Monday, October 21, 2013

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

In this fifth installment exploring Pulp Fiction's treatment of redemption, we consider Jules' famous scene with Brett; he  had asked Brett if he knew why a Quarter Pounder with cheese was called a Royale with cheese in France. Brett proved he was a smart guy, figuring out that a Quarter Pounder with cheese can’t keep the same name in France… “because of the metric system” (“Check out the big brain on Brett…you’re a smart mothe…”) It was on the basis of his right answer that Jules could “lay his vengeance upon him” – because he should have known better

Jesus often asked people questions before answering theirs, as a way to qualify them, allowing them to declare how much they know. “If they are smart enough to know this, then they’re smart enough to know that.”

Tarantino’s most intriguing treatment, though, may be on another minor character, Marvin, in three scenes.

1.  Jules asks “flock of seagulls” where the briefcase is, Marvin begins to answer and Jules most abruptly cuts him off with “I don’t remember asking you a [expletive] thing.” Marvin spoke up when it was not necessary (strike one);

2.  Vincent asks Marvin “Why didn’t you tell us there was another guy with a hand cannon hiding back there?” Marvin did not speak up when it was necessary (strike two);

3.  Later in the car, Vincent asks Marvin what he thinks about the nature of the events back at the apartment. As the 3rd part of a conversation in which opinion is evenly split (Jules says it was a miracle, Vincent says it wasn’t), Marvin essentially had the “deciding vote.” Rather than be hot or cold, Marvin opted to remain lukewarm, to sit on the fence and answer “Man, I don’t even have an opinion” which was essentially no answer to the question (strike three).

Vincent’s gun goes off, killing Marvin. He wonders if perhaps Jules hit a bump in the road while driving, which Jules emphatically rejects, “The car didn’t hit no [expletive] bump.”
Although Marvin is a minor character, he is used to demonstrate that there is neither exemption from nor circumvention of judgment. It also is noteworthy that Vincent should play such a role in Marvin’s demise, inadvertent as it was – like Marvin, he would miss his opportunities and pay the ultimate price.

Speaking of "missing"...later, when asked "Who's in the trunk?", Winston says "No one who'll be missed." Sure, it could be considered a meaningless piece of dialog, but perhaps there is something more being said. The connection here is that Marvin's apparently intended purpose was to give Vincent pause to consider his own situation. Had the lesson of Marvin resonated with Vincent, Vincent would have lived to miss Marvin. But since Vincent would not learn what the Marvin incident should have taught him, he would not live to miss him.

I tend to think the death of Vincent Vega (discussed previously) is the primary tragedy offsetting the triumph of Jules. A lot of time is spent on Vincent: he was there when Butch Coolidge made a deal with Marcellus; he was trusted to provide company to Marcellus' wife, something that, if misshandled, could have resulted in his getting thrown off a balcony, etc.

As we are first introduced to Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, we are next introduced to Vincent and Jules, and it was Vincent's vacation that provided the context for the interrogation of Brett. The minor characters of Brett and Marvin help Vincent and Jules both advance towards their destinies; and ultimately help set up the challenge to Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, who leave the restaurant and must now recognize and change, as Jules did; or miss this most miraculous opportunity at a second chance, as Vincent did.

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