Divine Intervention: The Cycle of Life, Death, and Rebirth
Ezekiel 25:17. “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities 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 thee.” “I been saying that shit for years. And if you heard it, that meant your ass. 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. But I saw some shit this morning made me think twice. See, now I’m thinking, maybe it means you’re the evil man, and I’m the righteous man, and Mr. 9 Millimeter here? He’s the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. Now I’d like that. But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is…you’re the weak, and I am the tyranny of evil men. But I’m trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.” — Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction
Have you ever said or done something just to look cool? Well, that is exactly why Jules recites Tarantino’s modified bible verse. You see, Jules likes to put on a show, he is very theatrical, reciting the verse “before [he] pop[s] a cap in [someone’s] ass” empowers him, makes him feel like a badass. However, in the beginning of the movie, Jules misses the entire point of the passage “[he] never gave much thought to what it meant.” Tarantino’s use of “Ezekiel 25:17” in Pulp Fiction is truly ironic for that the use of bible verses are meant to reflect on one’s moral beliefs. Ultimately, the passage suggests that very bad things will get in the path of very good men; one has the option to either fall under the pressure of the “tyranny of evil men” and make morally bad decisions, or one can be a “shepherd” and lead the “weak” down the path of morally good decisions. Vincent and Jules live meaningless lives and therefore the verse is at first meaningless to Jules because he has no morals, hence the irony. Their lives consist of discussing pop culture and popping people in the head, not a very noble day job; consequently, giving them the glorious title of “tyranny of evil men.”
The Origin of the Cycle of Life, Death, and Rebirth
Mythology has a marvelous way of explaining how and why some things happen. The cycle of life, death, and rebirth in humans and agriculture originates from the worship of the Great Goddess; she is recognized for her vital role in fertility and the cycle of all human life. The cycle can be caused in many ways and have various different outcomes which is why the characters of Vincent and Jules, perfectly depict the cycle of life, death, and rebirth for those who choose to be tyrants and those who choose to be shepherds.
“No, No, No. That shit wasn’t luck… This was Divine Intervention.”
“ Do you know what divine intervention is?”-Jules
“ I think so, that means that God came down from heaven and stopped the bullets.”- Vincent
According to the Merriam Webster’s dictionary, divine intervention is the interference relating to or coming from God or a god. Both Vincent and Webster have it right. Jules and Vincent got shot at, the bullets should have killed them, but for some miraculous reason they did not, nothing but an act of God could have saved them. So the question now is, why did this happen? Why give these men, professional killers who lack faith, a second chance? That is just it, that is the reason this happened, because these men are faithless killer’s, God chose to give them a second chance. Like Duane R. Bidwell says in “Let’s Get into Character,” Jules plays an active role in the experience, creating it by speaking it aloud. There is nothing passive about this process, and Jules knows it; he recognizes that what is important is not what happened, but what he chooses to make of it. Tarantino put this vital scene in the script to demonstrate the potential outcomes of acknowledging or not acknowledging God’s hand in help. There is a clear divide between Vincent, the luckiest man on earth apparently, and Jules, the one beginning to have faith.
“You decided to be a bum.”
Their lack of faith is illustrated in many ways throughout the movie for example, their topics of conversation in pop culture, their career choices, and their carelessness- like when Vincent blows Marvin’s head off. However, their lack of faith is mostly shown in two scenes. The first, in the diner when Vincent releases his anger and denial towards Jules and his choice to leave “the Life”. He is very explicit about the way he feels towards those who choose to “walk the earth” and follow God.
“You decided to be a bum. Just like all of those pieces of shit out there who beg for change, who sleep in garbage bins, eat what I throw away. They got a name for that, Jules. It’s called a bum. And without a job, a residence, or legal tender, that’s what you’re going to be man. You’re going to be a fucking bum.”
Vincent believes that those who choose to let God “put [them] where he wants [them] to be” are free loaders, who do not contribute to society, or in other words are bums, exemplifying his lack of faith. He refuses to accept what had happened as a miracle, or “God making the impossible possible”, but saw it more as a freak occurrence, something unusual or irregular. This is not unusual or irregular it is impossible. The second scene, is when Jules recites Ezekiel 25:17 before killing Brett, bible verses are meant for sharing God’s authority and wisdom. However, like Bidwell states, this monologue reveals that the religious authority Jules uses to interpret and account for his conversion is an authority he constructed himself, a script he once used to “get into character” as a gangster. Technically the Ezekiel 25:17 verse used in the film is not a bible verse at all, it was tweaked by Tarantino/ Jules to fit its purpose. His entire routine is messed up. He disrespects God and demonstrates his lack of faith by incorrectly stating a bible verse before killing a man. The fact that Tarantino fully allows the audience to see the men’s lack of faith makes their absolute luck for the divine intervention even more unbelievable as well as making their cycles of life even more unpredictable, incredible, and interesting.
“I’m just going to walk the earth like Caine in Kung Fu”
Life: Jules truly lived a meaningless life. We did not know much about the character other than that he has a girlfriend and he does not eat pork because they are filthy animals, his only moral belief. He lives his life a slave, doing another man’s dirty work. He lives “the Life” playing characters, like he says to Vincent when they are about to go face to face with Brett, “let’s get into character.” Jules portrays a gangster but it is just a role he acts out. Jules has made the decisions that have given him the title of “the tyranny of evil men.” While living “the Life” Jules never cared about killing or whether or not he was hurting people because that was his role, he was cruel and oppressive.
Death: In all reality Jules died when fired at. Not literally, obviously, but in a more symbolic way, like Persephone. The character of the gangster died. When God intervenes, Jules has an epiphany, he acknowledges that he has been given a second chance and will not take it for granted. He has done away with his role of gangster and is taking up a new one.
Rebirth: No longer will Jules be using Ezekiel 25:17 to get into his role as gangster. When he recites the verse to Ringo in the diner scene, he is reciting it to get into his role as a religious man. Jules thought long and hard about what to make out of the miracle that he had witnessed. He chose to walk the earth like Caine in Kung Fu. Unlike his past irrelevant popular culture references, this one holds much meaning. Kung Fu is a television show that focuses on the journey of Kwai Chang Caine, to find his half brother, Danny Caine. Along his journey he was faced with situations that called for him to fight for justice. This entire metaphor foreshadows Jules’ new destiny now that he has switched roles. The situation depicts the power of God, having faith, and the endless possibilities of starting over and embracing your second chance. In this historic diner scene, Jules makes the wise decision of not being a tyrant anymore, he wants to be a shepherd and help lead the weak. His new persona is reflected through his decision to help Ringo -the weak- out instead of killing him. He recites Ezekiel 25:17, no longer to sound like a badass but to declare his purpose, to be a shepherd and lead the weak. Jules wants to lead and save the weak as he takes his role as shepherd. Jules lived a meaningless life full of bad decisions before finally being reborn. Jules rebirth comes with the consequence of him taking up a role as a shepherd; he does not want to return to the life he was living but pave the way to the new one.
“Mia! Mia! Mia! What did you take? Answer me honey, what did you take?”
Life: Like Jules, Vincent lives a meaningless life, maybe even more meaningless. Again, we do not know much about the character other than that he is a heroine addict, his car was keyed, and he knows his pop culture. We also learned a thing or two from Vincent, like a Big Mac in France is called a le Big Mac. Vincent is too a slave of Marcellus Wallace, and a very close one at that. Their history is noticed in the scene where Marcellus is speaking to Butch, this scene foreshadows Vincent’s reaction to Jules decision to quit “the Life” later on in the movie. Vincent is also a lonely junkie. One can tell that he does not have much luck with the ladies when Lance suggests hooking him up with a random chick. Vincent too plays the character of gangster; however, we see a whole different side of him when he is with Mia. Vincent is instantly mesmerized by Mia, she brings out the best in him, the real him. They laugh, talk, and dance and suddenly, Vincent’s life is not so meaningless anymore.
Death: Unlike Jules, Vincent does not die when they get shot. He refuses to acknowledge what happened as a miracle and saw it more as a freak occurrence. When God’s intervention provides Vincent with an escape, to change his ways, he does not take it, he continues to live “the Life.” His close history with Marcellus is what keeps him from quitting his ways, despite this divine intervention, Vincent continues to kill and to buy heroin. Vincent dies when he relives Mia, his soul is embedded in her. Vincent reached the peak of his life and his death when he was with her. When he finds Mia overdosed on the floor he shouts, “Mia! Mia! Mia! What did you take? Answer me honey, what did you take?” What Mia took was his life. In a literal sense Mia took his life, his heroine, which is ultimately what his life revolved around. In a metaphorical and symbolic sense, Mia took his soul.
Rebirth: Vincent was reborn within Mia, unfortunately we were not able to see the outcome because he actually dies, for real this time. Despite being reborn, and in contrast to Jules, Vincent is punished for choosing to remain the “tyranny of evil men”. He is punished for not acknowledging what had happened. At first one can assume that maybe he had changed his mind and wanted to embrace his second chance, maybe by pursuing Mia, but that is not the case, he still took on the mission of assassinating Butch, which ironically resulted in his assassination.
Quentin Tarantino does a phenomenal job of illustrating the importance of divine intervention and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. He portrays the results of choosing to be a weak, a tyrant, and a shepherd; therefore, making the Ezekiel 25:17 verse the entire theme and relevance of the film. Jules transforms from a gangster to a religious man, while Vincent transforms from a gangster to a gangster in love. Like I said before, all cycles impact oneself or society as a whole. Both of these cycles served a purpose, to compare and contrast the consequences of those who take their second chances to do good and change and those who choose to not learn from their mistakes. This cycle of life death and rebirth can be applied to a lot of other characters in the film, consequently continuing with the theme.