Friday, January 02, 2009

What's a Miracle, Vincent?

Last night I watched Pulp Fiction for the first time ever.

There are reasons that I would not recommend this to . . . maybe anyone, although that might be hypocritical, since I seem to be glad I watched it. Maybe because the (admittedly obscenity-, profanity-, and potentially violence-laden--like the rest of the movie) scene at the very end is surprisingly redemptive. There's even a Christ-allusion, though the character through which it comes has been anything but Christlike for the better part of the film.

The lead-in to the scene is this rather intriguing dialogue (stolen from Wikiquote and slightly censored by me):

Jules: Man, I just been sitting here thinking.
Vincent: About what?
Jules: About the miracle we just witnessed.
Vincent: The miracle you witnessed. I witnessed a freak occurrence.
Jules: What is a miracle, Vincent?
Vincent: An act of God.
Jules: And what's an act of God?
Vincent: When, um … God makes the impossible possible … but this morning I don't think qualifies.
Jules: Hey, Vincent, don't you see? That s*** don't matter. You're judging this s*** the wrong way. I mean, it could be that God stopped the bullets, or He changed Coke to Pepsi, He found my f****** car keys. You don't judge s*** like this based on merit. Now, whether or not what we experienced was an "according to Hoyle" miracle is insignificant. What is significant is that I felt the touch of God. God got involved.
Vincent: But why?
Jules: Well, that's what's f****** with me. I don't know why, but I can't go back to sleep.
I'm intrigued by the philosophical dimensions of this dialogue. (The fact that it is, believe it or not, one of the less obscene ones in the film is not unsignificant either.) For one thing, the idea that you "don't judge [a purported miracle] based on merit" seems to me to be similar to what we talked about that time we were talking about taking God shopping.

But I'm also curious about defining a miracle by the receptivity of the person experiencing it. In the case of Jules and Vincent, both experienced the exact same event--in which neither of them died though they should have ("should," both according to laws of morality and probability). But Vincent thought they got lucky, and Jules thought God was reaching into his life to redirect him.

So who was right? I know this is just, well, Fiction, and everything, but it could happen in real life, and if it did, is the miracle the event that kept both men from being riddled with bullets, even though Vincent was "spiritually blind" enough not to see it? Or was the real miracle that Jules was able to see God's hand in the situation? It's kind of a postmodernist "the reader is always right" sort of approach to things, but I'm not sure that's entirely faulty here.

It's also kind of like the "If a tree falls in the woods" conundrum. Are there inherently miraculous events which only have merit if someone manages to acknowledge it? Or are there only events, whether specifically God-ordained or ones that happen that He simply works through, such that the real miracle is always when a person responds? We love because He first loved us, and are any of us capable of responding without His nudge?


Cliff said...

When I first read the post title on the RSS feed I thought this was going to be something based off the old CBS TV show "Beauty and the Beast." That would have been pretty cool, but the fact you've gone and done one on "Pulp Fiction" is that much cooler. *AND* you make a fantastic point!

Hello, again! :)

chris said...

Billy said...

I think you should change the name of your blog From Jennwith2ns to HoneyBunnywith2ns... Just a thought.

Be Cool, Be Fonzie!

Jenn said...

Cliff--hello! And, oddly enough, I never saw that show . . . You would think I would have been more likely to see THAT than Pulp Fiction.

Chris--um . . . huh? (I'm not quite as smart as you, remember?)

Billy--ha. ha. (Actually, that was awesome.)

Jeff said...

Pulp Fiction is an amazing and challenging movie.
On the topic of the whole "Is Redemption a theme of Pulp Fiction" question, there's this whole school of thought about what item the Samuel L. Jackson character and the John Travolta characters are reclaiming. Some people suggest-- with reasonable evidence-- that it was in fact the soul of the lead drug deal guy from hell. I've heard-- though never seen direct refences-- that behind-the-camera folks were actually frustrated with the scene where they open the brief case and it's all glow-y and creepy looking. They'd wanted to leave it ambiguous and felt like that scene tipped their hands toward the supernatural.
While I'm pretty sure our souls can't get stolen back and thrown in a brief case, it does make an interesting point about redemption-- perhaps the idea is that we think we're fighting for the redemption of others, but ultimately, in this battle, it's really our own salvation that gets worked out. (With much fear and trembling.)
Perhaps the whole miracle thing is a part of it: maybe a miracle's point isn't so much making you not get hit by bullets as to help you recognize that their is a God who intervened. Percieiving the situation atheistically then, turns it into a not-miracle because the whole reason for the miracle has been missed.

A rather insightful friend of mine has observed that the reason this film works so well is that the excessive violence is counterpointed and highlighted by the down-to-earth dialogue. (Remember the great discussions about big macs, foot massages, etc.)
I think it might be true that the excessive violence is also highlighted and counter pointed by this subtle, generally unspoken spiritual element.

Finally, as I sit here typing this, it occurs to me that their might be something spiritual hiding in the both silly and Macbeth-esque seens around trying to clean up after the murders.

Jenn said...

Jeff--I feel like I missed some of what was going on in some of the earlier dialogues, such that I had a really hard time figuring out exactly what the different "episodes" had to do with each other (besides overlapping people). But if it was Marcellus Wallace's soul that was being redeemed, it does make a lot more sense. (It also makes Chris' link make a lot more sense--to me--particularly as the event which happened to MW chronologically afterwards was anything but "glorious" and was certainly more than humiliating.) Thanks for elucidating.

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