“Then there is the high school dropout guy who ‘dressed mostly in black, drove a silver Civic, dined at Denny’s and Jack in the box, read crime novels and comics voraciously, loved Elvis and the Three Stooges, always celebrated his birthday at the movies, and---legend has it---amassed $7,000 in parking tickets.’ The movies he particularly liked portrayed women in prison and Asian martial arts. The person? Quentin Tarantino, scriptwriter and film director” (p. 160 from James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code).
In order to appreciate his Pulp Fiction movie you have to be a little bizarre or at least appreciate the mind of those who are a little off-center such as the movie’s creator Quentin Tarantino.
Tarantino first directed Reservoir Dogs and wrote True Romance before he hit it really big with Pulp Fiction which won Best Picture at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, a Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay, Best Picture Award and Best Screenplay by the Los Angeles Film Critics, and Best Screenplay by the New York Film Critics Circle.
The movie is written and directed by Tarantino and he also does a short acting bit in it. The movie stars Uma Thurman, John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and Harvey Keitel among others. It is a unique vision of the underworld with Tarantino taking his inspiration from the popular and often lurid “pulp” crime stories of the thirties and forties. Tarantino weaves several stories together skipping back and forth in time. We have a couple getting ready to commit a robbery in a restaurant, a prize fighter who is double crossing a crime boss, and two hit men killing various people for the same crime boss---with one of the hit men taking the boss’s wife out for a night on the town at his boss’s request. The movie is violent, hip, and thought producing.
Janet Maslin of the New York Times called it: “A daring, wildly funny film! As stylish and exhilarating as it is clever.” David Denby of the New York magazine called it: “One of the great wild rides of recent cinema!” Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called it: “A rambunctious blend of comedy and violence!” I quote these folks to help remind you that you should be laughing when you watch this film and not get caught up in only the violence. That is the only way you will fully appreciate the film.
For me the most important and interesting part of the film takes place when Jules (Sam Jackson) and Vincent (Travolta) go to an apartment to kill some young men who have ripped off their boss. Jules has a standard biblical passage he uses before killing someone. It is Ezekiel 25:17 which he quotes to the soon to be victims:
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities 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 you.” Blam, pow, the guns roar and the blood flies and Jules and Vincent go into their standard killing spree.
However, this time something is different. One of the young men they went to kill was hiding and came out and at point blank range unloaded his gun at them without hitting either of them. Jules is convinced that this is a miracle.
Later, at a restaurant, the following dialog occurs:
Jules: I just been sittin’ here thinkin’.
Vincent: About what?
Jules: The miracle we witnessed.
Vincent: The miracle you witnessed. I witnessed a freak occurrence.
Jules: Whether or not what we experienced was an according-to-Hoyle miracle is insignificant. What is significant is I felt God’s touch. God got involved.
Jules has decided to stop being a killer and leave the business.
The couple we were introduced to earlier that was getting ready to hold up a restaurant are now in action and it is the restaurant where Jules and Vincent are eating. Normally Jules and Vincent would just kill the hold up couple as they are threatening their business.
Instead Jules quotes Ezekiel to the pair and then says:
Jules: I been sayin’ that shit for years. And if you ever heard it, it meant your ass. I never really questioned what it meant. I thought it was just a coldblooded thing to say to a motherfucker ‘fore you popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this mornin’ made me think twice. Now I’m thinkin’, it could mean you’re the evil man. And I’m the righteous man. And Mr .45 here he’s the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could be you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. I’d like that. But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’. I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd.”
With that, Jules lets the robbers go and he and Vincent exit the coffee shop and the movie ends.
So what the……?
First, I feel that the movie is saying that even the most evil among us, cold blooded killers like Jules and Vincent, are still able to change and stop being evil. Good does lurk within the shadows of darkness. In an earlier scene we see the mob boss and the prize fighter try to kill one another only to join forces against even more evil dudes. Yes, strange things happen and unpredictably, people can change.
Second, I feel the movie is making a point that it is easy to misunderstand scripture. Jules has been using this Ezekiel passage for years and never really understood it. Then when he starts thinking about it he comes up with several plausible interpretations. But, the only interpretation that really works is one of forgiveness and love. That is what we all need to remember. You can twist a line to mean anything, you can distort the ideas of God to fit whatever rationalization you need to go on your way through life and not change and continue to live an evil life. However, the real bottom line is that everything God is trying to teach us relates to loving one another. That message is deeply imbedded in all the great religions of the world. So the next time you or someone you know quotes the literature of any religion in a way that attacks rather than accepts, that vilifies rather than loves another human being, you should say to yourself: “Hey! They are missing the message!”