Imagination and MacGuffins💡💼

Pulp Fiction and what’s in the briefcase?

What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, one of the seven classic world wonders? Because beauty is subjective, everyone has a different opinion on what should or should not define beauty. However, the one aspect that defines beauty may be in itself the most beautiful creation known to mankind. Imagination has the ability to paint intricate works of art whilst on top of Mount Everest watching the largest meteor shower of the century. Nothing is off-limits. Therefore, this ability to imagine gives anyone the opportunity to create his/her own idea or opinion about anything.

For example, in the film Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino creates a nonlinear plot by writing several scenes out of order as well as correlating beauty by developing connections between characters to create a film that ultimately assembles into a comprehensive and exciting conclusion. Therefore, by delivering an important briefcase to the protagonist’s boss, Tarantino develops a main objective for the film. Essentially, the briefcase acts as a MacGuffin, or a device/thing that’s sole purpose is to push the plot along. As a result, the movie is split up into three different stories, which on their own could not be long enough for a movie, but when put together, they make a full-length feature film. Tarantino also manages to add unique symbols in a majority of the scenes in his movie. Therefore, with Tarantino’s unconventional approach to developing plot lines and devices to move those plot lines along, his movies not only create an intriguing film to watch but more importantly, an experience to think about long after you have seen it.

Unconventional Timelines

Like with most Quentin Tarantino movies, the timeline is completely scattered chronologically. With most films chronological order is essential; however, classic Tarantino movies do not conform to the normalities of an average timeline. In the first scene, we see a couple discussing their plan to ‘strike-it-rich by robbing diners instead of banks. At first, the audience is drawn into the diner, focusing little on the time of day or if those in the background had any importance in the movie as a whole.

“You take the same risk as if you rob a bank…”

This peculiar choice of venue not only confuses the audience but also forces them to be curious about other fundamental details of the film including the odd setting choice, even the plot. Thus, the audience must react by predicting future events as well as the viability of each character. Once Tarantino has forced his audience to think about movies in an entirely new way, he begins to unravel the next part in the shuffled story. In the second part of the film, two other protagonists, Vincent and Jules begin an assignment given to them by Marsellus Wallace (their crime boss): to find the apartment in which a briefcase with an extraordinary package awaits him. As they are unsure of what to think, Tarantino agitates the audience until they cringe, puzzled because of a sudden change of pace. The disoriented audience wondering what happened to the first couple in the diner must now analyze why two grown men are fighting about whether a foot massage has a sexual connotation attached. Throughout the film the audience is tossed back and forth between new and old scenes — constantly required to not only pay attention but also predict what might happen next and why what just happened may or may not matter. Therefore, the development of plot and the artistic flare that Tarantino adds to his films not only make him a revolutionary director but an unconventional screenwriter.

Open the briefcase…

The movie begins with two characters who ultimately transform in a fundamental way. The two protagonists Jules and Vincent throughout the film have one mission — to retrieve the briefcase for their boss. However, we are not sure of the purpose for the briefcase. This briefcase, which is invaluable to all of the main characters has one sole purpose, to act as a MacGuffin. For example, as Alfred Hitchcock explains…

Two men were riding on a train in Scotland. One turned to the other and said, “What’s in that black box on the luggage rack?”
“A MacGuffin,” the other replied.
“What does it do?”
“It catches lions on the Scottish highlands.”
“But there are no lions on the Scottish highlands,” the man protested.
“Oh? Then that’s no MacGuffin.”

Here, Hitchcock claims that a MacGuffin “catches lions on the Scottish Highlands,” and although “there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,” the sole purpose of the MacGuffin lies with the audience. It has no function other than to push the plot along. Therefore, the audience may transform the MacGuffin to anything their imagination desires, thus allowing a more personal experience. With this MacGuffin, the transitions between scenes seemed less jagged and although none of the scenes line up chronologically, it serves as a plot catalyst. As a result, the audience may focus more on what ‘just happened’ and less on what the characters used to pass the plot along. As the audience pieces the plot together they should finally notice that the order of the movie lies solely with the MacGuffin. Through the third and final part of the movie, Vincent and Jules search for the briefcase. As they find the apartment, they proceed to kill all but one — informant. Once they retrieve the briefcase they take the informant back to Marsellus; however, upon completion of their assignment, Vincent accidently shoots the survivor. Therefore, Jules and Vincent are forced to find a safe house to clean the car from all of the blood and chunks of skull.

“In fact, what the fuck am I doin’ in the back? You’re the motherfucker [who] should be on brain detail”

After speedily cleaning up the awful mess of the only survivor of the apartment-briefcase-rescue-mission, Vincent and Jules dispose of the body at a nearby dump. Finally, as the movie comes to a close, Jules and Vincent must deal with the couple attempting to rob the diner. While calmly responding to the robber’s (Ringo’s) commands Jules tosses in his “Bad Motherfucker” wallet into the bag. However, Ringo becomes interested in the briefcase and immediately asks to see what is inside. Accordingly, Jules slowly pulled out the briefcase and opened it with no intention to distract him from his robbery. Yet because the briefcase glowed, Ringo could barely utter that the contents of the case were beautiful. Again, although the briefcase serves no real purpose to the plot, it forces to the audience to imagine what contents of the case might be.

While the MacGuffin serves as an interesting plot device, other aspects such as allusions and symbolic references continue to intrigue audiences even today. For example, in several instances of the film are there Satanic references and supernatural symbols. To begin, we see that Marsellus has a bandage on the back of his head.

Entrance to the soul.

Many believe that earlier, Marsellus sold his soul to the devil; therefore, we see the reason for the bandage on his back. Also, with our first encounter with the briefcase, we notice that Vincent uses the code of “666” or the mark of the beast.

Satan’s Passcode

Although, some argue whether, this claim is valid, the undeniable evidence of the code to the briefcase and the bandage on the back of Marsellus’ head seem difficult to disprove. Therefore, we see the characters wonder in awe because of its magnificence. In essence, the most beautiful entity is the human soul. Many believe that Marsellus sold his soul to the Devil and as a result, he tries desperately to reclaim his soul. Thus, in order to retrieve it, he sends his two best men in an attempt to buy his soul back. Overall, the audience may continuously wonder what each scene means from a developmental perspective thanks to the zealous use of, allusions and symbolic references.

‘Drawing’ to a close.

Overall, throughout several exciting scenes each starring a different actor, Tarantino’s ability to add several intriguing aspects to a chronologically scattered film ceases to amaze. As each one of the characters share their own unique story about how they got where they are and what they did to get there, Tarantino forces the audience to be curious and predict future events. As a result, he allows the audience to imagine and create by occupying the characters in the movie with a thing or object that serves as a MacGuffin which seems enormously important to them but serve no purpose in the minds of the audience. However, we as the audience must remain vigilant to find greater meaning for our personal account of the film. Ultimately, Tarantino uses the MacGuffin as well as other allusions and symbolic references as an avenue to delve into the already exciting tale about how nothing and everything all makes sense simultaneously.


Barnes, Alan. Tarantino A to Zed: The Films of Quentin Tarantino. New York: Brasseys Inc., 2000 ISBN 0–713–48457–8.

Ebert, Roger. Questions for the Movie Answer Man. New York: Andrews & McMeel, 1997. ISBN 0–836–22894–4.

Kurland, Michael, and Alfred Hitchcock, Sir. “The Writer’s Toolbox — Faculty Articles — Gotham Writers Workshop.” The Writer’s Toolbox — Faculty Articles — Gotham Writers Workshop. Gotham Writers, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

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