Study Guide

Reservoir Dogs Analysis

  • Physical Space

    Tarantino uses the camera to tell us about the relationships between the characters by placing them in certain physical relationships to each other. In the opening diner scene, the image is a bunch of guys crowded around a table. He uses a 360 tracking shot to create a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose. We get medium range, over-the-shoulder shots of each guy's face. You can tell they're gonna be working closely together.

    By the time we're in the funeral home, there's nothing but space and distance. The camera's at a distance, and the characters are physically far apart from each other. Meaning that by this point, every guy is on his own.

    The exceptions are White and Orange, who are on top of each other in a bloody clutch much of the time, showing the kind of relationship they've developed after the heist. During the final standoff, Eddie, White, and Joe form a distant triangle, with White kind of blocking the others' view of Orange. Pink backs off even more, separating himself from the conflict and trying to stop it.

    Another classic Tarantino shot is the trunk shot. When Blonde opens the trunk to show the cop, there are two camera angles. In one, shot from inside the trunk, the guys are looking down into the trunk. They're looming above the poor cop and smirking; we know who's in control. It's a very revealing image—things aren't looking good for the guy in the trunk. That's confirmed by the next shot of the cowering cop looking up from the trunk. It says, "helpless." You don't need dialogue with images like that.

  • Pop Culture References

    If you've ever taken an extended break from mainstream entertainment media and tried living under a rock, then you know that coming back into reality can be difficult. One minute everyone is obsessed with what color the dress is and, when you return, nobody remembers having made any sort of fuss over any sort of dress.

    Our point? It's twofold. First of all, that dress was definitely blue. Second of all is that you don't have to understand all the pop culture references Tarantino throws at you. Even in the present day of the film it's not like people are referring to what's new. These criminals aren't up to date; their references are outdated even by '90s standards.

    That doesn't mean they don't add to the vibe of the film. Let's take a look at a few; we'll start with the actors.

    First on our list is Marlon Brando. Holdaway tells Freddie he's gonna need to be like Brando in order to pull off the interview for the heist job. Brando was a mega-superstar film and stage actor in the '50s and onward; Holdaway's using "Brando" as a synonym for "totally great actor."

    Then there's Lee Marvin. Blonde tells White, "Wow. That was really exciting. I bet you're a big Lee Marvin fan, aren't you?" Lee Marvin's an actor from 1950s to '80s known for his tough-guy personality and for often being cast in the role of villain or soldier.

    Then there's Charles Bronson, who Brown references when trying to explain the sex life of the protagonist of "Like a Virgin." Bronson starred in The Great Escape where he played Danny Valinksi, a "tunnel king" responsible for—surprise—digging tunnels. (Interesting sexual metaphor there.)

    And we can't forget the John Holmes reference—Holmes was a mega-porn star from the '70s and '80s.

    You get the point. We could also go on about all the pop music references but we'll save some of that for K-Billy's section. Plus, we'd hate to make you watch a video of Tony DeFranco and the DeFranco Family. Seriously, don't click on that; the choreography combined with the old TV music video set is just too much to handle.

    The point is that pop culture references add authenticity to the film, while giving characters and viewers unique avenues of thinking about different people. Do understanding Brown's references make you perceive him or his story differently? What about comparing Mr. White (or even Harvey Keitel for that matter) to Lee Marvin? Pop culture is, by definition, the most transient and indelible kind of culture there is, and the motif of pop culture saturates Tarantino's films.

  • K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies

    Don't you just love the smooth monotone of our boy K-Billy (played by comedian Steven Wright, whose own stand-up style wasn't too different from his line delivery as a radio DJ)? Can't you just hear his colorless voice when you read:

    K-BILLY: Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty were a duo known as Stealer's Wheel when they recorded this Dylanesque, pop, bubble-gum favorite from April of 1974; that reached up to number five, as K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies [weekend] continues.

    Joe picked a great weekend to pull this gig because we have an awesome sound track with which to witness some seriously serious business. The Reservoir Dogs soundtrack consists entirely of recorded tracks with no orchestral score—which was probably as much a budget choice as an aesthetic one.

    Here's what's interesting about K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies: The music isn't simply some tracks that are played for the experience of the audience. This music is also being listened to by the characters. The radio station is referenced twice. We hear about it first from Eddie during the diner scene, which gets all the characters reminiscing about some of their favorite old songs. Then Blonde mentions it when he asks the tied-up Marvin if he's ever heard of the station. It's always easier to torture people when there's music.

    How exactly does the upbeat '70s music affect our experience of the movie? It acts as a counterpoint to the violence. This movie packs a high level of intensity. Tuning in to his favorite seventies station while torturing a cop, Blonde's almost telling us that this is no big deal for him; it doesn't bother him a bit.

    The bubblegum pop music actually amplifies the intense violence by providing a backdrop to sharply contrast with it. When "Stuck in the Middle With You" is playing while we watch Marvin's ear being severed from his body, we get a heightened experience of the horror. Think what the scene would feel like if some dramatic orchestra piece was playing ominously in the background, or if the scene was without music at all. It just wouldn't be the same without K-Billy's seventies sounds.

    Tarantino's use of the upbeat music could also be a nod to the Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange, where a character dances and sings the bouncy "Singin' in the Rain" while violently torturing a couple and raping the wife during a home invasion. It's a pretty disturbing combo.

    Tarantino also thought the music made the viewers into participants in the scene. He explains:

    TARANTINO: The [torture] scene would not be as disturbing without that song because you hear the guitar strain, you get into it, you go "Yeah, yeah," and you're tapping your toe and you're enjoying Michael Madsen enjoying his dance and then voom! it's too late, and you're a co-conspirator.

    We're also more shocked by the abrupt change of mood than if we'd been led up to it slowly. Here we were happily bopping along… and suddenly someone's getting mutilated.

    Fun fact: in the scene when Orange shoots Blonde, there's no K-Billy, or any music at all, which makes us wonder… if Blonde's dead and Marvin and Orange are incapacitated, who turned off the radio? Most people think this was just a continuity error in the filming, but some think it was deliberate. Good luck trying to figure out the mind of Quentin Tarantino.

    Idea for psychology term paper: If Pavlov was right, every time we hear "Stuck in the Middle with You," we should throw up.

  • Storytelling

    Story Time with Mr. Orange

    Storytelling's a continuing motif in the film. Movies are stories. Directors are storytellers. Actors are storytellers. Reservoir Dogs is, of course, itself a story and we the viewers are the audience.

    All of this pretty much goes without saying. We know that Tim Roth is a British actor who doesn't actually have an American accent and certainly not whatever kind of '90s LA dialect that Orange has, but that doesn't matter. We believe it because it's what we see as part of a coherent story.

    The same is true of our story within the story, by which we mean Orange's commode story. Maybe a lot of what you think you know about Orange comes from the story he's telling, fooling both the audience and Joe into thinking he's cool in the face of pressure. In the story, he walks into a bathroom carrying weed and runs into a bunch of sheriffs and a police dog. He stays cool, does his business, and walks right out again.

    Think about it, though. We know Orange works as an undercover cop. He practices the story like crazy. He spends a whole lot of time looking in the mirror and reassuring himself that the undercover operation is going to a success and he'll be okay.

    ORANGE: Don't pussy out on me now. They don't know. They don't know s***. You're not going to get hurt. You're f***ing Baretta. They believe every f***ing word 'cause you're super cool.

    All the stuff about him in the commode story being cool under pressure is just a story, but it's a story with purpose. It parallels the very situation he's in while telling it. Joe and Eddie and White are the Sheriffs and the German shepherd. Orange has to act convincing by doing what Joe refers to as "s*** your pants and dive in and swim."

    The elaborate commode story is an "in your face" move by Orange. Just as in the commode story, he takes his time to appear extra nonchalant and make sure his hands are nice and dry, he has to work hard to make a convincing impression on Joe. In fact, we even have a story within the story within the story—the imaginary sheriff is telling his fellow officers about a man who almost got shot by a cop who pulled him over because he went for his car registration rather than keeping his hands on the dash.

    We'll leave it up to you to guess what that's all about.

    Our Hero Holdaway

    Holdaway gives Orange a speech about storytelling. He says that if Orange isn't a good actor, he's a bad actor and that bad acting is no good (wow—really going out on a limb there, Holdaway). Basically, Orange doesn't want to memorize four pages of monologue but Holdaway tells him it's not about memorization, it's about getting into character. It's about knowing all of the little details and letting the mind of the listener fill in the blanks.

    This again makes us think about the movie as a whole. How much do we know about these guys? We don't really get much of a background, and the flashbacks only take us so far. White worked with a girl named 'Bama, Blonde did some time for Joe, Pink… is cheap?

    Then of course there's the glaring hole of the heist. We don't know a whole lot about it, but just like Holdaway tells Orange to do, Tarantino gives us some details and some context and our minds fill in the rest. By structuring the movie in a nonlinear way, we're always left wondering what's going on until another scene or chapter fills us in. That draws us into the narrative, just like Orange had to draw in Joe and the rest.

  • Racism

    In 2012, Jason Reitman brought together an (almost) all black cast to do a reading of the very white Reservoir Dogs.

    It featured Laurence Fishburne as White, Terrence Howard as Blonde, and plenty of other famous black actors playing white guys (and also Patton Oswalt playing Holdaway). Tarantino has always been a fan of genre movies. One genre in particular known as Blaxploitation, which was popular in the '70s, and influenced Reservoir Dogs.

    In a way, this rendition (which probably due to copyright issues was unfortunately not recorded) hearkens back to the origins of the film.

    Despite the whiteness of the original cast, ethnicity (particularly black ethnicity) is already a motif of the original product. Sometimes these references are very derogatory. When Pink has to break up Blonde and White before they start fighting, he says:

    PINK: Hey, come on, back off! What, we in a playground here? Am I the only professional? F***ing guys are acting like a bunch of f***ing n*****s, man— you work with n*****s huh?—just like you two— always saying they're gonna kill each other.

    This association of blackness with violence also comes up in other contexts, like when Eddie and Blonde are messing with each other and Eddie jokes:

    EDDIE: Ain't that a sad sight, daddy? A man walks into prison a white man, walks out talking like a f***ing n*****.

    All this dialogue once again put Tarantino on the spot—he had to defend his script choices as simply realistic dialogue that didn't imply racism on his part. While this language is totally disgusting, we have to say: All the criminals talk and joke in this racist manner, and the one black character in the movie is actually a commanding police officer. Also: All the racist scumbag criminals die, while the single black character is left standing at the end.

    What to you think? Does realism justify the disgusting conversation? Is "that's just how these guys would talk" a legitimate explanation?

  • Color

    Since most of the movie takes place in a drab and colorless funeral home, we need to wake up and pay attention when color appears. A couple of instances worth mentioning:

    As Eddie's driving away from the heist, talking on the phone about how the cops were waiting for them at the jewelry store, an orange balloon is briefly seen bouncing behind his car. Tarantino's usually too complicated for this kind of symbolism, and maybe the balloon isn't so much a symbol as a hint. Anyway, it's how we first get the suggestion that the rat is Mr. Orange.

    Something pretty similar is visible in the funeral home when White and Pink are in the tiled room wondering about who the rat could be. There are a bunch of jars on the shelf; some of them are pink and white, others orange. The pink and white jars are placed together on the shelf and the orange ones are far away. More foreshadowing.

    When Joe gives the crooks their names, it's all random; the names don't seem to mean anything. However, it turns out it's a good way to convey some visual hints about what's going on.

  • Color Names and Cool Suits

    The color code names seem random, but the point is that Joe insists they not know each other's real names. That way, if they're caught, they can't rat on each other because they don't know anyone's identity.

    The suits serve the same purpose. All the gangsters wear identical black suits, narrow ties, and sunglasses, with their hair slicked back. Both these plot devices represent the anonymity that Joe thinks is necessary for a successful job. They're wearing the suits in the diner scene where we can see from the dialogue that these guys aren't all the same by any stretch. Once the heist starts, though, the idea is that everything's strictly business. No need to get personal.

    Tarantino said that the suits do double duty. Not only do they make the guys look cool and film noir-ish, but he claimed they add a note of realism—some robbery jobs have been done by guys dressed in identical outfits to avoid being ID'd.

    We don't know how true that is, but it's a popular plot point in films. Think about the nun costumes in The Town, the clowns in The Dark Knight and The Killing, the white jumpsuits and bowler hats (so creepy) in A Clockwork Orange, or the painters' uniforms in Inside Man. Tarantino chose black suits and ties, an homage to the film noir genre that he loved and borrowed from in many of his films.

    Oh, one other thing: that building they're all holed up in? That's an abandoned funeral home, complete with folding chairs for the memorial service and a hearse under a tarp. So yeah...those black suits? These guys are all dressed up for their own funeral.

    Eek.

  • Mirrors

    Mirror shots are another favorite of Tarantino's. We get two of them in Reservoir Dogs. Just before Orange leaves to meet Joe about the job, he looks in the mirror, checks himself out, and tells himself not to "pussy out"—he won't get hurt, he'll be okay, and they'll believe every word he says, etc.

    Mr. Orange looks like he's trying hard to convince himself he can pull this off. He's assuming a new identity and it's an intimate moment with the mirror. Tarantino's not going to have Orange go into therapy and reflect (pun intended) on his fears and insecurities about the job, but he doesn't have to. The mirror scene does it.

    Same with White, who shows up and spends some serious time looking in the mirror combing his hair. He's trying to pull himself together after the bloody getaway, but he seems to be spending more time than is absolutely necessary in front of the mirror.

    Our guess? He's reflecting (sorry again) on what's happened and struggling to put it in order. He's agitated and confused; maybe looking in the mirror helps him orient himself to where he is and who he is and what he has to think about.

  • 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

    It's hard to find much of a hero's journey in Reservoir Dogs. Nobody here is a hero.

    But, if we focus on Orange, we can piece together his adventure stage by stage. It starts in his apartment. All we really get about his ordinary world are bits and pieces of who he is; little details like the superhero action figures to show he's just your average dude, not some super spy infiltrating a top secret crime organization.

    Call To Adventure

    There isn't one. Orange is a cop. He has an in with Longbeach Mike. Not much more to it.

    Refusal Of The Call

    "I gotta memorize this? It's over four f***ing pages…"

    Yeah, Orange isn't too hot on the whole commode story thing. He isn't buying it at first, but eventually he gives it a try.

    Meeting The Mentor

    The identity of Orange's mentor is up for debate. The easy answer is to say Holdaway. He teaches Orange how to be cool and how to use a funny, fictional experience to gain a crook's confidence.

    On the other hand, White is almost like a father to the poor dying Orange through most of the movie. Unfortunately, their meeting in the bar is entirely built around Orange's lie.

    Crossing The Threshold

    Orange crossing the threshold is the commode story he tells White, Eddie, and Joe. This is his big moment, the last push he needs to get through to the other side of the law. It's in this moment we find out what Orange is made of. His story is so real we can see it…and so can Joe.

    Orange has the cool to go undercover.

    Tests, Allies, Enemies

    Okay, the diner scene may not seem like much of a test, but this is where Orange is making allies with enemies. This scene and the name assignment meeting we see much later are all the tests Orange gets before things get ugly.

    Approach To The Inmost Cave

    We never get to see this calm before the storm…because we don't see the storm itself.

    Ordeal

    We also never see the ordeal—but we know what goes down. Blonde starts shooting up the place and the team scatters. During the escape, Orange is shot by a woman who's car he and White are taking.

    Orange is starting to die. So much for the hero's triumph.

    Reward (Seizing The Sword)

    The reward isn't yet in sight for Orange. He was supposed to be the hero and capture the baddies, but now he's stuck in a warehouse with them, slowly bleeding out.

    The Road Back

    The road back is a bumpy one for Orange, and it mostly involves lying on the ground and focusing on not dying. Orange pleads for a doctor but knows he won't get one. He's in it for the long haul.

    Resurrection

    This is the moment Orange shoots Blonde (who's about to kill Martin). Orange has finally had enough. He can no longer participate in the violence of the criminals and must stand up for Martin, possibly exposing himself and ultimately causing the chaotic standoff that ends the film.

    Return With The Elixir

    Orange's elixir is his integrity. Orange has been lying (both figuratively and literally) to White and crew the entire movie. As both of them are bleeding in each other's arms, Orange finally reveals to White that he was the rat, something which the morality within the film dictated he must do.

  • Setting

    Los Angeles; Early '90s

    The Place

    The present action would actually make the ancient Greek dramatists happy because it has a little something called "unity of place." What's unity of place? Well, its when almost everything takes place in the same… place. In this case, it's an abandoned funeral home. (Very fitting.)

    We get a brief shot of White and Orange in the car but from that point on we never leave the funeral home except to go outside with Blonde to get some gasoline. The funeral home is the center of the action. It contains the arguments, the torture, and the final standoff and shootout. It may be old and abandoned—just like the bodies it used to hold—but it's filled with the life of our characters. Everything in the funeral home happens in real time.

    We get a little time with our characters in other places like the diner and the other diner and some cars, a bar, Joe's office. In fact, if you noticed the spacing of these narrative turns into the past, it's almost as if they're placed to trick us into forgetting where the movie's taking place. Maybe you would have never noticed that everything present-day happens in the funeral home because these brief flashbacks help the film not feel so confined.

    The Time

    Dogs is basically a present-day film, and, because it was released in 1992 we can assume "present day" means early '90s. Not too complicated.

    However, the music of the film is from the '70s. Apparently a local radio station is having a weekend extravaganza of '70s tunes and it gives the film as a whole a different kind of vibe than one would expect from an early '90s movie. Most of the songs played have this very upbeat kind of feel to them, almost like K-Billy's smooth voice is taking us on a nostalgic trip back to when all was well and everyone was happy. Unfortunately, in the film's present, all is definitely not well, which is why the music stands in stark contrast to the action we're witnessing.

    Film critic Jeffrey Dawson has said that the movie looks like the 1950s (those black suits borrowed from the old film noir genre), is set in the 1990s, but acts like the 1970s. Tarantino wanted to make the time period somewhat ambiguous so that when audiences in the future watched the movie, it wouldn't feel dated.

    For a high-school audience who never heard of Christie Love or Pam Grier, or for audiences with a limited knowledge of the '50s and '60s film genres that Tarantino's referencing, the film might feel dated anyway. For a film buff, though, it's timeless.

    The Atmosphere

    The film opens with a cozy crowded diner scene with people laughing and joking: It's pretty amusing and upbeat. Don't get too comfortable, though.

    Most of the film's atmosphere is bleak, tense, and dark. Tarantino uses an abandoned, poorly-lit funeral home (filled with coffins in case we didn't get the point) with a bleeding cop as the major prop. Graffiti on the wall reads "Watch your head." There's not much letup from the feeling of menace and tension. The brief jump cuts to prior scenes only enhance the claustrophobia and dread of the atmosphere in the funeral home, where things are falling apart by the second.

    Tarantino creates this bleak but menacing mood with long shots and dim lighting (did we mention the bleeding cop?). Periodic bursts of violent action contribute to the overall sense of tension. Knowing that Orange is slowly bleeding out adds another layer of tension and desperation.

    The characters are all on edge because there's a rat and no one knows who it is. Orange is drifting in and out of consciousness, but we can imagine he's on edge too with all the discussion about the setup. The viewers are on edge because things are going downhill fast and we don't know what's going to happen next. Tarantino's created an atmosphere of darkness and unpredictability with no respite for the viewer until… everyone's dead.

  • Point of View

    In Medias Res…ish

    Quick Latin lesson (because we're all about the edumacation): in medias res means "in the middle of the action."

    We say "in medias res ish" because the film kind of has two beginnings. First, the film throws us into the middle of a conversation at a diner where the men are having some breakfast. This scene begins without an introduction, literally starting before we actually see anything, when the screen's still black. The scene itself serves to introduce the rest of the movie, but it's hard to know that on a first watch. In fact, after completing the movie for the first time you may have completely forgotten the diner scene, as it really plays no significant role in the plot. It may occur at the beginning… but that doesn't mean it provides traditional exposition.

    When the movie's main action starts, it also begins before we actually see anything. The screen's still black and we begin to hear the desperate voice of the bleeding Mr. Orange. Suddenly, we're in a very bloodstained car with two men, one of whom has been shot. They drive to a building (which turns out to be a funeral home), and from there, what's actually happened slowly begins to unfold. This seems to be the true beginning of the film; the first scene acts as a sort of preemptive flashback, before we even know what kind of narrative we're in for.

    Flashbacks; there are a lot of those. They give us some characterization and help reveal the plot. The flashbacks change the movie from a bunch of criminals arguing in a funeral home to a heist film (minus the heist) with a mystery twist as we try to piece together what has happened and how we ended up where we started.

    The film is nonlinear in its narrative technique, but there's a general consensus that the flashbacks don't make things too confusing. Instead, they give us the perspectives of many different participants in the heists, giving the film a kind of Rashomon quality. We don't get different first-person perspectives, but we see the events experienced by the different gangsters. Each guy's story adds to the narrative and Tarantino pulls it all awesomely together in the end.

    Rather than the non-chronological structure making the audience confused, Tarantino thought it just made them curious. He didn't like to call the different perspectives "flashbacks." He saw the narrative style as like a novel, where a story might be interrupted to tell you more about what's going on with one of the characters. He thought that this narrative style added to the suspense:

    TARANTINO: It's not a flashback. Novels go back and forth all the time. […] Flashbacks, as far as I'm concerned, come from a personal perspective. These aren't, they're coming from a narrative perspective. They're going back and forth like chapters. I like the revealing of information and deciding what I'm gonna reveal and when I'm gonna reveal it […]Part of the excitement of the movie comes from the fact that you don't quite know what happened, it's just everyone's interpretation.

    Hmm. Still kind of sounds like a flashback… but we'll let Tarantino hold the mic on this one.

  • Genre

    Drama, Heist, Mystery

    Tarantino loves to admit that he's stolen from every movie ever made.

    That's why Dogs seems to be a mashup of a number of different genres. Here are a few.

    Drama

    Is it surprising that a director famous for tons of violence and gore, creating the likes of Kill Bill and Inglorious Basterds, first came on the movie scene by writing a drama?

    To be fair, Reservoir Dogs isn't your typical drama. There's no forbidden love or isolation or psychologizing about relationships, and there's a lot of shooting. What we do have are lies and betrayal and lots and lots of dialogue. There are characters working together and characters fighting among themselves, all trying to deal with an unexpected and highly disturbing event.

    Maybe if we'd seen the robbery and escape, we'd be talking about it as an action flick, but Tarantino wanted to keep the focus on the aftermath, about what happens to the relationships among the characters in this nightmare situation.

    Heist

    Tarantino was a huge fan of the heist film. He taught us all something with Reservoir Dogs; you don't have to have a heist to have a heist movie. Well, you have to have a heist; you just don't have to show it.

    This is actually kind of a heist film in reverse. Normally you've got the cliché flash-forwards, where a character is describing the "plan" but when they're describing it you are actually seeing it put into action (Ocean's Eleven). In Reservoir Dogs the heist has already happened, but as characters like Pink and Orange talk about what went down, we get pieces of it, putting it all together only after it's taken place.

    There's also the fact that in 99% of heist movies the heist is successful, but in Reservoir Dogs it's an epic failure. Still, when you have a film where the protagonists are a group of criminals trying to steal some serious ice, you have a heist film.

    Mystery

    This aspect of Reservoir Dogs may be a bit overlooked. There's no detective and no investigation, but that doesn't mean there isn't any mystery. Mystery is all about not knowing, and in Reservoir Dogs there are a lot of things we don't know. As Eddie puts it,

    EDDIE: I don't know who did what! I don't know who's got the loot. I don't know if anybody's got the loot. I don't know who's dead, I don't know who's alive, I don't know who's caught, I don't know who's not!

    As viewers, there's even more we don't know. Who are these guys? Why do they have silly names that are colors? What were they trying to do?

    Then, once we piece most of these things together through dialogue and flashbacks, we get the big mystery: Who, if anyone, is the rat? Despite Eddie's insistence that there's no rat, Pink and White's description of the heist leads us to believe they were definitely set up…but who could it be?

    Like Pink, we aren't ready to discount Joe or Eddie, and certainly not Pink or White themselves, but the big reveal comes out of nowhere. The person who got shot seems like the least likely person to be working with the police. So then another mystery emerges (how did Orange end up with a bullet in his belly?), with one mystery replacing another as the film progresses.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    What? Isn't it obvious? Reservoir Dogs… it just makes too much sense not to be the title.

    Well, maybe it doesn't make any sense at all, but maybe it doesn't need to. Tarantino is quoted saying that "it's more of a mood title than anything else. It's just the right title, don't ask me why," and, "It's just a perfect title for those guys, they are reservoir dogs, whatever the hell that means." Thanks for the explanation Quentin; glad you could help us out.

    There are a ton of theories about this title. One theory is that "reservoir dog" is a slang word for a rat. The movie's all about a job gone awry thanks to the infiltrator, Mr. Orange. Rats are particularly large at reservoirs, which is why they're called reservoir dogs. Wait. Is that true at all or just completely unsubstantiated fan theory? We're thinking it's the latter.

    One story does seem convincing. It involves the 1987 French film Au Revoir Les Enfants. In one version, Tarantino recommends it to a Video Archives customer who mishears him and says something along the lines of, "I don't want to see no reservoir dogs!" In another version, it was Quentin himself that had trouble pronouncing the title of the French film and resorted to calling it "the reservoir movie." He then combined this with his love of the movie Straw Dogs, hence Reservoir Dogs.

    We admit that even we have trouble seeing the connection between Au Revoir Les Enfants (which is a movie about Jewish children during WWII) and Reservoir Dogs. Straw Dogs? We get that. Sam Peckinpah's movie was known for its extreme violence. Speculate all you want: The name sounds tough, like junkyard dogs, just like the gangsters in it.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    Everyone dies. That's what's up with the ending. 

    Blonde makes the mistake of gleefully torturing a poor policeman in front of a dying but still conscious undercover cop. Orange makes the mistake of trying to save Marvin's life by shooting Blonde, who's known to be loyal to Joe. White makes the mistake of trusting Orange out of guilt, and Joe and Eddie make the mistake of coming back to the funeral home. Only Pink gets out alive… but he's caught seconds after he leaves.

    When the standoff finally happens that results in four deaths, we can really see it as a series of avoidable actions that our ill-fated characters were destined to take. Even Orange's final admission to White about his true identity is a completely unnecessary action that Orange feels compelled to make despite the consequences. The film starts on a downward spiral and it just keeps going down.

    What's the point, then? This is a Quentin Tarantino film, not a morality play. Don't think about it so much as inherently meaningful in some symbolic way; think of it as a natural consequence of the preceding action. Think about the lies and deceit and betrayal and violence and anger and then you'll start to see that there could've been no other ending to the film.

    Speaking of the end, we'd also like to mention Harry Nilsson's "Coconut" which plays during the credits. It's another one of those upbeat '70's songs that creeps its way into the movie, providing a strange counterpart to all the crazy violent action that just went down.

  • Shock Rating

    R

    This movie is not for the faint of heart. There's not exactly more violence compared to your typical action thriller, but there is still plenty to go around between the torture scene where an ear is sliced off and the mass shooting at the end. What's shocking about Tarantino's violence is its realism. Sometimes people take a long time to bleed to death, and we see every minute of it.

    No need to worry about sex/nudity or drugs/alcohol, but there's racist, misogynistic (woman-hating) talk. The profanity is off the charts (actually, there are so many F-bombs it made it on the charts; check out our "Brain Snacks" section). It's got more than just the 'F' words. There's a choice selection of just about every profanity in the book, so if crude language makes you uncomfortable, stay away from Reservoir Dogs.