Study Guide

Pulp Fiction Language and Communication

Language and Communication

RINGO: I heard about this guy, walked into a federal bank with a portable phone, handed the phone to the teller, the guy on the other end of the phone said: "We got this guy's little girl, and if you don't give him all your money, we're gonna kill 'er."

YOLANDA: Did it work?

RINGO: F***in'- A it worked, that's what I'm talkin' about! Knucklehead walks in a bank with a telephone, not a pistol, not a shotgun, but a f***in' phone, cleans the place out, and they don't lift a f***in' finger.

YOLANDA: Did they hurt the little girl?

RINGO: I don't know. There probably never was a little girl— the point of the story isn't the little girl. The point of the story is they robbed the bank with a telephone.

Yolanda and Ringo's extended conversation about different kinds of robberies takes up the first five minutes of the film. We're wondering, what's going on here? Then they stop on a dime, pull out their guns, and start threatening the restaurant patrons. They're hoping that if they sound threatening enough, like the guys on the phone, everyone will go along.

JULES: What country you from?

BRETT: What?

JULES: "What" ain't no country I know! Do they speak English in "What?"

BRETT: What?

JULES: English-motherf***er-can-you-speak-it?

BRETT: Yes.

JULES: Then you understand what I'm sayin'?

BRETT: Yes.

JULES: Now describe what Marsellus Wallace looks like!

BRETT: What?

JULES: (points his gun at Brett's head) Say "What" again! C'mon, say "What" again! I dare ya, I double dare ya motherf***er, say "What" one more goddamn time! [pause] Now describe to me what Marsellus Wallace looks like!

It's very important to Jules to be very clear when he talks. He's got a deliberate and intense way of speaking. Brett's gonna get killed anyway, but the fact that he's stammering and inarticulate just makes it worse.

MIA: (over the intercom) Vincent, I'm on the intercom. It's on the wall by the two African fellas…to your right…Warm…warmer…Disco.

VINCENT: Hello.

MIA: Push the button if you want to talk.

VINCENT: (into intercom) Hello.

MIA: Go make yourself a drink and I'll be down in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

Mia's disembodied voice on the intercom creates some distance between her and Vincent. Vincent's already nervous about this encounter, and this just adds to the tension and mystery. It puts Mia in control and creates a seductive atmosphere. Tarantino also does this when Marsellus is asking Butch to throw the fight. We hear his voice, but he's off-screen. It adds to the shadowy mystery surrounding Marsellus and puts him in control.

MIA: Don't you hate that?

VINCENT: What?

MIA: Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it's necessary to yak about bulls*** in order to be comfortable?

VINCENT: I don't know.

MIA: That's when you know you found somebody special. When you can just shut the f*** up for a minute and comfortably share silence.

Mia definitely has a point; sometimes we just talk for the sake of talking because not saying anything would just be awkward. But there's another layer what she's saying. She's challenging Vincent to see if they can have that kind of relationship.

(Vincent slams the adrenaline shot into Mia's chest and she comes out of shock in a jolt, sitting up and taking heaving breaths.)

LANCE: If you're okay, say something.

MIA: Something.

Even in their most desperate times, Tarantino's characters are sarcastic and funny. Maybe she's just too freaked out to think of what to say, but it reminds us of her earlier comment to Vincent about "yakking about bulls***."

BUTCH: Now all this other s***, you coulda set on fire, but I specifically reminded you not to forget my father's watch. Now think, did you get it?

FABIENNE: I believe so...

BUTCH: You believe so? What does that mean!? You either did, or you didn't! Now which one is it?

FABIENNE: Then I did.

BUTCH: Are you sure? […] No! It's not your fault. You left it at the apartment. If you did leave it at the apartment, it's not your fault. I had you bring a bunch of stuff. I reminded you about it, but I didn't illustrate how personal the watch was to me. If all I gave a f*** about was my watch, I should've told you. You're not a mind reader, are you?

Butch fails to communicate the importance of the watch. This might not seem important in the moment other than to show that Butch really values the watch. But just think of all the subsequent action that flows from that miscommunication: Vincent's death, Butch and Marsellus being kidnapped. Poor Fabienne—even though Butch concludes that it's not Fabienne's fault, there're only so many things you can retract.

FABIENNE: Where did you get this motorcycle?

BUTCH: It's a chopper, baby, hop on. […]

FABIENNE: Butch, whose motorcycle is this?

BUTCH: It's a chopper.

FABIENNE: Whose chopper is this?

Butch just went through the "weirdest f***ing day of [his] life" which is probably an understatement considering what happened, and now all he needs is for Fabienne to get on the bike so they can get going. But even with all this, he still has to let her know it's a chopper, not a motorcycle. Why do you think it's important to him to get that detail right?