the recurring theme of everyone wanting to “fuck Marcellus Wallace.” I haven’t pieced it all together. The suitcase seems like a distraction and not central. A throwaway homage to Belle du Jour. But I need to account for it somewhat in my reading. I’d prefer it if the suitcase contained the last remaining recording of Fox Force Five.  Not that Tim Roth should be able identify it on sight. Or a soul.

January 31 at 11:25pm · Like · 2

John Nelka The suitcase idea is ripped off of Kiss Me Deadly

February 1 at 8:08am · Like

Marc DiPaolo There’s a lot of suitcases in crime movies. How’s Kiss Me Deadly? Good? Also, I forgot to mention this: I like how the plot advances every time Vincent uses the potty.

February 1 at 8:14am · Like

John Nelka The suitcase is purposely vague and basically a Maguffin. You’ve never seen Kiss Me Deadly?! Essential.

February 1 at 8:16am · Like

Marc DiPaolo (I keep disappointing Nelka!!!) I’ve seen a lot of noir but not that and I’m missing a couple of others.

February 1 at 8:38am · Like

William Murphy There have long been rumors that the suitcase contains Wallace’s soul. I believe Tarantino has said it’s just a McGuffin.

February 1 at 9:58am · Like

Marc DiPaolo I wonder if those rumors inspired the plot of The Prophecy. I’d prefer the bullets in the wall be the only supernatural element. Otherwise, Vincent’s skepticism makes no sense. A man transporting a soul who doubts miracles makes no sense. And the movie stops being noir and becomes a manga cross genre mash-up. One step away from cyborgs and werewolves showing up.

February 1 at 10:21am · Like

Marc DiPaolo Also… Vincent really should have stayed in Amsterdam.

February 1 at 10:50am · Like

James Rovira The following is right off the top of my head…

If Pulp Fiction is a deeply religious movie (which I think it is), then the suitcase is a modern incarnation of a golden calf, or a concentrated image representing our culture’s worship of money and power, which Marcellus Wallace holds and everyone wants. What makes Sam Jackson’s character (Jules) the most “spiritual” is his willingness to get it for someone else without keeping it (or even wanting to keep it) for himself (Frodo and the One Ring).

Once Jules has attained that level of development, he increasingly becomes uninterested in serving power structures at all, so like a prophet he seeks only to “walk tha erf” protecting the weak and innocent from the strong and powerful, per his mangled, fictional Biblical quotation.

Bruce Willis’s character (Butch) represents another path of spiritual development, one which does not compromise on principle (represented by his father’s watch) in the face of despair over his personal advancement (will never make it as a boxer) or personal gain (payoff to take a dive in a boxing match).

He accepts the payoff to screw the criminals by betting on himself for a change (which he’d never done all his life, “betting on himself” representing faith in oneself and one’s principles) and then wins the fight so violently he inadvertently kills his opponent.

But he’s not himself completely criminal because even though Wallace has now become a sworn enemy, he respects his basic human dignity enough to protect him from being killed by the pawnshop rednecks who have already started to rape him. This act of decency wins him his freedom from Wallace, who forgives Butch’s betrayal. Butch rides off to collect his money with his girl on a motorcycle that has the word “Grace” spray painted on the tank – he has received grace (in the form of freedom from revenge by power and money) because he stuck to all of his principles, even at great personal risk to himself: saving Wallace proved he wasn’t just another con man.

That pawnshop redneck rape scene extends the film’s commentary to a commentary on the distribution of wealth and power: white people (yuppies in the hotel room; white racist rapist cops) keep trying to take it from black people (Wallace). Wallace, though a criminal, isn’t totally evil: he forgives Butch, allows Jules to leave, trusts Vincent Vega with his wife. He works on a basic principle of fairness even though he makes his living as a criminal, which may extend Pulp Fiction’s commentary to some kind of metadiscourse on society: lawful society has become criminal so only criminals free of law can act on any kind of principle.

February 1 at 11:17am · Like

Marc DiPaolo This is brilliant. I agree 100%.

February 1 at 11:44am · Like

James Rovira I’ve been thinking about it a long time. You just gave me an excuse to write it down. It’s on my blog.

February 1 at 11:52am · Unlike · 1

Marc DiPaolo I was about to ask if I could post this on Sequart as “Facebook conversation about Pulp Fiction”

February 1 at 11:58am · Like · 1

James Rovira Sure, cool. I gave you credit in my opening paragraph. If you could link to my blog I’d appreciate it.

February 1 at 11:59am · Like ·

Marc DiPaolo That’s the plan. You other folks okay with being name-checked or do you want aliases?

February 1 at 12:03pm · Like · 2

Marc DiPaolo Or to be omitted?

February 1 at 12:03pm · Like

John Nelka Zed is not a cop, he’s a Security guard

February 1 at 12:21pm · Edited · Like

James Rovira Yep, you’re right. What threw me was the five pointed star badge, but the patches on his arms say “Security.” Gotta update the blog now

February 1 at 12:25pm · Like

John Nelka I think Tarantino deals with spiritual issues albeit with a very post-modern sensibility filtered through pop culture. My problem with him is that he romanticizes evil or treats it in a cartoonish way while still wanting to give the appearance of being deep. I can enjoy him on a pure entertainment level but if I actually think about it, he is practically amoral. I see it as a twisted and distorted view of the Spagehtti Western ethos.

February 1 at 12:35pm · Like · 1

Marc DiPaolo John, you’ve put your finger on why I rejected the film when I first saw it, but there’s enough truth to James’ reading that I like him better than I used to. I haven’t seen Django yet, but my brother tells me I’d love it as a commentary on the South’s reaction to President Obama. I need to see all his films again, but I think they’ve aged well, especially since these days movies tend to be less thoughtfully constructed and less auteurist. I miss the 90s independent film scene, especially since all we get now is Hangover 3 and – much as a love superheroes – endless superhero movies. Goofy stuff.

February 1 at 12:40pm · Like · 1

Marc DiPaolo Gee, nobody else has said “yes” or “no” about my making this a Sequart post. Hmmm… I’ll just do it, credit everyone and cross my fingers…

February 7 at 1:20pm · Like · 1

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Marc DiPaolo is associate professor of English and film at Oklahoma City University. He wrote War, Politics and Superheroes (2011) and Emma Adapted (2007). He is editor of Godly Heretics and Unruly Catholics from Dante to Madonna, and coeditor (with Bryan Cardinale-Powell) of Devised and Directed by Mike Leigh (all 2013). His personal web site is here.

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