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 f*** 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.
Loyal Til the Day I Die
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 f***ing 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.
Cool or Not Cool?
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 f***in' racecar, right, and you got me in the red. And I'm just sayin', I'm just sayin' that it's f***in' dangerous to have a racecar in the f***in' 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 f***ed up b**** into my house!
VINCENT: This f***ed up b**** is Marsellus Wallace's wife. Now if she f***in' 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.
Head Guy 2.0
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.