Study Guide

Pulp Fiction Hero's Journey

Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

The ordinary worlds for our characters are rooted in their dialogue. Vincent and Jules' first scene is a great example, because we see them have some normal, fun, everyday conversation filled with pop culture and personal anecdotes…even though they're about to kill some dudes.

The ordinary world for hired criminal guns isn't so far removed from our own.

Call To Adventure

There really aren't any calls to adventure in any of our stories. Each of the characters acts in his or her own best interest, with the exception of Jules, whose talk with Ringo is motivated by an occurrence he considered divine intervention, prompting him to want to travel the world.

However, this call to adventure is more the start of a new story than it is a beginning to this one.

Refusal Of The Call

With no real calls to adventure, it's hard for any of them to refuse the call: Butch is trying to make some money, Marsellus is being a crime boss, Vincent and Jules are being the hired guns they are.

You could argue that Vincent's disbelief in the divine intervention is a sort of refusal, but instead of returning to accept the call to adventure he gets shot and dies so…it doesn't really work out.

Meeting The Mentor

Some of these characters could sure use some mentor meetings, but unfortunately there's not a whole lot of wisdom or guidance being shared. That is, until the final scene where Jules gives Ringo a talking to. Unfortunately, this is the last we see of Ringo's story, so who knows how it pans out?

Crossing The Threshold

Most of our characters are just sort of doing their thing when stuff gets messed up. But Butch is the one character who brings about his adventure through his own actions. His double crossing Marsellus to win the fight and make some money is his moment of crossing the threshold from washed up boxer to criminal on the run.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

The unfortunate circumstances surrounding Marvin and Mia are certainly the best examples of tests and allies in the film. Both these jobs are supposed to be easy, straightforward tasks that are complicated by a shooting and an overdose. In both instances our characters rely on other characters (Lance and Jimmy) for help…though their loyalty is called into question.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

Let's focus on Butch's story for this one, because it's the most obvious. His approach involves snagging his father's watch, shooting Vincent, and getting out before coincidentally running into Marsellus. These events (and the crazy chase that follows) leads to an Ordeal in the pawn shop basement.

Ordeal

Bound together by Zed and Maynard, Butch manages to escape his bonds as Marsellus is raped in the other room. Just as he's about to leave, he has second thoughts about leaving his nemesis to the wolves.

Seizing a sword, he returns to kill their captors and free his enemy.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

For freeing Marsellus, Butch is rewarded his freedom (with stipulations of course). His moment of empathy during the Ordeal has shown us he isn't just a no-good, thieving, killing conman, and his morals resurrect him both in the eyes of Marsellus and the eyes of the audience.

The Road Back

While Butch splits after his ordeal, we get to hang around with Jules and Vincent as they think about theirs over some breakfast. Jules is convinced that God has saved his life and he must stop his violent ways…while Vincent thinks it's all a bunch of bologna. It's this theistic debate that they're in the middle of when Ringo and Yolanda take the floor.

Resurrection

Throughout the film, Jules and Vincent have been the bad guys, even if we don't think of them that way. But when Ringo and Yolanda hold up the diner, it's Jules' chance to turn from criminal to hero…sort of, kind of. He gives a nice speech, anyway.

Return With The Elixir

In some ways, you could say the death of Vincent is symbolic of Jules' triumph. Had he not presumably quit his job to travel the earth, it could have been him—or both of them—that Butch kills in his apartment.

Instead, only Vincent, the nonbeliever, is killed. Jules' religious revelation is his salvation.

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