The Highway to Heaven or Hell?

Pulp Fiction and The Bible

“The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, the end of all flesh is come before me; for the Earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” — Genesis 6:11–13


Rape, murder, perversion, theft, and vulgarity, to say the least, categorize the iconic 1994 film, Pulp Fiction. Of course this is what you expect of a Quentin Tarantino film; bringing the horrors of the world onto the big screen seems to be his signature mark. However, his movies are not the only pieces of work known for their derogatory and vile content. People seem to forget that the most famous and idolized book of the Christian world highlights a culture that brought attention to these very same characteristics. That’s right, The Holy Bible. To think about Jesus and the word of God being in relation to anything similar to that of a Tarantino film brings about a sense of uneasiness and most would dismiss it as outlandish and nonsense, yet, there are some striking similarities between the characters of Pulp Fiction and our biblical heroes. Though thousands of years apart, it’s interesting just how much human nature has stayed the same.


Marcellus Wallace and God

If any character in this film resembles the Almighty Creator Himself, it is Marcellus Wallace, the black, mob-like boss who controls nearly every other character throughout the plot, visible or not. Marcellus Wallace is first mentioned in the opening scenes by his two hit-men, Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega, as they carry out his orders against a few weak, young men who wronged Marcellus in a business deal. It isn’t until about twenty minutes into the movie the audience gets to see a glimpse of Marcellus as he instructs a boxer named Butch Coolidge to lose an important match, handing him an envelope filled with cash.

Introduction to Marcellus

In the Holy Bible, God only shows himself to his most loyal confidants such as Noah, and knows everything about everyone without having to appear in physical form. Similarly, Marcellus is all-knowing throughout the film and always has an influence no matter the situation. His hit-men, Jules and Vincent, are always acting upon his requests to either kill someone Marcellus has targeted or retrieve something for him. The best way to describe Jules and Vincent are as his priests. Similar to Christian priests, they are the only ones to know and speak to Marcellus/God and they perform tasks on his behalf.

Mia

Mia Wallace, the mysterious wife of Marcellus, is a tricky character to grasp. When first introduced in the film, she is given some negative connotations. Vincent and Jules are on their way to murder the young men whom wronged Marcellus, and on their way Jules is describing how “Tony Rocky Horror” was thrown from a 4-story window by Marcellus on account of his massaging Mia’s feet.

“…but touchin’ his wife’s feet and stickin’ your tongue in her holyiest of holyies, ain’t the same ballpark”

They get into a disagreement about how it was an over-exaggeration and Vincent relates it to being as sensual as “eating her pussy out” (11:34). Jules claims it’s not nearly as bad, referring to her lady parts as the“holyiest of holyies”, which is a reference to the few verses in the book of Leviticus that deal with the human body being a temple and fornication as a sin.

Thirty minutes into the film marks when Mia’s character comes out to play. Vincent has just arrived to her home and after walking in, it becomes apparent that the entire living room is practically white. The color white is significant in the Bible as being pure and clean, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 2:18). It seems ironic that with all the evident and violent sins occurring within the film, most specifically around Mia’s husband and his hit-men, that her/his house would be mostly white.

“ Bein’ good isn’t always easy
No matter how hard I try
When he started sweet-talkin’ to me
He’d come’n tell me “Everything is all right”
He’d kiss and tell me “Everything is all right”
Can I get away again tonight?”-

Not only does this completely white room jump out as odd, but the song Mia chose to play as Vincent walks in is also out of context. The striking lyrics heard are, “Son of a preacher man”, which can relate back to the idea that Marcellus acts as God. Mia’s character seems fairly pure until she comes over the intercom and tells Vincent, “I’ll be down in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.” Now why does her response have so much significance as to change the overall perception of Mia? Well, in the Bible the lamb is the animal used in ritual sacrifice, so by her making reference to a lamb it seems fitting to characterize her as possibly devilish. Oh, not to mention the fact that she snorts a few lines of coke right after saying it. To dig even deeper, Mia may have just foreshadowed a sacrifice happening later in the movie. Who is the very person that she is speaking to that faces his untimely death at the hands of Butch Coolidge? Vincent Vega, that’s who.

“I’ll be down in two shakes of a lamb’s tail”

Does Mia Wallace actually have full control? Of course, she is the cover of the movie release poster. Being the face of the film could be just by chance because Tarantino has an infatuation with her character or it could mean that Mia characterizes the Bible’s own Fallen Angel, Lucifer; aka: the Devil.

Vincent and Mia leave shortly after she snorts her lines and wind up at a restaurant called, “Jack Rabbit Slims”. To the audience, the restaurant’s 50s vibes have little to do with the overall theme of the movie except the fact that it brings about a pivotal dance scene between Mia and Vincent. However, an important scene to note beforehand is the milkshake scene. In this scene, Vincent wants to try her $5 shake and while he is about to use a different straw she claims, “You can use my straw. I don’t have cooties…[and] cooties I can handle” (41:02). This can be seen as a manipulation or rather seduction of Vincent to drinking out of her same straw. Although a minor detail in the overall plot, it brings about a significant allusion to the infamous story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Vincent, as Adam, is seduced by the Devil (rather than Eve in this case)to take a bite of the apple (drinking from her straw). When Adam and Eve do this in biblical times, they doomed all of humankind by disobeying God. Although Marcellus doesn’t tell Vincent not to share a drink with his wife, it is understood that just like a foot massage, that act is a bit too personal. It gets even worse when both characters engage in a dance together.

“Cooties I can handle”

The next scene speaks for itself. Vincent is truly dancing with the devil:

49:27

After their evening out, Mia and Vincent come back to her house to drink and listen to music, but Vincent realizes how inappropriate the situation is becoming and heads to the bathroom to think. While he’s contemplating with himself on what to do, Mia finds his heroin, mistaking it for cocaine. This one plot point leads to one of the most influential scenes in film history, the death and resurrection of Mia Wallace, which sounds a lot like the death of Jesus and his resurrection three days later. Once Vincent finds her dying from what he believes to be just overdose, he rushes to his drug dealer’s house, Lance, who coincidentally resembles Jesus physically. With an adrenaline shot, Vincent and Lance act as God and Christ in that they have the power of resurgence. They bring her back to life.

In the Bible, Jesus was known for his powers to heal the sick, ultimately saving them from death. His powers were made known in Matthew 4:23, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people”.

1:02:14

Once Mia is deemed okay, Vincent takes her back home. Their uncomfortable silence leads to Vincent requesting that Mia not speak of it to Marcellus, because like God, he will enact his vengeance upon anyone who dare bring any harm or negativity upon him. Mia agrees and they shake hands. This handshake signifies Vincent’s ultimate deal with the devil. He has sealed his fate.

Jules as the Shepard or the Righteous Man?

Jules Winnfield, one of the most significant characters in the film, exposes the audience to the actual theme of religion throughout the plot. For starters, he begins his first kill in the opening scenes with quite possibly the strongest quote used in film to date. Ah, yes, the Ezekial 25:17 biblical verse (which by the way is not an actual piece of scripture):

“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 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 my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you!”

“And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you!” (20:56)

Although Tarantino was inspired by Sonny Chiba’s character in the 1970s film, The Bodygaurd, Jules claims, “I never gave much thought to what it meant, I just thought it was some cold-blooded shit to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass” (2:27:41). This was evident throughout the film until the scene when divine intervention comes into the equation. Jules and Vincent have just killed one of the young men who wronged Marcellus in the beginning, when another young man comes out of the bathroom firing bullets that should have hit Vincent and Jules right in their chests but did not.

After they realize they are okay, Jules starts freaking out thinking God came down to stop the bullets in some sort of miracle. This one act changes his entire perspective on the life he has been living. He tells Vincent that he is going to leave the line of work they are a part of, and later in the diner scene towards the end of the film, he expresses how he wants to “walk the Earth… like Caine in ‘Kung Fu’” (2:16:52). Of course this is a reference of Caine from the 1970s TV series, Kung Fu, but it also brings to mind the story of Cain from the Bible, who had a mark from God that gave him divine protection even though he was a murderer who ended up wandering the Earth. Hmm…nice try Quentin. Vincent makes it known how ridiculous Jules sounds and while he dismisses himself to the bathroom, a robbery ensues. During this robbery, the male robber, Ringo as Jules calls him, confronts Jules. This is a pivotal moment in the film because the audience witnesses the transformation Jules makes. As he has a gun pointed at Ringo, he quotes Ezekial 25:17, however, begins to explain to Ringo that he has finally put thought into its true meaning stating,

“… maybe it means you’re the evil man and I’m the righteous man and Mr. 9mm here, he’s the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean that you’re the righteous man and I’m the Shepard and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish” (2:27:32).

2:27:32

These lines are important to note because Jules does not kill Ringo, rather he chooses to go down another path. It completely contradicts his original role in the film as he preaches about the ‘righteous man’. Jules Winnfield finally becomes the righteous man.

Vincent Vega

Vincent’s role in the film brings about an emphasis to the divinity Jules constantly emphasizes. Throughout the movie, we seem to always catch Vincent in the bathroom in some sort of fashion. This small detail brings about the idea that the bathroom is a sanctuary. For instance, Vincent goes into the bathroom after his date with Mia to reflect on the situation at hand. While he is in there, he comes to a realization that she is too much of a temptation and he needs to leave. Vincent is later found in the bathroom during the robbery, at Jimmie’s house towards the end of the movie coming to a solution of the dead body in his car, and even before his own death. It seems to have been an escape from the evil occurring outside, up until he is gunned down by Butch, of course. He is not the only character who tends to go the bathroom to think or escape (or deal with his drug addiction). The young man who tried to kill them in the beginning came out of the bathroom as well.

However, the bathroom also seems to be a curse as well. Every time someone, specifically Vincent, comes out of the bathroom all hell breaks loose. It’s fitting that the place Vincent ultimately dies is in the bathroom of Butch’s apartment. His death is also noteworthy because following the timeline, that morning Jules confronted Vincent about the miracle they witnessed and they went their separate ways. Vincent proves to be the unrighteous man and inevitably pays the price. Maybe this also occurs because Vincent ‘plays God’ when he brings Mia back to life. Perhaps his own dealings with Mia (the Devil) and Marcellus (God) came back to haunt him.

Poor Vincent
Separate Ways 2:29:47

The Wolf, Zed, and other Religious Hints

The most ambiguous character in Pulp Fiction, is The Wolf. This mysterious man comes into the plot line at the end of the movie to clean up the bloody mess that Vincent and Jules made. He can be interpreted as the “righteous man” that “shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness” in that he helps the weak-minded Jules and Vincent solve their problem and bring light to their dark times.

Another aspect to consider is his name being ‘The Wolf’. What is the significance of this? Well, if you read the Bible, the wolf in the sense of it being an animal, is mentioned multiple times as being strong, independent, and domineering. For example, in Genesis 49:27 Benjamin is compared to the animal being instructed to “ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil”. Giving this character the name ‘The Wolf’ correlates to the ferocity and dominant qualities of the wolf when referenced in the Bible.

A major detail that goes unnoticed in the film is the name of the crooked cop who rapes Marcellus, Zed[1].

The name “Zed” is actually of Hebrew origin. It is short for “Zedekiah” and actually means ‘Justice of God’. This is extremely ironic because Marcellus acts as God throughout the plot while committing heinous acts, but eventually gets justice served upon him through the rape in which Zed is the attacker. Another noticeable yet unnoticeable detail is the fact that Zed’s chopper has the name ‘Grace’ on it, which screams Christianity.

Other hints towards the Bible throughout the movie include conversations between Vincent and Jules such as when they are cleaning the blood of Marvin out of the car and Jules keeps bashing Vincent. Vincent defends himself saying, “Did you ever hear the philosophy that once a man admits he’s wrong, he’s immediately forgiven for all wrong-doings?” (2:08:18). This is basically another way of saying he has confessed his sins. Not long after this, both characters are practically cleansed of their sins by The Wolf and a water hose. This can also be seen as them washing the blood of the lamb off of them (Marvin being the lamb).

The diner in which they eat breakfast and Jules expresses his significant transition to Vincent in, also has important relations to the Bible, indirectly. The name of the diner is “Hawthorne Grill”. The very famous writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, was heavily influenced by the stories in the Bible when writing his works [2]. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. In the diner, Jules also goes on a rant about pork being “filthy animals” and he refuses to eat them. This idea that pork is unclean meat comes straight from the Bible in the book of Leviticus 11:7–8.

Tarantino as Messenger

Quentin Tarantino’s slightly obvious to blatantly evident themes regarding the Bible have come into consideration in his films almost as much as his obsession with Elvis. He has released two films on Christmas Day, which represents the birth of Christ, and implements many religious objects or references within his films. For example, in The Hateful Eight, which released on Christmas, the opening scene is the camera zooming out on a life-sized replica of Jesus Christ nailed to a cross during his crucifixion. Tarantino has admitted to not believing in God to the public, so why does he have this fascination with God and the Bible? Maybe the stories intrigue him or maybe he is mocking the religion. However, it might possibly be the fact that he is trying to prove a point to the audience watching. He could be trying to bring awareness to the fact that Christianity and the Bible, although revered by a huge chunk of the world, are very similar to the lives we live today. All the vile things in the world originated in the Bible if you think about it and Quentin is only exaggerating these aspects because so many tend to overlook them when conversing about God, Jesus, his apostles, and other characters in the Bible. Tarantino speaks through his films and he uses religion to do so.

References:

Asad, Talal. Genealogies of religion: Discipline and reasons of power in Christianity and Islam. JHU Press, 2009.

Blakesley, David. The terministic screen: Rhetorical perspectives on film. SIU Press, 2007.

Deacy, Christopher, and Elisabeth Arweck, eds. Exploring religion and the sacred in a media age. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2009.

Dunn, James DG. Unity and diversity in the New Testament: An inquiry into the character of earliest Christianity. London: Scm Press, 1977.

Mason, Fran. American Gangster Cinema: From Little Caesar to Pulp Fiction. Springer, 2002.

[1] “Name Zed.” The Name Meaning, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.

[2] Walsh, Conor Michael. “Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Biblical Contexts.” UNLV-University Libraries. University of Nevada Las Vegas, May 2009. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.

The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments: King James Version. Nashville: Holman Bible, 1979. Print.

Pulp Fiction. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. By Quentin Tarantino. Prod. Lawrence Bender. Perf. Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman. Miramax, 1995. DVD.