Pulp Fiction is a 1994 drama about the lives of two mob hitmen, a boxer, a gangster’s wife, and a pair of diner bandits that intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.
Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day and this diner is certainly a great place to ponder over a muffin the direction your life is going … or maybe just muse over the more potent life questions like: Why does nobody rob restaurants?
Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-nominated second film might possibly be one of the most quoted and homaged films of all time. It and his debut Reservoir Dogs announced him as an exciting new talent to watch, yet Pulp Fiction kicked down doors and demanded attention with its sharp dialogue and impressive visuals, including gore soaked hitmen, an impossibly hip dance sequence, and the almost sensuous way he shows a heroin shot. On release, there was unquestionably something about this film that felt fresh.
Pulp Fiction is also a film that sees the director posing a lot of questions about life filtered through general conversation in much the same way that Kevin Smith’s debut Clerks had Randal and Dante questioning the possibility of things like Death Star contractors. Here, Tarantino has his crooks posing their own questions about their world’s the most memorable, starting with the film’s opening monologue in which Ringo (Tim Roth) and Yolanda (Amanda Plummer) aka Pumpkin and Honey Bunny – a pair of crooks / lovers question why nobody sticks up restaurants?
Unlike “Jack Rabbit Slims,” which was sadly not a real restaurant, the diner we see here at the start of Pulp Fiction was an actual restaurant with these scenes being shot on location at the Hawthorne Grill, located south of the Los Angeles Airport until it was turned into an AutoZone auto parts store … no doubt missing out on the kind of tourist oddity that still see’s people screwing around on the crossing at Abbey Road.
Perhaps looking to replicate the equally memorable diner opening of Reservoir Dogs where questions about the meaning of Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” sprang up, here the discussion is more philosophical. However, while Tarantino might have wanted us to believe that this pair are nothing more than a young innocent couple, it’s clear partway through this discussion that they are no simple civilians. It ends in a moment of violence that not only serves to open the film but also bookends it through hitmen Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta), bringing the story full circle from a different perspective. Of course if you look in the background during the opening you can see Vincent heading off to the bathroom, reminding us that both the opening and ending are taking place on the same timeline and just one of several small details that Tarantino includes throughout the film.
Now, while the opening might seem like a sparkling piece of back and forth dialogue between the diners – soon to be robbers – it’s through this location that we learn a lot about this pair, much the same way we will about Jules and Vincent when we return at the end of the film. But for the moment let’s stick with Ringo and Yolanda.
Tarantino has frequently shown an affinity for Bonnie and Clyde, starting with Clarence and Alabama in True Romance, giving nearly all of his films a criminal couple. Even Reservoir Dogs contains a reference to Mr. White’s previous partner Alabama, which in a fun piece of world-building would have been the same Alabama from True Romance whose original script saw Clarence killed in the finale shootout, leaving her free to work with Mr. White. Ringo and Yolanda to this extent are a classic example of a Tarantino crime couple as they are both professionals with their own code of honour, in this case one which sees them favouring a non-violent approach to their work. Of course judging by their actions within the diner it would be hard to see them as non-violent criminals were it not for this key moment of dialogue between the two:
RINGO / PUMPKIN: We keep on, one of these gook motherf*ckers gonna make us kill ‘im.
YOLANDA / HONEY BUNNY: I’m not gonna kill anybody.
RINGO / PUMPKIN: I don’t wanna kill anybody either.
For this pair the use of guns are merely as a scare tactic to ensure through the use of fear that people comply with their demands. While at the same time they both seem almost bemused at the idea of using a more non-violent means as Ringo highlights a bank heist pulled off with a mobile phone, especially the idea of them applying this method to the liquor stores they have been holding up.
What is so great about this opening monologue is that until the gun is introduced, we could assume they are just a regular couple musing over what-if? situations, almost like they are living out a Bonnie and Clyde fantasy over coffee and eggs. The obvious affectionate stares they share and playful put downs from Honey Bunny, who tells Pumpkin that he sounds like a duck when he gets fired up and that he’s never going to act upon his big man talk. Of course their true intentions, along with a surprisingly dark side from Yolanda, serve as the final twist to the scene, almost perfectly setting up the tone for the film ahead.
Returning to the diner at the end of the film, this time following Hitman Jules and Vincent, we are again are given a pair of characters attempting to deal with their own philosophical questions, in particular Jules, who after a string of incidents now believes that it is a sign for him to take a different path than the one he is currently on much to the dismay of Vincent, who on the other hand is convinced that everything can be put down to coincidence. Disregarding Jules’ plans to go on a spiritual walkabout or as he proposes “walk the earth”:
VINCENT: What do you mean, walk the earth?
JULES: You know, like Caine in “KUNG-FU.” Just walk from town to town, meet people, get in adventures.
What the diner represents to both these characters is a potential crossroads especially, when it’s here over breakfast and coffee both will make the key choices that will affect the path their lives will take with Jules choosing to walk away from this life. Vincent on the other hand chooses in this moment not to follow Jules and continues on his current path and as we discover in the middle story “The Gold Watch” ends up [bg_collapse view=”link-inline” color=”#4a4949″ icon=”zoom” expand_text=”Show Spoiler” collapse_text=”Close Spoiler” ]being killed by his own weapon while attempting to carry out a hit on the Boxer Butch (Bruce Willis)[/bg_collapse].
So what about Ringo and Yolanda? As we see at the start of the film, they have already made their choice to stick up the diner, which it can be assumed is their path to follow. However, it’s here that Tarantino throws an unexpected curveball into the situation for its in this diner that they find themselves being countered by Jules and Vincent and no doubt would have come to the end of their own path had Jules not had his spiritual revelation. However, it’s during this confrontation that the pair are given a second chance to reconsider their path as an intense showdown leads into what almost feels like a sermon conducted by Jules as he openly questions the meaning of his beloved “Ezekiel 25:17” scripture, which has served as his calling card for the hits he’s carried out for years, never thinking more about it than the fact that he:
“thought it was some cold-blooded shit to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass”
It’s also during this moment that it’s clear Jules is attempting to be a better person or “the shepherd” as while he could easily kill Ringo to stop them stealing the case he’s already gone one hell of a day to retrieve for his boss, instead giving them their own second chance at being better people. It should be noted that he still allows them to leave with their take from the heist, no doubt Tarantino’s belief that a new life is going to cost money and not money that can be obtained through more traditional means, especially when we consider how Ringo and Yolanda dismiss day jobs as a viable income option during the opening. However, from the almost numb and defeated way they choose to leave the diner something has clearly changed for the couple. This is their chance to take a different path with this encounter with a pair of hitman on the tail end of one hell of a bad morning is presenting them with the realisation of how their current path could end.
Sure it might seem like a convenient location to open and end the story but it’s here over coffee, bacon and a muffin that these four strangers will be given a second chance to change their paths whether it’s through self realisation or being presented with a vision of how their journey could end. Yes, by this point we have been presented with such a bombardment of visual flair and quotable dialogue that this final scene is so often forgotten when we discuss the film but when you look at the most important elements of the story, it’s not what’s in the briefcase or what they call a quarter pounder with cheese in France but what happens right here that really has the most impact on these characters.