Religion & Pulp Fiction 

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"Trying hard to be the Shepard..." :
The Theme of Redemption in Pulp Fiction

Jules Winnfield 

While Tarantino’s post-modern film structure makes it difficult for viewers to determine good from evil, Jules and Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) have been widely interpreted as the film’s dominant heroes.


At the beginning of Pulp Fiction, Jules is a cold-blooded killer. He kills 3 men within the first few scenes of the movie and does not bat an eyelash. However, after Jules and Vincent nearly escape death, Jules is awoken from his amoral life of violence by an act of God, which he refers to as “divine intervention.” 


*Scene begins at 1:20 
Warning: The scene contains violence and coarse language. Viewer discretion is advised. 

While Vincent is unfazed by the seemingly miraculous event that occurred, Jules becomes a changed man. Whether this act was truly a miracle or not is unimportant. What is significant is the transformation within Jules. According to Todd F. Davis and Kenneth Womack , "Jules's metamorphosis leads to spiritual redemption, and, ultimately--after accepting the possibility of miracles in a postmodern world--to his disavowal of "the life."" This act of God causes the gangster to open his eyes to the destructive nature of his meaningless life, and to leave behind Marcellus Wallace’s (Ving Rhames) capitalistic world.


This transformation is best illustrated at the end of the film when Jules and Vincent are sitting in a diner eating breakfast. While eating his muffin and drinking his coffee, Jules has what he calls a "moment of clarity". 


*Warning: This scene contains coarse language. Viewer discretion is advised. 


Jules realizes he has a higher purpose in life, although he is unsure of what exactly that is. He resolves that he will "walk the earth" and follow God's will, until he is led to his true calling. Jules' decision to "walk the earth" illustrates his final rejection of nihilism and materialism. He no longer needs money or other material objects to define him. 


Jules transformation from gangster to religious Shepard continues in the following scene as he no longer resorts to violence and instead offers guidance to another lost soul. 


*Warning: Scene contains coarse language. Viewer discretion is advised. 


In this scene, Jules recites Ezekiel 25:17 for the final time. Previously, this bible verse immediately coincided with death. However, upon reflecting on his life, Jules reinterprets the religious quote, "the redemptive act of re-reading the text of his life, then, allows Jules to glimpse for the first time the prospects of faith, hope, and love--possibilities that the stasis of his past life, in its devotion to death, could never offer" (Davis & Womack). Jules leaves the diner a changed man, giving up the life of a gangster in favour of following God's will. 


The metamorphosis of Jules illustrates that redemption is possible for all who seek God's forgiveness - even murderous gangsters. 

Butch Coolidge 

Similar to Jules, Butch has fallen into a bad path and finds himself making a deal with the devil - Marcellus Wallace. Butch trades his dignity for money, agreeing with Marcellus to throw his boxing match. However, Butch is unable to ignore his inherently good moral instincts and, instead of throwing the match, he kills his opponent in the ring. Butch rejects the capitalistic ideals represented by Marcellus and his money and maintains his dignity. 


Butch's most challenging ethical test comes when he must decide whether or not to save his enemy, Marcellus, from sodomy and potential death. Although only moments before Butch was going to kill the evil gangster himself, his morals prohibit him from leaving Marcellus to masochistic hillbilly duo. While Butch dislikes Marcellus and all that he stands for, he has a general compassion for others and could not let even the evil Mr. Wallace suffer. 


After saving Marcellus, Butch is now even with the mobster and is finally a free man. Butch flees the scene, riding away on a motorcycle symbolically named "Grace". Butch's escape from both Marcellus and Zed the rapist illustrates the saving grace of God. Although he made a deal with the devil, by listening to his morals and following God's will, Butch is redeemed and saved. 


Both Butch and Jules are able to transcend the nihilistic world of Marcellus Wallace and follow the "righteous path". Their transformations demonstrate that redemption is possible for all who accept the values of God. Furthermore, God forgives all who seek his forgiveness. 

Created by Jordan Steinhauer for Dr. Jennifer Porter's Religion 2812 class at Memorial University. 

*sources for all media can be found be clicking the picture or video.