Great Scene: “Pulp Fiction”

Does Ezekiel 25:17 ring a bell in this classic Tarantino scene?

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Vincent and Jules in “Pulp Fiction”

In the pantheon of great Quentin Tarantino scenes — and there are a whole host of them — this one from Pulp Fiction has to be up near the very top. A long, slow burn to the climax. Heaps of memorable dialogue. Some surprising twists. And a couple of mysteries including the one about the briefcase:

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What the fuck is going on with the briefcase anyhow?

Here’s the script version of the scene:

Check out the video below of the scene:

In the movie, we don’t see the ‘God stopped the bullets’ business until much later in the proceedings. Instead, the scene ends with poor Brad’s demise. When we return to the ‘scene of the crime’, the perspective switches to some poor sap with a pistol hiding in a closet and we hear the replaying of Brad’s assassination including Jules’ recitation of Ezekiel 25:17.

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In actuality only the very last line aligns with the Old Testament. Here is the actual scriptural text from Ezekiel 25:15–17:

“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘Because the Philistines acted in vengeance and took revenge with malice in their hearts, and with ancient hostility sought to destroy Judah, therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am about to stretch out my hand against the Philistines, and I will wipe out the Kerethites and destroy those remaining along the coast. I will carry out great vengeance on them and punish them in my wrath. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I take vengeance on them.’”

The first part of Jules’ recitation is some sort of amalgam or reinterpretation of Biblical verses. What could Tarantino be going at in creating a kind of hyper-scripture with the lines Jules recites?

I’ve always looked at it as describing Jules’ arc:

  • The “righteous man” is Jules, the man he wants to be. By virtue of his work, he finds himself surrounded by the “tyranny of evil men”. The line suggests the righteous man (Jules) cannot sustain the status quo. He will have to change.
  • The line “shepherds the weak out of the valley of darkness,” again I think this refers to Jules, a prophecy of sorts when he defuses the potentially bloody situation with Honey Bunny and Pumpkin in the diner, allowing the psycho couple to escape with their robbery haul and their lives intact.
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Normally Jules would have blasted away at these crazed thieves. Indeed in the diner scene, he repeats his version of Ezekiel 25:17 and speculates: Is he the righteous man? The shepherd? Or perhaps the tyranny of evil?

In the end, he choose the path of righteousness by letting Honey Bunny and Pumpkin go free. As he says, this is a ‘transitional period’ in his life and I like to think Jules goeson to change his ways.

What precipitates that change? This:

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“God stopped the bullets.”

Jules believes the fact he and Vincent are alive is nothing short of a miracle. He believes. On the other hand, Vincent does not believe… and, well…

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Which brings us back to the Great Scene. It’s a gripping inquisition which recalls the first scene of Inglourious Basterds. It’s got the weird briefcase which may or may not have some sort of supernatural thing going on (its lock combination is 666). It’s got Kahuna burgers which recalls the whole “Royale with cheese” bit of business between Jules and Vincent earlier.

But from a character standpoint, it’s that Rashomon like reprise of the scene’s ending in which the dude busts out of the closet, blasts away at Jules and Vincent… and miraculously misses the mark.

We may not think of Pulp Fiction as a theological movie, but what transpires in this scene has a spiritual impact, leading Jules to a kind of conversion experience. This scene is a defining moment in the lives of the two henchmen. One of them gets it. The other one doesn’t. One lives. One dies.

This existential dynamic is one of many reasons why this qualifies as a Great Scene.

What do you think of this scene from Pulp Fiction? Love to hear your thoughts. Head to comments and let me know what you think.

For more articles in the Great Scene series, go here.

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