Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Don't put me in this position, Vincent! Pulp Fiction & Redemption Accountability

Having discussed the primary Winfield/Ringo pair in the 1st installment of Pulp Fiction's redemption treatment, we now focus on the anomaly, Vincent Vega.

Vega is the only main character to die, and Tarantino is sending a message - failing to recognize the multiple opportunities for redemption, the guiding hand that made escape possible for everyone steps aside and crazy events unfold towards his demise.

Vega demonstrates a determined rejection of the providential nature of the opportunities. Just to ensure he doesn't miss the one circumstance with the overdosing Mia, he also gets the errant bullets. Whereas one remarkable event is enough for everyone else, Vega gets two opportunities, yet continues to scoff. During the breakfast conversation at the restaurant, he even mocks Winfield’s recognition of unclean food ("bacon tastes good"), and also ridicules him that, to follow God's leading would render him a " bum".

But, Vega has proven to be a pretty smart guy. In two conversations with Jules that seem humorous and trite, Tarantino establishes that Vega has brains. He brings Jules to consider that, indeed, the guy should have known that touching Marcellus Wallace's wife "in a familiar way" would put him in harm's way with Wallace, and he brings Jules to concede that a charming pig could graduate above "filth status". He's got sense, but that means the opportunity in front of him was not beyond his ability to recognize.

Vega is positively at odds with Winfield's viewpoint. He defends Wallace's rumoured tossing of a man off a balcony with no sense that it was over-reacting, suggesting that the guy should have known that touching Wallace's wife in a "familiar way" was asking for trouble. For Vega, "he should have known" is a pronouncement that will come back on his own head ("judge not, lest ye also be judged, for with what judgment you measure out, it will be measured back on you.") And, when he makes a mess of Jimmy's hand towels, prompting Winfield to say "I respect you, just don't put me in this position", he shows again that he really just doesn't appreciate the efforts of people around him trying to help him out.

Vega must put the providers of good in that position. Vega is bent on his path. Even with Winfield laying it out for him in plain English, Vega with two opportunities and the attending narrative from Winfield is unable - or unwilling - to figure it out.

Mia Wallace's ketchup joke is critical. Listen to her tell it:

She tells him straight up, "You won't laugh, 'cause it's not funny. But if you still want to hear it, I'll tell it." (reminiscent of Jesus saying "he who hath an ear, let them hear.")

So she tells the joke about the baby tomato lagging behind, and the papa tomato squashing him while saying "ketchup."

This isn't a joke - it's a prophecy.

Catch up. Get with the program. Stick with the tour. Follow the bouncing ball. Vincent is the baby tomato who has been lagging behind, hasn't been keeping up...unfortunately, as a result, he's going to get squashed.

Thus, Tarantino suggests that redemption is a window of opportunity to be seized before it's too late, and that we're accountable if we miss it.

This is an unpopular and misunderstood component to the gospel message. During the mid-19th century, Seventh-day Adventists among other new American fundamental denominations had no shortage of debate about the "shut door" concept, emphasizing a "choose Christ before it's too late" message that would ultimately be seen as a fear-mongering hook to compel people to join the church. This "fire and brimstone" angle soon became the primary differentiation between "nominal" Christianity (denominations that came by boat from Europe and were generally passive) and evangelical Christianity (primarily springing up out of the new world experience as reforming and charismatic).

By the late 20th century, Christianity somewhat tired of the doom and gloom, fire-and-brimstone message, seeking rather a more inclusive, liberal expression. This trend was anticipated in 1957, when the Seventh-day Adventist Church participated in an inquiry from a consortium of nominal Christian churches which became a book entitled Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine. The essential question was “is Adventism a cult, or can they be included within Christendom?” The answers provided by Adventist denominational officials satisfied the questions, Adventism was acknowledged for its essential Christian message, and Adventists could shake off the cult label.

Adventist traditionalists, however, were not happy with the de-emphasis of the unique theological positions, nor with the “ecumenical concession” that championed the commonly shared tenets of Christianity – salvation by grace through faith, the primacy of Jesus Christ as substitutionary savior, etc. Off-shoots seeking to “restore traditional Adventism” gained steam during this time as well, such that today there is a wide conservative-to-liberal spectrum across the broader Adventist community.

The point here is, even though the trend in Christianity has generally become a more friendly application of theology, accountability does involve consequence. As was illustrated in the episode of the flood, a very broad brush stroke groups those who were on the boat vs. those who were not, and there’s not a lot of middle ground betwixt the two. Tarantino includes in Pulp Fiction the message that, unfortunately, not everyone to whom redemption is offered will ultimately accept the offer and enjoy the benefits. That's pretty gutsy, and quite in keeping with the gutsiness that would have been necessary to present the Pulp Fiction story in the first place.

However, since we see that every main character - except Vega - accepts the redemption opportunity put in front of them, Tarantino very successfully sends the message that, even though there is accountability, yet redemption is for anyone and everyone – no matter how vile and evil one’s life may be, redemption is available. So, in contrast to the gospel statement that “wide is the path to destruction that many will take, but narrow is the way to life and few will find it”, Tarantino follows the modernized emphasis of the gospel by weighting the odds in favour of a long reach of the redemption offer for most. Preachers may speak of God's power to save "from the guttermost to the uttermost"; Tarantino gives us a very clear picture of some of the gutters from which the redeemed are redeemed.

If Tarantino is to be believed, then there’s hope even for me. I'd better not miss it.

Go back to 

Installment 3 - You're judging this [expletive] the wrong way: Pulp Fiction and Miracles

Installment 4 - The Wolf is the Lamb: Pulp Fiction's Saviour-type

Installment 5 - Brett and Marvin: Pulp Fiction and the (skill-testing) question


  1. Hmmm this is a interesting way of looking at this film...you know though, I havent watched this film in its entirely..think I mean to see it from begining to end before I can give a good respose...bear with me..lol

  2. Take your time! This movie is challenging from a Christian perspective. However, like those 3D stereograms (3D images hidden within a pattern), once you've stared at it and allowed your eyes to see past what's apparent on the surface, a totally new image becomes visible that is much deeper in dimension.


What do you think?!