Death of the Critic

Anatomy of a Character - Pulp Fiction

Written by: Tom Blaich


Repetition is a powerful thing, and showing cycles can lead to powerful implications.

Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite movies of all time. There is something about the characters and dialogue that clicks together and works in a way that many films strive to is a set of very strange people all caught up in some of the most eventful and important days of their lives. And in the center of this maelstrom, we have Jules, the fast-talking, bible-quoting, gun-toting hitman with a soft spot for cheeseburgers. In many ways, the entire movie revolves around the character arc of Jules and how he changes throughout the film.

"I'm through doing that shit." It is the first line of the movie, and in many ways is the theme of the movie itself. The constant allure of the other side, of getting out of the bad situations you have put yourself in. But reality is a cruel mistress. "You always say that. The same thing every time: I'm through, never again, too dangerous." Tim Roth's character, Ringo, is dismissive of this point, making excuses as he prepares to rob a diner, a score good enough that he can quit. He thinks that he is tough when in reality he sounds like a duck. "Quack, quack, quack."

Immediately after this scene we meet up with Jules, who is on what seems to be a routine job. He chats with his partner, makes jokes, and generally seems like this is just another day in the life for him. He waxes philosophical about foot massages and loyalty. It is all put there to start to build a comparison between him and Ringo.But something different happens to Jules. He has his "moment of clarity" and all of the sudden he wants to be done with this job.

At the conclusion of the film, we have this scene of Jules and Vincent eating in the diner that Ringo and Yolanda are attempting to rob. It has been a long journey for the two men to get to this table and eat this breakfast. They've killed men, almost been killed themselves, and drove through town with a dead body in their back seat. Far from the cool and collected men we see at the beginning of the film, with nice suits and plenty of style, we see two guys sitting at a table that appear to be as average as you can be.

This is all in service of setting up the decision within Jules. After he is shot at in the apartment he has a "moment of clarity." For a long time he has thought of himself as a badass with a gun. "I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger." He was a religious man, but not particularly so. "I never gave much thought to what it meant, I just thought it was some cold-blooded shit to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass." He thought of himself as a badass with a gun, because he had power over people. "And you will know I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon you." When Ringo and Yolanda encounter him on a strange morning, all of a sudden, he is confronted by a man who is in the place he used to be, a man who desires power over others.

It is why this movie is presented in a circle. Almost everyone here wants to escape the cycle that they are in. Jules wants to walk away after he discovers a new outlook on life. Ringo just wants to get enough money to stop doing these dangerous jobs. Butch wants to run away with his girlfriend, and get out from under the thumb of Marcellus Wallace. Really the only person that we see that expressly wants to stay in place is Vincent.

To get to this point in the film, we have to watch Vincent die. We see him spiraling around the drain in this movie, as he plays fast and loose with his life. He is addicted to drugs, almost gets the wife of his boss killed in a heroin overdose, shoots one of their friends in the face, and is a general asshole all around. We see where this leads him. We watch him get gunned down on the toilet, killed by his own weapon that he carelessly left out as he tries to kill Butch in his apartment.

We watch three men who are on the same circular path, just at radically different points. All three start the movie at the same point, preparing to go on a job. Ringo is a small time crook, knocking over liquor stores and diners for a quick payday. Jules and Vincent are the real deal: serious hitters for a big name. We see where these men start and where they end up. The cycle is a cycle because you are bound to repeat it. It is impossible to leave it once you are a part of it. You start off small, then get serious, until you resign yourself to being a part of the world that you are in. And then you die.

So where does that leave Jules? He desperately wants to get out but he seems to be trapped. He is paired up with the cynical Vincent who actively tries to keep him from escaping. Where Jules sees a miracle, Vincent sees a coincidence. He desperately tries to explain what is going on in order to justify him staying, whereas Jules wants to accept his own truth.

As much as Jules wants to give up violence, we can see that it is a part of him. As Ringo points his gun at Jules, there is a moment where he almost reverts back to the violent man he is trying to escape from. He grabs Ringo and shoves a gun into his neck. We see his violence, his anger, his righteous fury trying to escape out of his new calm and collected shell. He's much like Butch in this way, who's prone to frequent outbursts and incredible acts of violence, instead of the more laid back Vincent. But he reins it in, managing to control his anger that threatens to burst through the surface. He truly wants to leave this cycle, no matter how hard it may be.

"What's an act of God?" As the two men sit and eat, they laugh and joke. For a few moments they are normal. "When God makes the impossible possible."



Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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