Study Guide

Pulp Fiction Justice and Judgment

Justice and Judgment

VINCENT: Still I hafta say, play with matches, ya get burned.

JULES: Whaddya mean?

VINCENT: You don't be givin' Marsellus Wallace's new bride a foot massage.

JULES: You don't think he overreacted?

VINCENT: Antwan probably didn't expect Marsellus to react like he did, but he had to
expect a reaction.

JULES: It was a foot massage, a foot massage is nothing, I give my mother a foot massage.

Vincent and Jules aren't just yakking on about the implicit meaning of foot massages (okay, that's pretty much what they're doing), but there's more to it than that. This is about Marsellus Wallace dishing out his own demented version of justice: mess with his wife and you pay the price. Now, Vincent thinks it's "excessive" but not unexpected, whereas Jules thinks it's a ludicrous overreaction. Point is that Marsellus decides what's fair.

(Vincent and Jules enter the apartment of a group of young men and execute them for trying to pull a fast one on Marsellus.)

Vincent and Jules don't really think twice about killing these kids. They're unarmed and ready to hand over the briefcase but what's done is done and they're all dead men. What did they do? Did they deserve it? Maybe you were too shocked or busy laughing about Big Kahuna burgers but this scene introduces us to gangster justice of Pulp Fiction. The hitmen don't really concern themselves whether this killing is fair. It's just a job they were sent to do.

JULES: You ever read the Bible, Brett?

BRETT: Y-yes.

JULES: There's a passage I got memorized, seems appropriate for this situation: Ezekiel 25:17. "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. 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."

Check out our "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" section for more about this Ezekiel passage. For now, we'll just say that it's a vengeance warning from the Bible against the Philistines, and Jules uses it to imply that people who cross Marsellus will go down as a matter of justice. Of course, it's turning justice on its head, since Marsellus is a vicious mob boss.

LANCE: Still got your Malibu?

VINCENT: You know what some f***er did to it other day?

LANCE: What?

VINCENT: F***in' keyed it.

LANCE: Oh man, that's f***ed up.

VINCENT: Tell me about it. I had the goddamn thing in storage three years. It's out five f***in' days—five days—and some dickless piece of s*** f***s with it.

LANCE: They should be f***in' killed. No trial, no jury, straight to execution.

VINCENT: I just wish I caught 'em doin' it, ya know? Oh man, I'd give anything to catch 'em doin' it. It'a been worth his doin' it, if I coulda just caught 'em, you know what I mean?

Capital punishment for defacing a car? Okay, maybe Lance is exaggerating a bit, but Vincent seems more serious. Maybe that's why Vincent's in the hitman business; delivering his own sense of justice to all the people who've wronged him (or his boss). Ironically, the person who keyed his car is actually the person who kills him.

(In Butch's apartment, Vincent steps out of the bathroom to meet Butch with a gun pointed at him. Butch fires and kills Vincent.)

This is definitely a Tarantino Universe situation: our protagonist up to this point is surprised on his way out of the bathroom, of all places, and unceremoniously gunned down as Toaster Pastries with perfect timing pop up out of the toaster.

BUTCH: I meant what now, between me and you?

MARSELLUS: Oh, that what now? Well, let me tell you what now between me an' you. There no me an' you. Not no more.

BUTCH: So we're cool?

MARSELLUS: Yeah man, we're cool.

Butch's act of courage and sympathy has brought about his personal salvation. At least his salvation from Marsellus, who wanted to kill him less than an hour before. This is a great example of the code of justice among gangsters, based completely on loyalty. As long as Butch promises to shut up about what happened, get out of town and stay out, Marsellus won't hunt him down.

JULES: (cleaning up Marvin) I will never forgive your ass for this s***. This is some f***ed-up repugnant s***!

VINCENT: Did you ever hear the philosophy that once a man admits he's wrong he's immediately forgiven for all wrong-doings?

JULES: Man, get outta my face with that s***! The motherf***er who said that never had to pick up itty-bitty pieces of skull with his fingers on account of your dumb ass. […] You're the motherf***er should be on brain detail.

Oh, so now Vincent is a believer? That "philosophy" of forgiveness is a religious one, last we checked. Jules isn't buying it, despite his recent religious awakening. As far as he's concerned, justice is this at the moment: Vincent shot Marvin, so he should be the one mopping up his brains.