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In the opening scene of Pulp Fiction (1994), hit-men Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega raids the apartment of Brett, a business associate of their boss (Marsellus Wallace). The main objective is to retrieve a briefcase of Wallace's from Brett's apartment. They seems to be sure that Brett has the briefcase and Vega eventually finds the briefcase while Jules keeps talking to Brett.

But I wonder, what exactly do they plan to do with Brett and everyone else in the apartment? Sending a message could work if they non-fatally shoot Brett and left him alive to show not to mess with Wallace. But they kill him and the others, except one teenager named Marvin, who was apparently their informant (who accidentally gets shot by Vega and dies sometime later).

The other possibility is that they always planned to kill Brett. But why waste so much time engaging in a lengthy conversation? Why not just shoot everyone else and make Brett hand over the briefcase, and then kill him as well? The longer they wait, the more chance of the plans going awry. This actually happens, as a man bursts out from the bathroom and shoots them, which they miraculously survive.

On why they did not kill Marvin. Thank you users BCdotWEB and galacticninja for pointing that out in that other question.

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    Frankly you are right but basically this scene is to introduce the characters. What actually happens is of little consequence other than to show us who they are and introduce the macguffin of the briefcase.
    – Paulie_D
    Jul 3, 2021 at 12:38
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    FYI Marvin is the informer, that's why he doesn't get killed: pulp-fiction.fandom.com/wiki/Marvin
    – BCdotWEB
    Jul 3, 2021 at 15:44
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    @Paulie_D if it turns out the briefcase isn’t in the apartment, a bunch of dead guys aren’t going to be much use for finding it. Jul 3, 2021 at 18:30
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    On Marvin, see: Why didn't Vincent and Jules kill Marvin? Jul 4, 2021 at 7:46
  • @PaulD.Waite That's why I suggested the method where they keep Brett (who knows about the briefcase) alive and kill everyone else till the hit-men find the briefcase.
    – Sandun
    Jul 5, 2021 at 9:33

4 Answers 4

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Pulp Fiction is expressly about the supporting characters in the background of classic gangster pulp stories - the henchmen, the moll, the boxer who is supposed to throw the fight, etc.

It explores these characters but maintains the tropes of the genre from which they are drawn. One of those tropes is that when the gangster sends the henchmen to kill someone, they chit-chat about it. They can't just execute the best possible tactical operation - they have to frighten and taunt Brad and his associates, and deliver the gangster's "message". That is one reason the briefcase is undefined as a MacGuffin - because it doesn't have to be anything specific, since it is standing in for all such MacGuffins in classic crime films and this scene stands in for all scenes where there is a confrontation over the MacGuffin - and those are classically always dialogue-heavy and exposition-heavy.

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    Exactly right. Why does Auric Goldfinger strap James Bond to an industrial laser that will very slowly cut Bond in half starting at his crotch, when this elaborate scheme actually gives Bond enough wiggle room and time to escape, instead of Goldfinger just shooting Bond in the head? Why does Ernst Stavro Blofeld have James Bond walk the plank over a swimming pool filled with sharks, when that gives Bond the opportunity to evade the sharks and swim out, instead of just shooting him in the head? Because in-universe, they are egomaniacs who need the attention, and out-of-universe, it's cool. Jul 4, 2021 at 7:57
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    @JörgWMittag out-of-universe Bond needs a way to survive
    – OrangeDog
    Jul 4, 2021 at 10:25
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    What do you mean by "expressly"? It's never outright said during the films runtime, is it? Was it stated in the trailers or something? Jul 5, 2021 at 15:33
  • Someone necro'd this question and I saw the question from @TankorSmash - “The ones you’ve seen a zillion times—the boxer who’s supposed to throw a fight and doesn’t, the Mob guy who’s supposed to take the boss’s wife out for the evening, the two hit men who come and kill these guys.” It would be “an omnibus thing,” a collection of three caper films, similar to stories by such writers as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett in 1920s and 1930s pulp magazines. “That is why I called it Pulp Fiction,” says Tarantino. vanityfair.com/hollywood/2013/03/…
    – tbrookside
    Dec 29, 2022 at 14:13
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In addition to tbrookside's answer a logical in universe answer is that Jules and Vincent wouldn't kill anyone (important) until they have what they came for. You never know if the case is in the apartment but Brad hid the contents somewhere else for instance.

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Everyone seems to be satisfied with TBrookside's meta answer, but OP's original point is badly taken.

There's no one in the lobby, but throughout the 3½ minute single take while Jules & Vincent walk around the apartment complex talking about Marcellus Wallace & Antwan Rockamora they repeatedly encounter incidental noise showing that the entire floor is full of people. Either floor up or down is presumably also full of people starting their day.

Even in universe, the thing to do here is to get everything they can before opening fire. Some of the neighbors are playing loud music, some are presumably still sleeping, but people are going to hear the gunshots and—at minimum—get the police on their way towards the complex. They know they have 15 or however many minutes, but they aren't going to needlessly risk returning empty handed.

Vincent even pointedly reminds you this is on his mind in a later scene:

VINCENT

Do you wanna continue this theological discussion in the car, or at the jailhouse with the cops?

As it turns out, Marvin knew the current location of the case and Jules mostly shuts him up to maintain his dominance of the scene. Walking into the room, though, they couldn't know whether the others had moved it; letting the guys think they might live turns out to be the best option for getting information; and—if it had been moved—Brett's best play for dying without torture and causing more trouble for his killers would've been to claim that he had given it to Roger (the guy on the couch who they'd just shot). There'd be no way for Jules or Vincent to quickly extract any other information because (again) the cops would already be on their way and they're not about to slowly haul Brett all the way out to their car, screaming as he goes.

They did it the way they should've. Even Jules messing with the guy's breakfast is gauging how submissive these guys are—Do they have a plan? Are they going to cause trouble? The idea that they could've just used Marvin to find the case is based on knowledge they wouldn't've had at the moment. (The way things play out imply he was attempting to double-cross them anyway.) The idea that they keep talking needlessly after they get their information is off: the conversation after that is just Jules quickly shutting down Brett's attempt to talk his way out of this shit.

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Jules explains exactly why, in the diner afterwards, he says that he believed it was divine intervention that kept the bullets from hitting him, and so that was a sign to not kill Marvin. Jules was so shocked that he was not shot that he felt god must have intervened, so he was not going to go against what he thought was god at that point and risk spoiling his second chance that he was just given. It is after that when he says that he wants to roam the Earth like Kane in Kung-Fu, looking for adventures, and suddenly has a greater appreciation for life and does not want to continue risking being a hitman after that.

The long dialogue is mostly just because Quentin Tarantino does movies in that style with long monologues or memorable small talk between people that always becomes kind of like a cult following, like Reservoir Dogs in the diner where they just talk about random things. It is largely just that style he uses in movies, where he gets a lot of content out of conversations as opposed to special effects, because he started out as a struggling director and kind of had to make that work at first.

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    Hi, welcome to Movies & TV. Note that this question is about everyone but Marvin. You seem to be answering a question about why they didn't kill Marvin, but the question is why did they wait so long to kill the rest of them. (There is a question about not killing Marvin elsewhere.) Please make sure you're answering the question that was asked.
    – DavidW
    Jul 7, 2023 at 15:53

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