Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pulp Fiction - Analysis of the Movie - part 1: The briefcase contents


[Image at left from the Wikipedia 'Pulp Fiction (film)' page; "Pulp Fiction (1994) poster",[a] licensed under fair use via Wikipedia.]

Welcome to the analysis of Pulp Fiction. Buttons at the bottom of each post enable navigation through the parts of the analysis. You may want to view the table of contents.

Pulp Fiction was released in 1994, and was directed by Quentin Tarantino, with stories written by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary. It stars Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Maria de Madeiros, Rosanna Arquette, and Eric Stoltz.

The first topic to be discussed in this analysis is the all-time question, what is in the black briefcase that is in Jules Winnfield's possession (as shown at left), at certain points in the movie?

Ever since people have been asking Quentin Tarantino what is in the briefcase, he has been responding by indicating that it contains whatever each viewer thinks it does. Many people have inferred this to mean that the issue of the case's contents is a totally subjective one, and that the case is a 'MacGuffin', in that its contents (if there are any) are unimportant to the overall plot. However, there is a way of interpreting Tarantino's response, that can be used as a starting point to show that the case and its contents are important insofar as the film's actual plot: Tarantino's response can be taken to apply to the movie characters, and not just to the members of its audience, i.e., for each character, the case contains what that character thinks it does. For example, as will be explained later in this analysis, that which Marsellus believes to be in the briefcase is important, when one considers the fact that we are never shown Jules returning the case to him.

The question is, what does each character think is in the case? As explained below, Vincent thinks drugs are in it, Ringo thinks it contains gold, Marsellus believes it to contain cash (in the form of paper currency), and Jules believes that it contains enlightenment (in the Buddhist sense).

Above left: Vincent flips the briefcase around with ease while in the kitchen in Brett's apartment, prior to opening it; this indicates that for Vincent, the case cannot contain anything heavy, such as gold (i.e., Vincent does not think the case contains gold). Above right: Vincent dials the combination to open the case.

Above left: We see that when Vincent opens the briefcase, to check its contents, there is a light shining on his face, implying that whatever he sees in the case is tied in with something that glows. While Vincent is looking in the case, Jules asks him, "We happy?" Then there is a pause when Vincent doesn't answer, then Jules says, "Vincent! We happy?" and Vincent responds, "Yeah, we happy", and shuts the case. As indicated by Vincent's heroin use (as shown in the screencaps below), drugs are what makes Vincent 'happy'; therefore, he sees drugs in the case. Above right: From where Jules is standing in Brett's apartment (in the living room), Jules can see the glow of the case contents shining on Vincent's face, even though he (Jules) cannot see inside the case. Note that Jules' verbal interaction with Vincent here, suggests that he knows what Vincent believes to be in the case, for he knows that what Vincent sees in the case makes him "happy", indicating that he knows Vincent sees drugs in the case (of course, as Vincent's partner, he knows Vincent is a drug user).

The glow Vincent sees in the briefcase, is a reference to the glow from the open flame he uses to prepare his heroin.

Above left: Vincent injects some prepared heroin. Above right: As indicated by Vincent's mellow facial expression on his way to Mia's house, while high on the heroin he has just injected, drugs are what makes Vincent happy.

Ringo's desire is for things of monetary value - recall that in the movie-ending diner scene, he and his partner rob the diner's cash register (and the diner's patrons of their wallets, as well).

Above left and right: Ringo robs the diner's cash register.

As shown at left, Jules easily handles the case prior to opening it for Ringo (at Ringo's 'request' - as shown in the screencap, Ringo is pointing a gun at Jules); this indicates that it cannot contain anything heavy (such as gold) for Jules, i.e., gold is not what Jules believes to be in the case.

Above left: When Jules opens the case in front of Ringo, Ringo gazes inside it. He asks Jules, "Is that what I think it is?", and Jules responds that it is. There is a pause, then Ringo, fascinated with what he sees in the case, says, "It's beautiful." The fact that we see a gold-colored light inside the case itself here, taken together with the fact that Ringo's desire is for things of monetary value (i.e., 'free' money - money obtained by robbing people, as opposed to that obtained from, say, gainful employment), we conclude that Ringo sees gold in the case. Above right: From where Jules is sitting, he can see the glow of the case contents shining on Ringo's face. Ringo himself never handles the case.

We are never shown the briefcase opened in Marsellus Wallace's presence at any point during the movie, but during the diner robbery, Jules tells Ringo the case contains his boss's "dirty laundry", suggesting money laundering. Since Marsellus is Jules' boss, Marsellus must believe that the case contains cash (in the form of paper currency).

Note that the contents of Jules' verbal interaction with Ringo, suggest that Jules knows what Ringo and Marsellus, respectively, think is in the case; and recall from above that he knows what Vincent sees in it. Jules has wisdom, for he knows what each of the other men sees in the case, indicating that he knows the men themselves. Jules knows other people, but he feels the need to reach the stage of enlightenment, so that he will know himself. It is, in fact, enlightenment (as stated above, in the Buddhist sense) that Jules believes is in the case. Jules' recognition that he has not yet attained enlightenment, is what is indicated when he says to Ringo, "But I can't give you this case, cause it don't belong to me" - meaning Jules recognizes that enlightenment does not belong to him.

a. Poster for Pulp Fiction: The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Miramax Films, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.


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