Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Light in the Darkness Part 4: Pulp Fiction (1994)


     Yes, indeed, today on our fourth part of “Light in the Darkness” on “Reel Christianity”, we’re looking at Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”. I never thought this day would come. …Actually, yes, I did. But I have to be honest; I’ve never actually seen the actual cut of “Pulp Fiction” before. I’ve only seen it on television. And if you’ve seen the movie, you know that there’s a lot of material they’d have to cut out before they show it on television. But either way, there’s still something to be said about the spirituality of “Pulp Fiction”. Recently I heard a story from a missionary who visited my college who had a friend who was watching “Pulp Fiction” once and came to accept Christ in the middle of the movie. I’m not really sure how that works. But if you haven’t seen “Pulp Fiction”, there’s a theme of redemption that reveals itself through the film, no matter what the intentions of the filmmakers were.

     And in order to get to that point of redemption, writer/director Quentin Tarantino decided to start the film in the middle of the actual story and jump back and forth for the next two hours or so. The film starts with a man and a woman (Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer) robbing a restaurant in Los Angeles. After that and the main credits, we see two hit men, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), going to an apartment to execute a man who stole a briefcase from their boss, Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). We’re not shown what’s in the briefcase, but we don’t get a chance to see, because after Vincent and Jules kill the men who stole it, we transition to a bar, where Marsellus is doing a deal with boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), paying him money to lose an upcoming match. Vincent and Jules arrive and give Marsellus the briefcase.

     The next day, Vincent is assigned to take care of Marsellus’ wife Mia (Uma Thurman) while Marsellus is out of town. Vincent takes some drugs from his friend Lance (Eric Stoltz), and then takes Mia out to dinner, where they win a dancing contest. But upon returning to the Wallace house, Mia finds Vincent’s drugs and accidentally overdoses on them, which prompts one of the most intense scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie: Vincent plunging a needle of adrenaline into Mia’s chest at Lance’s house, waking her up, so to speak. Vincent returns Mia to her home, and the two promise to never bring it up again.

     Then we transition to a flashback of Butch as a child, learning from Captain Koons (Christopher Walken), a Vietnam veteran who was in a POW camp with Butch’s father, that he had died of dysentery in the POW camp, and Koons was given his gold watch to return to Butch. The flashback ends, and Butch, now as Bruce Willis again, has just double-crossed Marsellus by winning the fight and even killing his opponent. He flees to the apartment he and his girlfriend Fabienne (Maria de Medieros) are staying at, and they start packing to head out—until Butch realizes that Fabienne forgot to pack his gold watch. So he has to go back to his house, where Marsellus’ men are already looking. Butch ends up killing Vincent there, and on his way out, he gets into a bloody fight with Marsellus, ending with them in a pawnshop, where the owner kidnaps them both and ties them up in the basement, where the owner and another man take Marsellus and begin… beating him. Yeah. And then, in one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever seen in a film, Butch escapes, gets a knife from upstairs, goes into the room where a man is attacking Marsellus, and kills the pawnshop owner. Marsellus, recovering, shoots the other man and tells Butch that they’re on good terms as long as Butch leaves Los Angeles. So he does.

     And THEN we come back to the execution from the beginning, where Vincent and Jules get the briefcase and then take another man from that apartment named Marvin (Phil LaMarr). But before they leave, another man comes out of the bathroom and unloads at Vincent and Jules—missing them completely and subsequently getting shot. Jules is convinced, as a man of faith (and by that I mean, he quotes Ezekiel 25:17 to his victims before killing them), that this was divine intervention. He and Vincent talk about it on the way to Marsellus’ location, but on the way, Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in the face, and so the two of them take their car to a friend’s house, where they clean their car, get rid of the corpse, and change clothes. And the two of them end up at a restaurant, where a man and a woman commence a robbery.

     See? Everything ties together. Yeah, if you haven’t seen this movie before, you might be reading this and thinking, This is really, really dark. Well, you’re right. And even after reading my little summary, it’s even darker with all the blood, drugs, and cuss words that I didn’t mention. But the movie isn’t over. The ending of “Pulp Fiction” is not only where the story ties together, but also where the message ties together. The robber, Ringo, threatens Jules at gunpoint to give him his wallet and the briefcase. Jules eventually gets Ringo at gunpoint while the woman, known to Ringo affectionately as Honey Bunny, stands on top of a table, gun pointed at Jules, and Vincent has his gun pointed at Honey Bunny. Confusing, I know. Go along with it.

     But then Jules starts talking to Ringo. He tells him that since he is in a “transitional period” after God saving his life, he doesn’t want to kill Ringo and Honey Bunny. But he gets back his wallet and talks to him, gun still pointed at Ringo’s face. Jules tells him about the passage in Ezekiel that he reads every time he kills, and confesses (for lack of a better word) that he didn’t really think about what it meant.

JULES: I just thought it was a cold-blooded thing to say to a guy before I popped a cap in his behind. But I saw something this morning made me think twice. See, now I'm thinking: maybe it means you're the evil man. And I'm the righteous man. And mister nine-millimeter here, he's the shepherd protecting me in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd, and it's the world that's evil and selfish. And I'd like that. But that ain't the truth. The truth is, you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm trying, Ringo. I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd.

     And Jules lets Ringo and Honey Bunny go, and Jules and Vincent leave the restaurant, Jules having declared that he is done working for Marsellus. What a way to end this movie about violence and violent people—the bad guys, who have throughout the film been portrayed as the good guys, realizing that they are indeed the bad guys and want to be better. And it all starts because they see God at work. I feel like that missionary’s friend who came to Christ while watching “Pulp Fiction” may have done so because of that divine intervention.

     It’s interesting how sometimes God chooses to reveal Himself in strange ways. But many times, it’s in the ways we don’t expect. When Jesus taught, the Pharisees were not the ones that understood all the time—it were those who followed with a simple faith, like many of Jesus’ disciples. In Luke 10:21, Jesus prays to God, rejoicing in this fact: “‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.’” In verse 22, he goes on to say to those around him, “‘All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’”
     And that’s what Jules and Vincent debate about near the end of “Pulp Fiction”, how God reveal Himself:

JULES: What is a miracle, Vincent?

VINCENT: An act of God.

JULES: And what’s an act of God?

VINCENT: When, uh… God makes the impossible possible. BUT, this morning I don’t think qualifies.

JULES: Hey, Vincent, don’t you see? That don’t matter! You’re judging this the wrong way. I mean, it could be God stopped the bullets, or He changed Coke to Pepsi, or He found my car keys. You don’t judge things like this based on merit. Now, whether or not what we experienced was a miracle is insignificant. But what is significant is that I felt the touch of God. God got involved.

     And maybe I’m twisting this message a little, but I think what Jules is saying applies to the film itself: it doesn’t matter whether or not the filmmakers meant to make this movie this spiritually resonant. But what is significant is that someone found God in “Pulp Fiction”. And my prayer for you is that in your moments of strength and of weakness, God will reveal Himself to you and give you the peace that only comes from Him.

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