Quentin Tarantino, former video store clerk turned filmmaker, burst onto the film scene in 1992. In fact, one could say he gunned his way onto the screen and took the critics hostage.
Here is the disclaimer: Tarantino's films are not for everyone. They are uncomfortably violent and morally ambiguous. Also they are dark comedies, which one must have an appreciation for.
Tarantino's first film, Reservoir Dogs, which he both wrote and directed, earned critical acclaim. He also received accolades for writing the screenplay for the Tony Scott-directed film True Romance.
His most recent project, Pulp Fiction, garnered similar critical praise and won best film at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. And while critics have been quick to point out Tarantino's master use of fresh dialogue, dark humor, and bitter irony, they may have missed a subtle message.
The world of Pulp Fiction is violent and dark, but it's a world in which God still gets a chance. There is light to be seen, however dim, if we are willing to look closely enough.
The film centers on Hollywood's criminal underground. There are many characters and much that takes place, but two particular characters encounter significant events that ask us to contemplate the quiet mystery of God.
Butch is an aging prizefighter. His boss, Marsellus Wallace, has paid him to throw a fight. On the night of the fight, Butch doesn't take the dive. Marsellus, angry about having been ripped off, is prepared to "scour the Earth" to find Butch.
The two would probably have never met again had Butch not gone back to his Hollywood apartment to retrieve a gold watch, a family heirloom left to him by his father, who died in a POW camp in Vietnam. Through a series of bizarre circumstances, they are both kidnapped and held captive in the basement of a pawnshop.
While Marsellus is being tortured, Butch escapes his bindings. Instead of fleeing the scene, he risks his life to save Marsellus. When Butch asks Marsellus, "What now, between me and you?" Marsellus responds, "There is no me and you."
The men part, and Butch leaves the scene riding a big chrome chopper with "Grace" painted on the gas tank. This subtle and intriguing image catches us off guard-Butch is being carried away by "Grace."
LIKE BUTCH, JULES works for Marsellus. He and his partner Vincent are hit men. They are carrying out their job responsibilities when they're ambushed. They should both be dead, but all six shots fired by the gunman miss Jules and Vincent.
What ensues is a layperson's theological discussion regarding divine intervention. Jules feels God's touch and believes "God got involved." He judges this experience to be a miracle and has a "moment of clarity" in which he announces his intention to quit "the life."
The debate is interrupted by a robbery at the diner where they have been discussing the morning's events. Jules, who likes to quote scripture before he executes people, has realized what these words from Ezekiel really mean: "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."
Jules, who has every opportunity to end the robbery and kill the perpetrators, allows them to go free saying, "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." Manhola Dargis, who writes the forward to Tarantino's screenplay, is correct in stating, "It's a miracle he's trying at all."
Pulp Fiction is perhaps a much more dark and violent view of our society than we would prefer to see. But Tarantino's view is not void of grace or hope. Indeed, grace itself often has a violent nature. Like Jules, our challenge is trying to keep our eyes open for the glimmer of light in our dark world.
SHANE HELMER, a former Sojourners intern, is a free-lance writer living in Houston, Texas. He quotes throughout the review from Pulp Fiction, A Quentin Tarantino Screenplay, by Quentin Tarantino (Miramax Books, Hyperion, 1994).