Friday, July 31, 2009

Pulp Fiction analysis - part 12: Yellow-orange coloring represents enlightenment


Beginning with part 1 of the analysis, one of our working theories has been that in Jules Winnfield's eyes, the black briefcase contains enlightenment (that is, enlightenment in the Buddhist sense); and we have stated that enlightenment is Jules' ultimate goal. Another determination we have made is that there are certain similarities between the movie Pulp Fiction, and the 1970's television series Kung Fu. And, in part 11, it was described how a passage from the book by Herbie Pilato about the Kung Fu series, The Kung Fu Book of Caine, applies to Pulp Fiction (the passage has application to Butch and the story of the gold watch). In the same book, there is some information which fits with our theory that enlightenment is what Jules sees in the briefcase. This information is in chapter 6 (titled "Behind the Scenes"):

"[P]eople wondered why the monks in the series wore orange. Some of the people from the series say it was simply because the color looked good next to the bricks of the Shaolin temple set. [Technical advisor for the show] Kam Yuen says that there was also another reason: 'Orange is the color of the sun. Every time the sun comes up, it's another day - a new beginning, a rebirth, enlightenment.' "[a] (emphasis in original). Yuen's comment resonates with our briefcase theory, insofar as Jules believing that the briefcase contains enlightenment, because the case emits an orange glow when opened (recall that Jules can see the orange glow from the inside of the case, shining on Vincent's and Ringo's faces, while each of them is looking in the case).

Above left: Note the glow on Vincent's face while the case is open. Above right: There is light on Ringo's face while Jules holds the open case.

The fact that orange represents enlightenment also applies to Butch, and to our claim that upon awakening from his flashback of the handing down of the gold watch, he has achieved enlightenment. Above left: When Butch rises at the moment of the culmination of the flashback, just before his boxing match with Floyd Wilson, we can see that he is wearing an orange robe. Above right: Just after the match, the taxi cab in which Butch rides is yellow-orange in color.

a. Pilato, Herbie. The Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete Guide to TV's First Mystical Eastern Western. Boston: Charles E. Tuttle, 1993. p. 51.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pulp Fiction analysis - part 11: Exploration of the gold watch scene


Previously in the analysis, we have discussed the similarity of Butch to the character Caine from the 1970's TV series Kung Fu, and Butch's experience of attaining enlightenment (in the Buddhist sense) just prior to his last fight, upon awakening from his flashback to the handing down of the gold watch to him by Captain Koons. There is an interesting passage in a certain book about the Kung Fu series, which has relationship to Pulp Fiction, and in particular, to Butch. (The book is The Kung Fu Book of Caine by Herbie Pilato). The passage reads as follows:

"[T]he young [boy] Caine was unformed and questioning. He was frequently puzzled by what he was told. [Series writer and producer] John Furia explains that the young Caine was used to reflect the audience's possible puzzlement about what was going on in the foreground story. The origin of the puzzle would be explained in a flashback in which one of the [Shaolin temple] masters would say something to the young Caine. The master's words would resonate with the young Caine and, it was hoped, the audience."[a]

The above passage can be applied to Butch in Pulp Fiction. As shown in the screencap at left, Butch looks somewhat confused or mystified while Koons is speaking to him. We could say: The young boy, Butch, is puzzled by what he is told. Butch's puzzlement reflects our own puzzlement about what is going on in Pulp Fiction (we are confused about some of the events of the movie due to Tarantino's 'skewing' of time, i.e., to the showing of certain events out of chronological order). The origin of the puzzle is being explained in the flashback - the whole watch scene is a flashback experienced by the adult Butch. The puzzle, the reason for our confusion about what is going on in the movie, is time. That is why a watch is used in the story.

During the first part of Koons' monologue, the Pulp Fiction audience is shown a view of Koons through Butch's eyes, with Butch's mother visible in the background. Then in a relative instant, the whole perspective shifts: There is a brief transition period during which Koons pauses, and then suddenly it is as if he is now speaking to the movie audience. We no longer see him from Butch's position, but instead he is shown as physically facing mainly toward us. Also, his tone of voice changes from that of someone who is acting, to that of a person speaking frankly. And, the mother is no longer visible to us, our view of her being blocked by Captain Koons' body. Her no longer being visible is to help give the appearance that Koons is now speaking to us.

Above left: Captain Koons speaking to Butch. Note that Butch's mother is visible in the background, over Koons' right shoulder. Above right: Koons speaking to the Pulp Fiction audience. Ultimately, Koons not only hands Butch the watch, but he also 'hands' the watch to the audience, and within this context, the watch takes on additional symbolism. Prior to handing us the watch, Koons explains to us how Butch's father kept it hidden in his rectum while he was a P.O.W. in Vietnam. Metaphorically speaking, the watch is being equated with shit itself. Therefore, when Koons hands us the watch, we are to realize that the source of our puzzlement has been explained to us in terms we can relate to: Second-hand shit has been handed down to us from a previous generation. Here, then, is the source of current society's general puzzlement and confusion.

The watch here represents something that is second-hand, due to the fact that it is not being handed to Butch directly by his father, but instead via Captain Koons, who is not in Butch's patriarchal lineage. When Butch awakens from his flashback of being handed the watch, several decades after having been handed it, his achieving of enlightenment at this point includes his gaining full knowledge of the fact that the segment of society that Koons is a member of, has handed down shit to the next generation. This addresses what was mentioned earlier in the analysis, about there being a problem with the handing of the watch to Butch when he was a boy: When Butch awakens from his flashback, he has achieved full enlightenment, in spite of the lineage issue, in part because Koons nevertheless described the entire history of the watch, including the fact that Koons himself recovered the watch from Butch's father. A way to look at this is that Koons was a kind of impostor, and the obtaining of the watch by Butch had been 'diverted through' Koons, on its way from Butch's father to Butch. During the decades over which Butch cultivated the awakening which he experienced when Koons handed him the watch, his process of gaining wisdom included the gradual realization, that Koons' generation had handed shit to the next one. The full realization of this then became part of his enlightenment experience, upon awakening from the flashback. Later in the analysis, we will determine which generations Koons, and the members of the Pulp Fiction audience, respectively, consist of (i.e., we will determine the birth year ranges they fall into).

a. Pilato, Herbie. The Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete Guide to TV's First Mystical Eastern Western. Boston: Charles E. Tuttle, 1993. pp. 31-32.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pulp Fiction analysis - part 10: Butch is a bodhisattva warrior; he saves mankind


In making Pulp Fiction, director and screenwriter Quentin Tarantino uses certain concepts from Zen,[a] which as a distinct school of Buddhism was first documented in China in the 7th century CE. Zen is thought to have developed as an amalgam of various currents in Mahayana Buddhist thought.[b] Mahayana Buddhism regards the bodhisattva as a person who already has a considerable degree of enlightenment and seeks to use their wisdom to help other human beings to become liberated themselves. In this understanding of the word, the bodhisattva is an already wise person.[c]

Butch Coolidge represents a bodhisattva, or more properly, a bodhisattva warrior. In the scene in Marsellus's bar, when Butch accepts money from Marsellus to (supposedly) throw his upcoming boxing match (see screencap at left), he gives the appearance of descending to a lesser sort of warrior. Later, his refusal to go down in the fight (which he actually wins) indicates that he has not really lost honor. Still later, he saves Marsellus, thus appearing to 'recover' his honor as a bodhisattva, which, in fact, he never really lost.


As discussed in part 1 of the analysis, Jules knows that the briefcase contains what each person who looks into it wants it to contain. In fact, he knows exactly what it contains for each of the three other men mentioned in part 1 (Marsellus, Ringo, and Vincent). The point is that we know Jules has a 'feel' for other people. Thus, Jules has wisdom.

Let us review the timeline of events that we are here interested in, in more detail.

Above left: In the bar scene, Jules looks over in the direction of the table at which Butch and Marsellus are sitting, and judging by Jules' facial expression, his curiosity is piqued. Jules senses that he will need enlightenment to help clarify for himself exactly what Butch is. Above right: A few moments later, Jules heads for the men's restroom with the briefcase in his possession, almost as if he is going to hide with it. We do not see him handing it over to Marsellus at any point; as stated earlier in the analysis, as far as we know, he never does so.

Later in the movie, Butch wins his boxing match, killing his opponent in the process. Marsellus sends Vincent after him. Not long after shooting and killing Vincent (top left and right), Butch happens to encounter Marsellus (above left and right) while driving back to his and Fabienne's motel room.

Almost immediately upon seeing Marsellus, Butch intentionally runs his car into him, sending him over the top of the car (top left). Just after this, Butch's car is hit by another car (top right). Subsequent to this, an injured Marsellus (above left), wielding a pistol in his right hand, chases an injured Butch (above right) on foot.

The foot chase winds up in Maynard's shop, with Butch on top of Marsellus and reaching for Marsellus's gun (top left). Butch takes control of Marsellus, by putting one foot on Marsellus and pointing the gun at him (top right), but a few moments later, Maynard (above left) takes control of both men, ordering Butch to put the gun down and take his foot off of Marsellus. Subsequent to this, Butch and Marsellus end up held captive in Maynard's basement, with both of them tied to chairs, and gagged (above right).

After Butch unties himself and escapes from being watched over by The Gimp (above left), and is about to leave Maynard's shop (above right), he thinks things over, and decides to go back to the basement and rescue Marsellus.

In choosing a weapon to use in order to rescue Marsellus, Butch first considers a hammer (top left), then a bat (top right), and then a chainsaw (above left), finding each of these to be unsuitable. He then finds a samurai sword to be a suitable weapon (above right).

With samurai sword in hand, Butch descends into the shop's basement (top left) to save Marsellus. His doing so is in keeping with his having maintained his honor as a bodhisattva warrior. Using the sword, Butch kills Maynard (top right). Next, a freed Marsellus (above left) uses a shotgun to shoot Maynard's cohort, Zed (above right).

If Butch had left Marsellus to die in Maynard's basement, then there would have been no one around to send any more assassins after Butch. Nevertheless, Butch behaves honorably by saving Marsellus. What Butch actually ends up doing, is saving mankind. To see why this is the case, we need to go back and look at the ransom view of the atonement. Recall from part 9 of the analysis that this theory claimed that Adam and Eve sold humanity over to the Devil at the time of the Fall, and that justice required that God pay the Devil a ransom to free us from the Devil's clutches. The rest of the theory, which was not stated in part 9, is that God tricked the Devil into accepting Christ's death as a ransom, for the Devil did not realize that Christ could not be held in the bonds of death. Once the Devil accepted Christ's death as a ransom, this theory concluded, justice was satisfied and God was able to free us from Satan's grip. That the Devil accepts Christ's death as a ransom is what is indicated when Marsellus (representing the Devil) accepts Butch's word that he will go down in the fight (with Butch representing Christ). And, that Christ cannot be held in the bonds of death is what is indicated by the fact that Butch ends up not only alive, but free.

a. One concept from Zen that Tarantino uses, is the idea that spiritual awakening and wisdom realized by practitioners can be transmitted down through generations. The writings of the Korean monk Chinul centered on Zen, and recall from part 8 of the analysis that Chinul said, that the cultivation of those individuals who achieve sudden awakening/sudden cultivation has, ultimately, been based for many lives on the insights gained in a previous awakening. This applies to Butch, in that two of his patriarchal ancestors, his father and his grandfather, achieved their own respective awakenings, each man's awakening being connected with his being handed the gold watch by his respective father. Butch experienced a kind of awakening upon being handed the watch by Captain Koons as a young boy; but since, as previously observed, Koons is not in Butch's patriarchal lineage, a problem arises regarding the actual handing of the watch to Butch when he was a boy. This will be addressed later in the analysis.

a. Wikipedia, 'Zen'. Web, n.d. URL =
b. Wikipedia, 'Bodhisattva'. Web, n.d. URL =


Pulp Fiction analysis - part 9: Jules is a traitor to mankind


Above left and right: Jules 'delivers his gospel' while in Brett's apartment.

In English, the name 'Jules' is related to 'Jude'. We know Jules is something of a religious figure, at least insofar as he is 'converted' by the experience in Brett's apartment; could there be some religious significance to his name itself? Hebrew does not differentiate between the names 'Jude', 'Judah', and 'Judas', so we could say that the names 'Jules' and 'Judas' are related. But, Judas was the name of one of Jesus' apostles; could there be any similarities between the men Jules and Judas?

As it turns out, one of Judas' functions was to carry the apostles' money-bag. And, we know Jules is carrying Marsellus Wallace's 'dirty laundry', i.e., his money, so we have a similarity between the two men, Jules and Judas. The next question to ask, is whether Jules is in some sense a traitor, as was Judas (in the bible, Judas was a traitor to Jesus). In the scene that takes place in Marsellus's bar, we are never actually shown Jules handing the briefcase (which he has recovered from Brett and his friends) to Marsellus. Then in the 'final' scene in the diner, which is, in reality, earlier in the movie timeline than the scene in Marsellus's bar, we are again shown Jules with the briefcase in his possession. The implication here (via the movie being shown as it is, i.e., with the diner scene appearing to take place after the bar scene), is that as far as the Pulp Fiction audience knows, the briefcase is never returned to Marsellus. So in this sense, Jules is a traitor to Marsellus.

Above left: Jules sits at Marsellus's bar holding the black briefcase, the contents of which belong to Marsellus. Above right: At the very end of the movie, in the diner, Jules still has the briefcase in his possession (click image to enlarge). Chronologically, this scene takes place before the bar scene, but nevertheless, what's being suggested is that Jules never hands the case over to Marsellus.

Considering Marsellus to be a Satan figure (the red glow in his place of business, shown at left, represents the fires of Hell), it's logical to next ask if there is some scenario in which Satan would be (or would would want to be) 'paid'. There is, in fact, something from Christian doctrine called the ransom view of the atonement. This theory claimed that Adam and Eve sold humanity over to the Devil at the time of the Fall, and that justice required that God pay the Devil a ransom to free us from the Devil's clutches.[a]

Taking the foregoing into consideration, we conclude that the movie-makers' intention is that the Pulp Fiction audience, give the following interpretation to Jules not returning the case to Marsellus: By virtue of the fact that he doesn't pay the Devil, Jules is a traitor to mankind in that he fails to save us. And, the fact that the audience's recognition of this depends, in part, on the movie being shown out of sequence, indicates that one of Tarantino's intentions in 'skewing' time in his film (i.e., showing certain events out of chronological order), is to send the audience metaphorical 'messages', that is, to lead us to make certain interpretations of various events in the movie.

Vincent Vega dials the combination to unlock the black briefcase.

a. Wikipedia, 'Ransom theory of atonement'. Web, n.d. URL =


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pulp Fiction analysis - part 8: Butch's process of acquiring enlightenment


In part 6 of the analysis, it was stated that Butch has, upon awakening from his flashback of Captain Koons handing him a gold watch (that formerly belonged to each of his three patriarchal ancestors), reached the stage of enlightenment. This is explained in more detail below.

The question of sudden versus gradual enlightenment has been an ongoing concern in East Asian Buddhism. This question was taken up in Korea by the monk Chinul (1158-1210), in his Secrets of Cultivating the Mind (Susim kyol):

"Now, there are many approaches to the path [to enlightenment], but essentially they are included in the twofold approach of sudden awakening and gradual cultivation. Although sudden awakening/sudden cultivation has been advocated, this is the entrance for people of the highest faculties. If you were to probe their pasts, you would see that their cultivation has been based for many lives on the insights gained in a previous awakening. Now, in this life, after gradual permeation, these people hear the dharma and awaken: in one instant their path is brought to a sudden conclusion. But if we try to explain this according to the facts, then sudden awakening/sudden cultivation is also the result of an initial awakening and its subsequent cultivation. Consequently, this twofold approach of sudden awakening and gradual cultivation is the track followed by thousands of saints. Hence, of all the saints of old, there were none who did not first have an awakening, subsequently cultivate it, and finally, because of their cultivation, gain realization..." [a](emphasis in original).

The above passage expresses in detail, Chinul's belief that all paths are, at bottom, composed of sudden awakening and gradual cultivation. Applying this idea to Butch, a kind of initial awakening occurs for him when he first hears the story of the gold watch from Captain Koons, and grabs the watch from Koons' hand. (We use the phrase "a kind of initial awakening" here because Captain Koons is not a member of Butch's patriarchal family lineage. This will be addressed later in the analysis.) Butch cultivates this awakening during the subsequent years. Then, just before his boxing match with Floyd Wilson, Butch gains realization (i.e., he achieves enlightenment) at the moment that he awakens (in the literal sense) from his flashback to Koons' visit and the snatching of the watch.

Above left: Butch snatches the gold watch from Koons' hand. Above right: Butch rises after his flashback to the handing of the watch.

a. Chinul, Susim kyol, in The Korean Approach to Zen: The Collected Works of Chinul. Trans. Robert E. Buswell, Jr. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983. pp. 143-145.


Pulp Fiction analysis - part 7: The relationship between Mia and Vincent


Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace do the twist at Jack Rabbit Slim's. Note the black and white color theme of their clothing.

The classic black and white Taoist Taijitsu, the symbol for the Chinese yin yang. Many natural dualities — e.g. dark and light, female and male, low and high, cold and hot — are thought of as manifestations of yin and yang (respectively). [Image from the Wikipedia 'Yin and yang' page, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]

Mia and Vincent represent yin and yang, respectively, and can be considered to be complements of each other.

Top left: When Vincent arrives at the entrance to the Wallace home, he sees Mia's note on the front door. The note says, "Hi Vincent, I'm getting dressed. The doors open. Come inside and make yourself a drink." While we in the audience are being shown the note, as Vincent looks at it, we hear the voice of Mia speaking the words contained in it as if she here represents Vincent's own 'inner voice' speaking to him. Top right: Mia's level of hospitality is such that it is almost as if Vincent is being 'invited' into his own home, as suggested by this view of Vincent by himself in the home's living area. Above left: While Vincent is in the house, he hears Mia's voice (shown here is a profile view of Mia speaking into a microphone) on the home's intercom, talking to him, yet he cannot see her - again suggesting the idea that it is his own thoughts that he is hearing. In fact, the name 'Mia' itself suggests the word 'me' - me, as in Vincent. Above right: Once Vincent has been guided by Mia to the living area's intercom box, he can begin to converse with her.

After Mia and Vincent have left the Wallace home, and arrived at Jack Rabbit Slim's, they sit at a table and are waited on (top left), and then they begin to converse with each other (top right and above left). During this conversation we learn that each has (separately) spent a fair amount of time in the city of Amsterdam. The point is that there is some underlying connection being drawn between the two of them. When Vincent asks if he can have a taste of Mia's milkshake, she offers it to him, and he starts to take out her straw (above right), at which point she says, "You can use my straw - I don't have cooties." Vincent responds, "Yeah, but maybe I do." She then says, "Cooties I can handle", and he replies, "Alright." The idea of two people sharing a straw, when considered in the context of non-transmission of germs, is similar to the idea of one person alone using it; therefore, this part of Mia and Vincent's conversation is still another hint of an underlying connection between them: As stated above, they are complements of each other.

These two characters, Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega, represent the complementarity of female and male, together comprising a universal 'one-ness' in accordance with the Chinese philosophy of yin-yang. Mia represents the 'woman' within Vincent, and Vincent represents the 'man' within Mia.


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