Pulp Fiction and Concealed Traditionalism

Vincent and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson...

While Pulp Fiction is often upheld (or denounced) as a sort of chaotic and meaningless melange of images and base indulgences, actually the fact is that the most positive outcomes (Butch and Jules) were the direct result of a harkening back to traditional values.  In this sense, while Pulp Fiction ostensibly celebrates a kind of postmodern embrace of unlimited possibility and openness, or at its worst, the overwhelming influence of considerations of power and personal advantage in determining the course of actions of the characters–the conclusions for the movie actually result in a kind of reversal in this perspective.  So while many can, on the one hand, celebrate the carnage and visceral character of the film, a closer, more thoughtful look really reveals closure of the plot(s) in the reaffirmation of tradition.  In acid irony, Tarantino magnificently panders–through drugs, sex, and gratuitous violence–to the valuelessness that he finally deplores in the secret implications of the movie’s conclusion.

Butch’s morality and success as a character is grounded his family’s tradition of action, which is the tradition of the positive values of civilization.  Whereas Jules’s morality and success as a character is grounded in the Biblical tradition of revelation, which is the spiritual/intellectual aspect of the same basic values.  In either case, tradition is affirmed in a radical sense: it is through tradition that Jules and Butch survive and bring the film to its heroic conclusions.  Jules ends as a wandering spiritual man, even a prophet, inspired by the Judeo-Christian scripture; Butch ends as a hero who consummates (through a kind of virtuous urban warfare and POW rescue) his family’s (in particular, his father’s), and his family’s civilization’s, practical traditions.

A more in-depth discussion can be found here:


An aside.  Remember how, when Jules was reciting the passage from Ezekiel, how the man who came out to shoot him right afterward?  The man was virtually e a Seinfeld look-alike.  As Jules later noted, his use of the passage was perverse.  And if we understand that it is Jewish literature that he is citing, the irony and perversion is pronounced: while falsely citing Jewish scripture, the Jew tries to kill him, and is killed by him.  This use of contrast and perverse irony is used to highlight the perversion of his vapid interpretation of Ezekiel and of his notion of the good life.  That Jules lives, and Vincent dies, is of course definitive in showing that Jules interpretation of the passage is correct—that Jules lived because he learned the moral lesson.

But to cast doubt on film as a moral lesson is this.  The bullets missed Jules and Vincent because Tarantino made them so.  Tarantino was, in fact, the God that intervened divinely.  The God of Pulp Fiction can really be no other than Tarantino–than the movie he constructed.  Therefore, that a return to tradition is the right decision to make is indeed the necessary outcome order of the world that the movie purports to represent–whether a natural order (for Butch) or a divine one (for Jules).  But this order of the world is the order of the world according to Tarantino’s mind–the God and constructor the movie.  Therefore we must ask whether this order of Tarantino’s mind is correct.  But this requires philosophy: a philosophical engagement with Tarantino, not a philosophical interpretation with Tarantino’s intuition of the world.  This ultimately seems to reduce Tarantino’s claims to truth to nothing more than a mere assertion of Tarantino’s creative imagination.  As Plato said, only philosophy, not poetry (film), can definitively establish truth; poetry only offers compelling possibilities.

A final aside.  A brilliant discussion of the gold watch story can be found here:



One thought on “Pulp Fiction and Concealed Traditionalism

  1. Pingback: Speed Detective Vol. 2, No. 3 (Sept. 1943) | The Great Pulp Magazine Index

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s