In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Pulp Fiction, we talk about themes that help us understand the film.
- John Travolta – Vincent Vega
- Samuel L. Jackson – Jules Winnfield
- Uma Thurman – Mia Wallace
- Bruce Willis – Butch Coolidge
- Ving Rhames – Marsellus Wallace
- Harvey Keitel – Winston Wolfe
- Tim Roth – Ringo
- Amanda Plummer – Yolanda
- Eric Stoltz – Lance
- Rosanna Arquette – Jody
- Christopher Walken – Captain Koons
The themes and meaning of Pulp Fiction
Nihilism and Existential Uncertainty
A striking theme of Pulp Fiction is its exploration of nihilism and existential uncertainty. This idea repeatedly manifests itself in the film, particularly through the interactions and experiences of the characters. Nihilism, as a philosophical concept, involves the rejection of established laws, moral codes, and beliefs in any objective meaning or purpose in life.
This theme is palpable in scenes where characters encounter unexpected, life-altering events that defy conventional moral structures. For instance, consider the scene where Jules and Vincent are nearly killed by a man hiding in the bathroom. Their survival is purely by chance, or “divine intervention” as Jules believes, as the bullets miraculously miss them. This scene depicts the inherent unpredictability and randomness of life, emphasizing a sense of existential uncertainty. It challenges our comfort in believing that life is structured and orderly, and that good or bad events happen because of our actions.
Furthermore, characters like Jules and Vincent often display a certain moral ambiguity, engaging in violent acts and seemingly unbothered by their consequences. Their professions as hitmen, their casual conversations before performing a hit, and their calm demeanors in violent situations suggest a disconnection from conventional moral norms. This disconnection contributes to the overall atmosphere of nihilism—a sense that in this world, traditional values are irrelevant.
Also consider Butch. He is a prizefighter, paid to lose a fight. But at the last second, he decides to defy this order and win. In this decision, he rejects the preordained course set for him. Butch decides to throw away the established rules, finding no inherent value or meaning in the imposed structure. The result is a sense of existential uncertainty, with Butch suddenly on the run, his future ambiguous and fraught with danger.
Yet, despite this unpredictability, Butch takes control of his own narrative He refuses to accept an existence dictated by others and forges his own path, no matter the chaos that it might create. He is choosing to write his own story, to affirm his personal freedom and responsibility amid an indifferent universe.
Redemption and Transformation
While nihilism paints a bleak picture of the world in Pulp Fiction, the film also proposes the possibility of redemption and transformation. This theme is prominently portrayed through the character arc of Jules Winnfield. After surviving the shootout, Jules interprets this as a divine sign, a second chance to correct his course.
His speech about Ezekiel 25:17, initially used as an intimidation tactic before a hit, evolves to carry real weight for him. His reinterpretation of this passage reflects his desire to change from the “tyranny of evil men” to a “shepherd” guiding the weak. This transformative journey suggests that even amid the chaotic and seemingly meaningless world, individuals can find a purpose and strive for redemption.
In contrast, Vincent, who shrugs off the miracle as chance, represents the opposite path. His refusal to recognize this event as a wake-up call ultimately leads to his death. Through these contrasting character arcs, the film highlights the power of personal choices in determining one’s path toward redemption or destruction.
The theme of redemption and transformation becomes most evident in Butch’s character when he chooses to save Marsellus Wallace, the man who wants him dead. In this situation, Butch could easily escape and leave Marsellus to his fate. Instead, he chooses to go back and rescue him, displaying an unexpected moral compass and capacity for compassion.
This act of bravery and kindness is a transformative moment for Butch. He rises above his former identity as a self-serving prizefighter and becomes a hero, even if it is to save his enemy. Through this act of redemption, Butch not only secures his freedom but also achieves a moral victory, suggesting that change and growth are possible, even in the most improbable circumstances.
The Illusion of Control
Another significant theme in Pulp Fiction is the illusion of control. Throughout the movie, the characters believe they can control their lives, but time and again, they are thrown into chaos by unforeseen circumstances. This theme is powerfully conveyed through the interplay of chance events that disrupt the characters’ sense of control.
Consider the story arc involving Butch, the aging boxer. His entire plan is based on the belief that he can control his destiny: throw the fight, collect the money, and escape. However, his decision to defy Marsellus and win the fight sets off a series of chaotic events that nearly cost him his life.
The infamous pawnshop scene, where Butch and Marsellus become prisoners, is an extreme case of losing control. Yet, it’s Butch’s decision to go back and save Marsellus that restores his sense of control and sets him free, both literally and metaphorically. This sequence highlights the theme that while we may strive for control, life’s inherent unpredictability can render it an illusion. Yet, it’s our choices amid this chaos that truly define us.
The theme of the illusion of control manifests itself significantly in Vincent Vega’s character. Despite his profession as a hitman, Vincent believes he has control over his life. This is reflected in his casual demeanor, even in dangerous situations, and his confidence in handling messy circumstances, such as Mia Wallace’s overdose. However, these situations are more about managing chaos than exerting real control.
The most poignant illustration of this theme is when Vincent brushes off the “miraculous” event of the bullets missing him and Jules as mere chance. He insists on maintaining control of his narrative by rejecting the idea that a higher power or fate may be at play. Vincent’s refusal to acknowledge this sign of “divine intervention or consider a transformative journey, like Jules, further underscores his belief in his control over his destiny.
However, this illusion shatters when Butch kills him, an event he could not foresee or prevent. This unexpected turn of events shows that despite his beliefs, Vincent is not in control. His life, like those of the other characters, is subject to the whims of chance and circumstance, underlining the film’s thematic assertion that control is often an illusion in the face of life’s unpredictability.
Share Your Opinions
Do you have additional insights regarding the themes and meaning that you believe should be incorporated into the Colossus Movie Guide for Pulp Fiction? Leave your comments below, and we may include your suggestions in our comprehensive guide.
Write a response