6

Is Pulp Fiction really about redemption in the religio-moral sense, as online commentary suggests?

I just watched the film for a second time (the first time was a few years ago), and although I did notice details pretty obviously hinting at a theme of redemption that I’d missed the first time around (such as the ‘Grace’ decal on the Harley-Davidson), I still couldn’t see the film as making any kind of moral point.

Butch decides to save Marsellus, but surely the decision comes from both a moral place as well as a self-serving one. It is hard to believe that a man who, by his own admission, feels no remorse for having beaten his boxing opponent to death, and who has just murdered Vincent (although out of necessity) and attempted to run over Marsellus (again, out of necessity), turns over a new leaf in an instant. I think it’s valid to assume that his brief moment of indecision at the door of the pawn shop involves some consideration of the idea of being able to erase his debt to Marsellus by rescuing him. Plus, choosing to save a person from an ongoing rape despite future danger to oneself has to be the bare minimum to be expected from anyone with a semblance of a conscience. It’s hardly indicative of an abiding choice to change oneself. I thought ‘Grace’ was a clever and funny way of describing what has just occurred to Butch, because it is Marsellus the gangster, who has just vowed to “go medieval on” his assaulter, who is positioned as the grace-giving God here.

Another character who is said to have redeemed himself by leaving the evil world of crime is Jules. Vincent, conversely, is shot soon after he dismisses and ridicules Jules’ religious awakening. The essays I read on the film years ago agreed that the character’s fate revealed the film’s message, which is… redeem yourself while you have the chance! Don’t take signs for granted! Is that really the point someone like Tarantino and a film like Pulp Fiction that revels in violence would want to make? Once again, I thought there was a hint of amusing irony in the fact that this incredibly irreverent and subversive film ostensibly confirms a religious narrative. I thought it was just another one of the many ways in which the film subverts expectations. Plus, you must consider that Jules deliberates on divine intervention and on doing the “right thing” as he petulantly cleans up a young associate’s blood, without any real remorse for the life lost. The effect is comic.

I think redemption most definitely is an obvious and important thread in the film, but not in a didactic, “see, choices are important!” kind of way, but in an ironic, funny, strictly narrative-serving way.

I would love to know what established film critics have said about this theme in the film, as well as what the community here has to say.

1
  • 5
    I think Tarantino just sits back & says, "Hell, yeah. This will mess with their heads." same as Nolan does. You're supposed to make up your own mind. Having people write theses on them as if they were reflections on reality is probably more than sufficient reward. I recall back in the 70s people did the same with Bowie songs… which was somewhat kiboshed when he admitted to writing out huge swathes of unrelated lines, then cutting them up with scissors & playing 'jigsaw' with them, til they made a kind of sense.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 24 at 18:34

1 Answer 1

6

"The whole movie isn't about redemption," says Quentin Tarantino, "but redemption does keep working itself into the movie."

Quoting Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino (paraphrased from YouTube's auto-generated subtitles):

The whole movie isn't about redemption but redemption does keep working itself into the movie. And most of the characters in the movie are given choices to make and they make the choices that they make and they pay the price for the consequences, or they live to tell the tale because of those choices. And we actually see it happen all three different times in the movie. It's funny that if you just take that for what it is, if you just look at the case of John Travolta and Sam Jackson, it would suggest, well okay, Sam Jackson made the good choice, made the right choice, and thus he prospers, and John Travolta pays no attention to it and thus we know he dies. But you have to think about Bruce Willis' choice that happens in this movie because he actually makes two choices: one he makes a choice to do a very unhonorable thing. He actually makes the deal with Marsellus Wallace to throw the fight. He doesn't have to. Marsellus doesn't say "Throw the fight or you're dead." He makes it for money and he takes the money, and he screws Marsellus with it. But, he actually ends up living to tell the tale. Alright, because he actually does make a moral choice later when he goes back to save Marsellus, but he's still starting from a very bad place, and he actually ends up prospering […]. But again, he does make a moral choice that he doesn't have to. But if he had left […] the pawn shop and just let Marsellus be buggered, if he just left that, would he still get out of town with Fabienne? Would he still make it to Tennessee? Would he still have all the money and everything like that? I'd be looking over his shoulder. Right now, he's not looking over his shoulder because he did the moral thing. He actually got away with it.

- Quentin Tarantino On The Moral Choices In PULP FICTION. American Film Institute

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .