You don't mess with Jules Winnfield. He's one dangerous, intimidating dude—a stone-cold killer.
Let him tell you himself:
JULES: I'm a mushroom cloud-layin' motherfucker, motherfucker!
Samuel L. Jackson scooped up Oscar and Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor nominations for his memorable portrayal of Jules, and he won the BAFTA award for it. And for good reason: Jules is a character of biblical proportions. He's probably the most complex character in the film, as we actually witness him undergo a change from assassin to redeemed man.
As a killer, Jules is as cool as they come, casually chatting up his victims before he blows them away. He's a professional. But if there's one thing Pulp Fiction teaches us, it's that hitmen are people too. In fact, the whole evil gangster thing is really just an act for Jules. It's just his job. After bantering with Vincent while killing time before the hit, Jules tells Vincent:
JULES: That's an interesting point, but let's get into character.
By "getting onto character," Jules means terrorizing then executing a bunch of young drug dealers who double-crossed his boss Marsellus. Reciting his favorite biblical passage about vengeance (Ezekiel 25:17 somewhat amped up for maximum effect), the tension builds to an ultimate high:
JULES: […] 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."
The dealers are dead men.
But then a miracle happens right before his eyes, as a gunman who was hiding in the bathroom bursts out misses a few close range shots that should have left both Jules and Vincent dead. Jules is convinced that he was just saved by the hand of God and therefore forced to reevaluate his life in the vengeance business:
JULES: We should be fuckin' dead!
VINCENT: Yeah, we were lucky.
JULES: That shit wasn't luck. That shit was somethin' else.
VINCENT: Yeah, maybe.
JULES: That was... divine intervention. You know what divine intervention is?
VINCENT: Yeah, I think so. That means God came down from Heaven and stopped the bullets.
JULES: Yeah, man, that's what is means. That's exactly what it means! God came down from Heaven and stopped the bullets.
Vincent doesn't buy it, but Jules won't let go.
VINCENT: Do you wanna continue this theological discussion in the car, or at the jailhouse with the cops?
JULES: We should be fuckin' dead now, my friend! We just witnessed a miracle, and I want you to fuckin' acknowledge it!
The conversation does continue in the car, and Jules drops this bomb:
JULES: If you wanna play blind man, then go walk with a Shepherd. But me, my eyes are wide fuckin' open.
VINCENT: What the fuck does that mean?
JULES: That's it for me. For here on in, you can consider my ass retired.
Jules' new career plan is to "walk the earth" like Caine in "Kung Fu," meeting people, getting into adventures, and doing what he thinks God wants him to do as long as God wants him to do it. Vincent thinks it's an excuse to be a bum, but Jules isn't fazed; he doesn't care what people think. His new attitude gets put to the test that very morning, as his peaceful breakfast is interrupted by Yolanda and Ringo jumping up, guns pointed at everyone.
The old Jules would have killed them in about 30 seconds. Well, maybe more because he'd have recited his Ezekiel verses first. But he's taken the miracle to heart and controls himself. He pulls out his gun and keeps it cocked, under the table. When Pumpkin comes over and menacingly waves his gun around, Jules is cool:
JULES: I don't mean to shatter your ego, but this ain't the first time I've had a gun pointed at me.
Jules manages to turn the tables and is soon back in control, with his gun under Ringo's chin. But he calms the situation down with his intimidating cool, and we see something amazing. He tells Ringo:
JULES: Now this is the situation. Normally both of your asses would be dead as fuckin' fried chicken. But you happened to pull this shit while I'm in a transitional period. I don't wanna kill ya, I want to help ya.
When Vincent comes out of the bathroom and sees what's going down, Jules has to keep Vincent from blowing Ringo and Yolanda's brains out. Jules hands over his wallet to Ringo; Vincent can't believe it.
JULES: Besides, I ain't givin' it to him. I'm buyin' somethin' for my money. Wanna know what I'm buyin' Ringo?
JULES: Your life. I'm givin' you that money so I don't hafta kill your ass.
Jules recites his Ezekiel speech to Ringo and says:
JULES: I been sayin' that shit for years. And if you ever heard it, it meant your ass. I never really questioned what it meant. I thought it was just a coldblooded thing to say to a motherfucker 'fore you popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this mornin' made me think twice.
Jules goes on to talk about what that passage from Ezekiel about evil and shepherds and vengeance really means. He has to consider the possibility that…
JULES: The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin'. I'm tryin' real hard to be a shepherd.
And with that, our ultimate tough guy gives his robbers the money, and walks out of the diner planning to deliver the briefcase and walk the earth. It's an unlikely redemption story—the toughest of the tough guys turns his life around. Jules knows it won't be easy; notice he says "I'm tryin'."
Vincent's a heroin-addicted hit man employed by Marsellus Wallace, a big-time drug dealer and crime boss. Maybe you remember Mr. Blonde, a.k.a. Vic Vega, from Reservoir Dogs? Well, Vincent Vega is his brother. And, yes, we're all still waiting on the Vega brothers movie idea that everyone and their mother has proposed.
The role of Vincent was initially written as Vic, and Michael Madsen was going to reprise his role. But he had a conflict with another film, so the character was rewritten as his brother. The role rescued the career of John Travolta, who most people doubted could play a heroin addict gangster hitman type before he showed them how to do it and was nominated for an Oscar for his performance. L.A. times critic Kenneth Turan thought that "Travolta ends up being more memorable [then Jackson] only because his work is more of a surprise. His Vincent Vega is all sleepy boyishness and drug-mellowed bemusement, and seeing him so charming in the unexpected guise of a minor league thug is to remember why audiences fell in love with him in the first place" (source). Now that's saying something.
We meet Vincent after he returns from a few years in Europe, where he learned some important things about cross-cultural differences:
VINCENT: And you know what they call a…a…a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
JULES: They don't call it a Quarter-Pounder with cheese?
VINCENT: No man, they got the metric system. They wouldn't know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.
JULES: Then what do they call it?
VINCENT: They call it a Royale with Cheese.
Oh, also: he tells Jules that the Dutch put mayo on their fries instead of ketchup and that you can get a glass of beer at the movies in Amsterdam. His horizons have definitely expanded beyond just killing people for a living.
Tarantino shows us lots of everyday trivial conversation between Vincent and his fellow hitman Jules—Big Macs, whether foot massages are sensual or not—all the while they're planning to blow away some kids who crossed their boss Marsellus in a drug deal. The casual conversation is a comic counterpoint to the violence about to erupt.
When Vincent's not doing his hitman job, he's just an ordinary guy.
Vincent may be a career criminal, but he lives by the code of the street: loyalty. He does everything Marsellus tells him to do. His most dangerous assignment isn't killing people; it's taking Marsellus' wife out for a friendly date and keeping it friendly. And Vincent knows Marsellus could be testing him to see if he can trust him.
VINCENT: Look, I'm not stupid. It's the Big Man's wife. I'm gonna sit across from her, chew my food with my mouth closed, laugh at her fucking jokes, and that's it.
Marsellus' wife Mia is a beautiful, seductive woman—Uma Thurman for Pete's sake—and Vincent gets more and more uncomfortable with the situation as the evening goes on and she gets…uh…more forward. He's also high on heroin, which isn't doing much for his self-control. Mia asks him to dance, and he reluctantly accepts. She invites him home for a drink, and he accepts that, too, but he remembers who she is and talks himself down:
VINCENT: (to himself in the mirror) One drink and leave. Don't be rude, but drink your drink quickly, say goodbye, get in your car, and go down the road. It's a moral test of yourself, whether or not you can maintain loyalty. Because when people are loyal to each other, that's very meaningful.
Sentimental much? Actually, not at all, because Vincent knows that Marsellus has killed people for much less than messing with his wife.
Loyalty is meaningful; it means that Marsellus won't carve him up.
Vincent sure looks like one cool customer. As critic Joseph Natoli describes him, "It doesn't matter one way or another to Vincent. It has no consequence. It doesn't touch the still center of his being where Vincent's story is filled with the protocols of surviving and maintaining his cool. You might say he has a buffer zone of cool in which emotions and responses are filtered" (source).
That's deep. But is it true?
Vincent sure looks cool. When he accidentally shoots his informer Marvin in the face, he just looks annoyed. The car's a mess—what a hassle. But his dialogue tells a different story.
Blood and brains are all over the car, and Vincent and Jules speed over to their associate's house to get the car cleaned up and dispose of what's left of Marvin. Vincent is definitely not cool:
VINCENT: I got a threshold, Jules. I got a threshold for the abuse that I will take. Now, right now, I'm a fuckin' racecar, right, and you got me in the red. And I'm just sayin', I'm just sayin' that it's fuckin' dangerous to have a racecar in the fuckin' red. That's all. I could blow.
Vincent totally loses it on his outing with Mia Wallace, during which Mia overdoses on his heroin and nearly dies on him, lying on the floor covered with vomit. He drives to his dealer's house in a panic:
LANCE: You are not bringing this fucked up bitch into my house!
VINCENT: This fucked up bitch is Marsellus Wallace's wife. Now if she fuckin' croaks on me, I'm a grease spot.
Vincent gets more and more frantic as chaos ensues and Lance gets a shot of adrenaline to jump-start Mia's heart. Vincent's job is to plunge the syringe into her heart. He's freaking out, but he does it. She wakes up. A mighty relieved Vincent takes her home, and they agree that this is definitely not something that Marsellus ever needs to know about. Then he tells her:
VINCENT: Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go home and have a heart attack.
You probably noticed that Vincent spends a lot of time in the bathroom. And nothing good happens while he's in there or while on his way out. In the diner, he sees an armed robbery in progress; at Mia's house, she's nearly dead from an overdose. The third time, he comes face to face with Butch pointing a gun at him.
Why all this time in the bathroom? One major side effect of heroin is constipation, so there's that. Or maybe he's in the bathroom taking a break from all his stress. He does take his sweet time in there, reading his pulp fiction book and contemplating the world.
After all, he's had a rough couple of days. He killed a few young drug dealers and survived a hail of bullets; he accidentally shot his informant in the face; he's been ordered around by The Wolf (he hates being ordered around) and had to clean up his car; he had The Wolf hose Marvin's blood and brains off him and dress him in dorky clothes; he went to a diner where he witnessed a robbery; he had to deal with entertaining his boss's lovely wife for the evening (a risky proposition); and he had to hunt down Butch.
In fact, it's a miracle he's not the one quitting the hitman biz instead of Jules.
One fan believes that Vincent represents reason in the film. As in…being rational. As opposed to Jules, with all his acting on instinct and spiritual ideas.
Vincent doesn't believe that the incident with the drug dealers—all the bullets missing him and Jules—was a miracle at all. He chalks it up to luck and and cites some evidence from a TV show he saw to show that these things happen from time to time.
Vincent uses all his rational powers to try to figure out the whole Mia situation. He outlines in great detail in his talk with Jules about why a foot massage is really a very sexual act. (Rumor has it that Marsellus nearly killed a guy for massaging Mia's foot.) Later, with Mia, he decides to get to the bottom of the incident and asks her specifically about it. Still later, he calmly reasons with himself about why it would be a very bad idea to do anything other than politely say goodnight to Mia and go home.
When you're a hit man, it's probably pretty important to your own survival to be able to reason things out and get all the info you can. But there are always things you just can't anticipate—like Mia finding his heroin and snorting it, or Butch returning to his apartment and finding your gun.
If Vincent had been a more spiritual, intuitive guy, he might have walked off with Jules after their miraculous escape from death. Instead, he stays in the game and winds up dead. But since the story's told out of order, he's resurrected toward the end of the movie to finish out the diner robbery storyline. One fan found this to be evidence, along with other details like the foot massage discussion, that Vincent represents Jesus Christ.
There might be some similarities, but we're pretty sure Jesus didn't pack a chromed .45 Auto-Ordnance M1911A1.
Butch is a boxer with a fading career, who agrees to take a dive for a big payout.
We get a little backstory on him, a flashback to a day when a soldier from his dad's POW camp gave him his great-grandfather's gold watch that his father hid for years in order to pass it down to Butch. The flashback doesn't really shed any light on Butch's character, but it sets up a plot line for later in the film: we know that Butch treasures that watch.
Movie magic, people.
When we first meet Butch, he's having a chat with Marsellus Wallace, who's telling him to bury his pride and take the money for the fixed fight. Butch agrees, but has no intention of throwing the fight. Instead, he takes the money and bets on himself, planning to KO his opponent and leave town with his winnings ASAP.
Butch isn't a chatterbox like some of the other Pulp Fictioners. He's got that noir-ish terse, hard-boiled dialogue. For example:
ESMARELDA: What is your name?
ESMARELDA:: What does it mean?
BUTCH: I'm American, honey. Our names don't mean shit.
Up to this point, Butch is a movie cliché.
Butch seems to be tired of people thinking of him as a meathead who only knows how to punch things. When Vincent runs into Butch at the bar, he calls him Palooka (a derogatory term for a boxer, after a boxer in an old comic strip) and "Punchy." Butch just glares at Vincent and watches Marsellus welcome him and call him over. No love lost between those two. You can tell that Butch resents seeing Marsellus treat Vincent with respect while he's just asked Butch to swallow his pride and lose a fight. In fact, Tarantino confirmed it was Butch who keyed Vincent's car, probably because of being called a Palooka.
As Butch is getting ready to leave town with his girlfriend, he goes back to his apartment to retrieve his father's treasured gold watch, which Fabienne had forgotten to bring with her. He thinks the apartment's empty, even though he knows Marsellus must be looking for him. Then he sees a gun on the counter and hears someone in the bathroom—it's Vincent. He guns him down as he comes out of the bathroom.
He's glad to have the upper hand for a change:
BUTCH: That's how you're gonna beat 'em, Butch. They keep underestimating you.
The upper hand doesn't last very long, though. He ends up unconscious and tied up in a pawn shop basement.
Like ya do.
Butch's shot at redemption comes after he and Marsellus have been taken prisoner and assaulted by the demented hillbilly duo in the pawn shop. He manages to escape his bonds and is on his way out the door when he hears Marsellus being raped. He can't let that continue. In his finest moment, he kills Maynard with a Japanese sword and frees Marsellus, who dispatches the other guy. But he's still worried about having double-crossed Marsellus and has to clear that up:
BUTCH: So we cool?
MARSELLUS: Yeah, we cool. Two things. Don't tell nobody about this. This shit is between me, you, and Mr. Soon-To-Be-Living-The-Rest-of-His-Short-Ass-Life-In-Agonizing-Pain Rapist here. It ain't nobody else's business. Two: you leave town tonight, right now. And when you're gone, you stay gone, or you be gone. You lost all your L.A. privileges. Deal?
So why does Butch save Marsellus, who's been hunting him down after the double-cross? It's a matter of honor: he has to do the right things despite what's gone down before. Choosing the samurai sword emphasizes the "honor" angle in the scene—the samurai were famous for their strict code of honor.
There is also a clue to why Butch saves Marsellus, in the flashback scene with Christopher Walken's Captain Koons, and the young Butch. In the scene, Koons is relating his imprisonment with Butch's father, and tells Butch "Hopefully, you'll never have to experience this yourself, but when two men are in a situation like me and your dad were, for as long as we were, you take on certain responsibilities of the other". It's possible that these words came to Butch's mind as he was attempting to leave the pawn shop. (Source)
Tarantino never writes something into a conversation without a reason, right? Koons' talk sets up the rescue of Marsellus.
Butch does the right thing with Fabienne, too. He's a rough guy, but we see a different side of him with Fabienne. She's not what you'd expect his girlfriend to be, and he's different with her. He turns into a lovesick softie. He still loses his temper, but he's affectionate and tender. He says things like "Sweet dreams, jelly bean." He calls her "sugar pop." Anytime he sees he's upset her, he manages to calm himself down—a real feat for a guy who's just killed his opponent in a boxing ring. He's protective of her:
BUTCH: Honey, we gotta hit the fuckin' road!
(Fabienne starts to cry.)
BUTCH: I'm sorry, baby-love.
FABIENNE: (crying) You were gone so long, I started to think dreadful thoughts.
BUTCH: I'm sorry I worried you, sweetie. Everything's fine. Hey, how was breakfast?
After settling the score with Marsellus, Butch goes back to the motel, picks up Fabienne on Zed's motorcycle, and heads off into the sunset in true western-movie fashion.
In case we miss the point, the name on the motorcycle is "Grace." Butch has found it, and escapes with his life.
Jules wants to know. We want to know. Everyone on the planet wants to now.
Every major character in the film is associated with Marsellus. We hear a lot about him, but we don't see his face until 95 minutes into the film. And what's he doing? Going medieval on his enemies? Nope. He's carrying coffee and donuts across the street.
Jules knows what Marsellus looks like. He's bald, he's broad, he's black, he's smart, and he's not to be messed with. The big crime boss of Pulp Fiction has a lot of rackets going, although his biggest business seems to be drugs. He demands loyalty and has his hitmen ready if he doesn't get it. It was rumored that he threw an associate out a window just for giving his new wife Mia a foot massage. Even if that wasn't true, people believed he'd do something like that. He's that tough. And Jules and Vincent believe it.
JULES: He gave her a foot massage.
VINCENT A foot massage? That's all?
(Jules nods his head yes.)
VINCENT: What did Marsellus do?
JULES: Sent a couple of guys over to his place. They took him out on the patio of his apartment, threw his ass over the balcony.
The reason they're having this conversation in the first place is that Marsellus had asked Vincent to take his wife out to dinner, to keep an eye on her while he's away on business. Jules is telling Vincent a cautionary tale. (P.S. We see a lot of Mia in the film, but we learn nothing at all about her relationship with Marsellus. They don't even have a line of dialogue together onscreen. It's a mystery: all we know is that he's very protective of her…obviously. )
Speaking of Marseullus' mystery, our first sight of of the guy is from the back. All we see is his large bald head with a bandage on the back. The bandage actually covered actor Ving Rhames' shaving cut, but Tarantino thought it added a bit of character—and so it became the only thing we see of Marsellus for a while.
He's the typical villain: we only see him in the dark corners of a room or from a distance.
Marsellus is a realist. He has to be in order to be in this business. He knows that people can rat you out or cheat you, and you have to be ready for that. He's especially matter-of-fact with Butch, who he wants to take a dive in a fixed fight.
MARSELLUS: Thing is Butch, right now you got ability. But painful as it may be, ability don't last. Now that's a hard motherfuckin' fact of life, but it's a fact of life your ass is gonna hafta git realistic about. This business is filled to the brim with unrealistic motherfuckers who thought their ass aged like wine. Besides, even if you went all the way, what would you be? Feather-weight champion of the world. Who gives a shit? I doubt you can even get a credit card based on that.
Butch takes the money, but instead of going down as agreed in the fifth round, he knocks out his opponent in the first. Butch is a dead man as far as Marsellus is concerned.
MARSELLUS: I'm prepared to scour the earth for this motherfucker. If Butch goes to Indochina, I want a n****r hidin' in a bowl of rice, ready to pop a cap in his ass.
Marsellus has had a few bad days. A bunch of punk drug dealers steal his briefcase with who-knows-what kind of treasure inside. Then Vincent accidentally kills Marvin and Marsellus has to call his fixer to mop up the mess. Oh, and his boxer double-crosses him and costs him a bundle of money.
But all that pales in comparison to what happens in his pursuit of Butch, culminating in both of them waking up in a pawnshop basement, bound and gagged, about to be sodomized by Maynard and Zed, a couple of Deliverance type goons. The goons take turns raping Marsellus; Butch escapes and decides, against his better judgment probably, that he can't leave Marsellus in that situation. He kills Maynard with a sword, freeing Marsellus to blow off Zed's private parts with Maynard's shotgun.
Marsellus has a choice right now. He's face to face with a guy who double-crossed him then saved his life. But he's a realist. First he exacts his revenge—but not on Butch:
BUTCH: What now?
MARSELLUS: What now? Well let me tell you what now. I'm gonna call a couple pipe- hittin' n*****s, who'll go to work on homes here with a pair of pliers and a blow torch. (to Zed) Hear me talkin' hillbilly boy? I ain't through with you by a damn sight. I'm gonna git medieval on your ass.
Then Marsellus does the math. He's got a serious image to uphold.
BUTCH: I meant what now, between me and you?
MARSELLUS: Oh, that what now? Well, let me tell ya what now between me an' you. There is no me an' you. Not no more.
BUTCH: So we're cool?
MARSELLUS: Yeah man, we're cool. One thing I ask – two things I ask: Don't tell nobody about this. This shit's between me and you and the soon-to-be-livin'- the-rest-of-his-short-ass-life-in- agonizing-pain, Mr. Rapist here. It ain't nobody else's business. Two: leave town. Tonight. Right now. And when you're gone, stay gone. You've lost your Los Angeles privileges. Deal?
Marsellus' character goes from cold-blooded crime boss to helpless victim and back to boss. We knew you couldn't keep a guy like him down. He'd kill you if you tried.
Before we even see her, Mia Wallace is the most talked about character in the film.
We know she's the big man's new wife, a "don't touch" person if there ever was one. But she's also beautiful and bored. So when Jules, and later the bartender, learn that Vincent has to "take her out" and "show her a good time," they think it's hilarious. She's the most dangerous character in the movie.
Vincent needs to get high on heroin in order to go through with it.
From the moment we see her, Mia's clothes speak wonders. She's wearing a long white shirt and black cropped pants—no frills, no colors (except those bright red lips). We'd call it a power outfit, you know? It's not unlike the suits that Jules and Vincent wear, telling us that Mia can stand up to the toughest of them. As Marcellus' wife, she is powerful.
As one critic put it, "She's the most powerful woman in a male-dominated world—she can get a terrifying assassin to dance the twist at her command" (source). The outfit exudes confidence and strength, both of which she's got plenty of. She seems totally in control of Vincent. She holds her own.
Mia is gorgeous and sexy and seductive and funny and…a coke addict.
Did we mention seductive? She's coming on to Vincent from the get-go. He arrives at Marsellus' house to find this note: "Hi, Vincent. I'm getting dressed. The door's open. Come inside and make yourself a drink." "Son of a Preacher Man" is playing on the stereo. Sample lyric: "Bein' good isn't always easy / no matter how hard I try."
We see Mia watching Vincent on the security cameras and get a close-up of her red lips as she purrs to him on the intercom mike.
And then…she does a few lines of coke.
Vincent's there to make her happy, and what makes her happy is agreeing to take her to her favorite '50s-retro burger joint. At the restaurant, she provocatively sucks on her milkshake and stares into Vincent's eyes. She gets a little pulp fiction-y on him:
MIA: What are you doing?
VINCENT: Rollin' a smoke.
VINCENT: It's just tobacco.
MIA: Oh. Well in that case, will you roll me one, cowboy?
Vincent gets up the nerve to ask her about the foot massage/defenestration incident. She seems surprised to hear what people think; she denies everything.
MIA: You heard Marsellus threw Rocky Horror out of a four-story window because he massaged my feet?
MIA: And you believed that?
VINCENT: At the time I was told, it seemed reasonable.
MIA: Marsellus throwing Tony out of a four story window for giving me a foot massage seemed reasonable? […] A man being protective of his wife is one thing. A husband almost killing another man for touching his wife's feet is something else.
There's another thing that would make Mia happy:
MIA: I wanna dance.
VINCENT: No, no, no no, no, no, no, no.
MIA: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I do believe Marsellus, my husband, your boss, told you to take me out and do whatever I wanted, Now, I want to dance. I want to win. I want that trophy.
If you were starting to suspect that Mia is rather…uninhibited, the dance contest will confirm that. Mia pulls Vincent to the dance floor for a twist contest, in a scene that's gone down in cinematic history.
Once Mia and Vincent realize they're able to talk honestly, she drops the femme fatale act to some extent and becomes a little sillier and more authentic. Was she putting on a seduction act just to toy with Vincent? To test his loyalty to Marsellus? We never get to know because Vincent gets killed the following day.
After leaving the restaurant, Vincent takes Mia home—and of course she asks him in. They tango into the house.
While he's in the bathroom trying to summon up some self-control, Mia finds his baggie of heroin and snorts it, thinking it's cocaine. Vincent comes out of the bathroom to find her unconscious, bleeding through her nose and foaming at the mouth.
In case you didn't pick up on it…this is bad. Like…real bad. Vincent rushes Mia over to his drug dealer Lance's house, where Lance and his wife freak out at the thought of somebody ODing in their house. It's total chaos and hysteria. Meanwhile, Mia's dying and Lance coaches Vince through an adrenaline shot to Mia's heart. She bolts upright, needle still sticking out of her chest.
LANCE: If you're okay, say something.
At least she hasn't lost her sense of humor.
Mia and Vince agree that it's best for both of them if Marsellus never hears about this incident.
Tarantino thought that Mia Wallace was the character the audience would be most fascinated by. Maybe that's why he left her so mysterious. We know nothing about her backstory, her relationship with Marsellus, or her motivations. Is she a flirty, naïve party girl who tells silly jokes and can't tell the difference between heroin and coke? A sophisticated woman who plays with Vincent just to test his loyalty to Marsellus?
Mia was the image for the movie poster even though she's only a part of a single story. Why? Well, it's pulp fiction, and sex sells.
These two small-time crooks open and close the show, tying the narrative together even though they don't make appearances anywhere in between. This Bonnie and Clyde duo have been living the life of hardened criminals, minus the hardened part because they're just holding up liquor stores and taking peoples wallets. While they're not committing armed robbery, they're very lovey-dovey. Tarantino portrays them as pretty ridiculous.
Ringo decides that robbing liquor stores isn't profitable enough for the amount of effort, and has absolutely no problem with a more efficient type of robbery like holding up a bank or, say, a diner. You know Yolanda is down because, well, she's a bit crazy and she'll do anything Ringo says. She really worries us with that gun.
When Ringo gets disarmed by Jules, Yolanda sort of loses it and just barely keeps her cool. Thanks to Jules, both characters quickly switch from being the hunters to the hunted. Also thanks to Jules and his recent epiphany, they collect the customers' wallets and leave the diner a little disoriented but alive. They don't know what hit them, but they'll take it. Jules has blown their minds, and they've unwittingly given him the opportunity to test out his new approach to life.
Jules' friend Jimmie acts just like you would act if a buddy called you up asking for a favor and then brought over a blood-drenched, brain-splattered car with a dead guy in the back seat: he's not happy.
Jules tries all of his smooth talk but it's not getting him anywhere; Jimmie just isn't having it. You see, what Jimmie is really worried about isn't the dead guy in the car. What Jimmie is worried about is his wife Bonnie, who's due home soon and will divorce him if she walks in on all this gang related stuff going on.
It's actually kind of ironic that "The Bonnie Situation" is named for a character that we never even see except briefly in an imagined scenario of another character. Shouldn't it be called "The Marvin Situation?" He's the dead guy, right? Anyway, Jimmie loves Bonnie and doesn't want to get divorced even though it's all the rage these days, so he's agitated. He talks fast and swears and isn't the most hospitable host—again pretty understandable. We can't help but notice Jimmie's speech sounds a lot like an agitated Mr. Pink from Reservoir Dogs, which makes sense why the part was originally offered to Steve Buscemi. He was unavailable at the time…but what a Jimmie he would have made.
Jimmie gets a bit of comeuppance when he happily watches The Wolf make Vincent and Jules strip naked and hoses them down. He gets to pick out a few of his dorkier tee shirts for them to wear. U.C. Santa Barbara Banana Slugs?
It's a good look for Vincent, dontcha think?
Winston Wolf is Marsellus' personal fixer, and he's one impressive guy. Harvey Keitel gives the character an understated, cynical sense of humor. The Wolf never has to get angry because he knows he's Jules and Vincent's only option. His calm, professional demeanor just exudes confidence and control. When Marsellus gives him the address of Jimmie's house, he says:
THE WOLF: Expect a call around 10:30. It's about thirty minutes away. I'll be there in ten.
"It's about thirty minutes away. I'll be there in ten." This is the kind of quotable dialogue that cult films are made of.
When it comes to cleaning up messes, this is the guy you call. Brains and blood all over the car? Wife due home from work any time now? No problem; just give him the facts:
THE WOLF: Now you got a corpse in a car, minus a head, in a garage. Take me to it.
Up to this point, we've seen Jules and Vincent as the guys with the cool and the power. Then in walks The Wolf, and we see what cool really is. Jules and Vincent are reduced to following directions and mucking around in what remains of Marvin. The Wolf arrives in a tuxedo and leaves in a tuxedo. Our boys are stripped naked, hosed down, and leave in dorky college tee shirts.
The Wolf never breaks a sweat.
Lance is the classic drug dealer. He gives Vincent the old "friend discount" routine and then does a little salesmanship on the high-end heroin until Vincent bites. We wouldn't be surprised if he slighted him on the grams after Vincent called his wife "the one with all the shit in her face." Lance might know Vincent but he doesn't necessarily care about Vincent (e.g., he sells him heroin). So when Vincent's in big trouble and rushing an overdosing Mia to his house, Lance is not amused.
LANCE: She ain't my fuckin' problem, you fucked her up, you deal with it – are you talkin' to me on a cellular phone?
LANCE: I don't know you, who is this, don't come here, I'm hangin' up.
Once Vincent shows up with an unconscious Mia, Lance grabs a medical book and tries to figure out how one goes about plunging a needle into someone's heart. He only agrees to do it because Vincent threatens to tell Marsellus he refused to help his wife. He makes Vincent give the shot.
Lance's wife Jody is also not very happy. She's ditzy, self-involved, and obsessed with her piercings-per-square-inch ratio. They're both way more concerned with the fact a person might die in their house than with the person who's dying in their house. All the drama makes Lance mad at Vincent and Jody mad at Lance and Vincent mad at Jody and pretty soon everyone is yelling about something at the same time and Lance can't find the book and no one wants to give the shot and all is chaos. When the shot finally happens and Mia wakes up, Jody's response is, "that was fucking trippy," which we guess is one way to put it.
Jody brags to Vincent about the fact that she has 18 piercing in various places on her body. Maybe the adrenaline needle was trippy because it was the ultimate piercing. (Source)
Fabienne is Butch's adorable girlfriend, who just wants some blueberry pancakes and maybe some pie—oh, and a potbelly, which we're pretty sure comes free with the first two. With her naiveté and innocence, she's a sharp contrast to the murderous, double crossing Butch. She knows that they're in danger but Butch never goes into the details. Still, she's willing to follow him out of town and maybe out of the country.
Fabienne seems to adore Butch except when he teases her or loses his temper. One theory about Fabienne is that she's pregnant. Evidence? Telling Butch about imagining herself with a pot-belly, where everything about you is the same except for a big belly; her insatiable appetite for someone so petite, with a specific craving for blueberry pancakes; her mentioning to Butch that she has something to tell him. (Source)
Fabienne's character makes Butch a more complex guy. She's not the kind of girlfriend you'd expect of someone like him—not tough, not glamorous. She shows us Butch's softer side. He gets furious with her for forgetting his watch back at their apartment, but after he blows up, he calms down, apologizes and comforts her.
We don't know much about the backstory of Brett, Marvin, and the gang, but we do know they tried to double cross Marsellus Wallace—and nobody double crosses Marsellus Wallace and gets away with it. They pay a steep price for taking Marsellus' briefcase, or not giving him their briefcase…or whatever was supposed to happen.
Nothing says "I've made some poor life decisions recently" than having hamburgers and soda for breakfast. The guys are noshing on Kahuna Burgers at 7:30 AM when their world is invaded by Marsellus' avengers. Jules kills one of them right away just to make a point. Then Brett, whose concentration is a little iffy due to his dead friend lying on the couch, is verbally tortured by Jules before being shot in the shoulder and executed shortly thereafter by Vincent and Jules.
The young man hiding in the bathroom has an inflated idea of what he's capable of, as he empties his gun at the hitmen and misses every shot. He's shocked to see them still standing there. He's only shocked for a few seconds, though.
Then he's dead.
The crazy part about this awful murder scene is that it's comical. The burgers, Jules' extended riff about Marsellus, the bathroom guy's stunned expression after the missed shots—it's funny. The same is true of Marvin's death. He's just riding around in the back of a car one minute and the next he's got his head blown off. His blood is everywhere and there are bits of brain and skull scattered around the back seat. Violent? Yes. Gross? Yes. Funny? Absolutely.
It's this sort of dark and incredibly violent humor that's one of Tarantino's specialties.
Talk talk talk boom.
The morality of many of Pulp Fiction characters is simply a matter of perspective. Jules and Vincent and Butch are all sort of bad good-guys…or maybe good bad-guys?
But that's not the case for Maynard and Zed; these dudes are just plain sick and evil, hillbilly freaks straight out of Deliverance. When Maynard pulls his shotgun on Butch and stops him from killing Marsellus, we first think he's a righteous guy. Yes, maybe we wonder why he has a firearm within arm's reach at a pawn shop, but that's probably not unusual at all for a pawn shop in this particular neighborhood.
Maynard knocks out both men and ties them up in the basement with S&M-looking gags. In walks Maynard's security guard buddy Zed, who's obviously the more dominant one in whatever sort of twisted partnership he and Maynard have. He makes Maynard wake up the Gimp, a guy in full bondage gear that they keep on a leash in a box in their basement, to keep an eye on Butch while they rape Marsellus.
Maynard and Zed get what's coming to them. Maynard's the luckier of the two; he dies quickly. Marsellus castrates Zed with his own shotgun and promises to send some guys to "get all medieval" on him, something involving pliers and a blowtorch. We leave Zed screaming in terror, which he totally deserves.
And speaking of the Gimp, who is he? Why is he there? How long has he been a bondage slave? We may never know the answers but his character has caused a lot of speculation, which resulted in this interview with the Gimp himself.
Captain Koons makes a quick appearance in a flashback of young Butch's life. Koons spent time in a POW camp with Butch's father, who gave him Bruce's grandfather's gold watch to give to Butch in case he didn't make it out alive. He didn't. Koons kept the watch in his rectum for safekeeping for years, and presents it to Butch along with the story of his father. It's a weird story. The fact that he's played by Christopher Walken makes it even more weird.
Koons is mostly used for exposition, showing us why Butch's watch is so valuable to him that he risks going back to his apartment to retrieve it. It also hints why Butch and Fabienne are headed to Knoxville; it's where Butch's great-grandfather bought the watch. But thematically his speech is very consistent with the film's themes of loyalty, camaraderie, and dysentery. Okay, maybe not that last one.
Fun Fact: Walken said he drank hot sauce in between takes to keep his mouth from getting dry during his long speech.
The lovely cab driver may not have a whole ton of screen time, but she plays a big part in our first real meeting with Butch, helping to shed some light on his character. Esmarelda is oddly fascinated by death—a little creepy as Butch is quick to point out. Esmarelda says she has "much interest" in death and that Butch is the first person she's met who's actually killed somebody. This is the first Butch hears that the boxer that he just knocked out has died.
Maybe we're expecting Butch to talk about how awful it feels, knowing he ended someone's life, but he doesn't. In fact he doesn't show much emotion at all nor does he try to feign any. Esmarelda isn't appalled, she's just more intrigued. The whole scene is very noirish in both its lighting and dialogue. The two never face each other as Esmeralda is driving, which maintains a level of mystique for both characters.
Esmarelda gets that Butch has fled the scene of the fight for some reason. He asks her what she would say if someone would ask her about who her fare was. She replies,
ESMARELDA: The truth. Three well-dressed, slightly toasted, Mexicans.
Esmarelda's very much a 1940s film-noir-type, sexy, tough, and cynical—the kind of woman we'd guess Butch is into until we meet Fabienne.