Pulp Fiction: Postmodern Garble or the Search for Redemption?

Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction has been lauded as one of the best modern films of all time, and is widely considered the archetypal postmodern-style film. Many have tried to cut through the disjointed, nonlinear narrative and seeming lack of meaning to search for hidden themes in the film – latching onto such themes as loyalty, the quest for honor, and even homo-eroticism. While I tend to roll my eyes at these interpretations because they seem like critics read into films too much, I have also seen a subtle theme in Pulp Fiction. Perhaps I am “projecting” my own beliefs and wants onto the film, but if I am guilty of that, so be it.

In spite of all the violence, language, sex, drugs, and hate, I see Pulp Fiction as a man’s search for redemption in his life. Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) are the two main characters, who live a life of murder, drug use, sexual promiscuity, thievery, not to mention witty and humorous dialogue. Before each murder Jules commits, he recites what he claims is Ezekiel 25:17 (though in actuality, it is completely fictional except for the last line):

“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.

Jules’ desire for redemption and forgiveness from his life of crime is evident as he moves from callous murderer in the beginning towards a somewhat compassionate (not to mention confused) ex-criminal. The main turning point comes when a job Jules and Vincent are doing goes awry. A man surprises them from a hiding place and unloads several rounds from point blank range. Amazingly, each of the shots misses Jules and Vincent, which Jules interprets as a “moment of clarity” and a miraculous sign from God. He therefore relinquishes his life of crime, swearing to turn his life around for good. For the rest of the movie, Jules struggles with his previous acts and his future mindset, and does not find comfort in his new life until the final diner scene, where he plays the role of calm, compassionate, and trustworthy savior of the diner patrons.

Jules’ biblical reference serves as a framework for this theme of redemption. It gives the viewer a feeling that there is a longing for something deeper and more meaningful than the orderless, chance-filled, empty world that Tarantino depicts. This longing, however, remains just that in the film. From a Christian worldview, this longing cannot be fulfilled outside of Christ. But the fact remains that Pulp Fiction shows hints of the theme of redemption even though it does not resolve with forgiveness and salvation.

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One thought on “Pulp Fiction: Postmodern Garble or the Search for Redemption?

  1. What a stupid, stupid movie. It had been on our Netflix queue for almost a year, and made it to number one since you reviewed it. I wish I hadn’t seen it.1) P.F. is like the cinematic equivalent to modern art. The only reason modern art exists is because useless art critics love to ask “What is the definition of art?” The only reason this movie is acclaimed is because of useless movie critics who rave about movies that “defy the traditional and institutional.”2) Three months of nothing but Jimmy Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock movies served to re-sensitize me to the horrible language and violence and disturbing scenes that are permitting in modern films. Give the “good” old days!

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