Pulp Fiction Briefcase Analysis

The briefcase in Pulp Fiction essentially serves as the movies MacGuffin, or the item the plot revolves around which has no real need to exist other than to drive the plot. Despite this, the contents of the briefcase have drawn a lot of speculation. Herein, a list of possibilities as to the contents of the briefcase will be given.

Pulp Fiction Briefcase As Containing Gold

This really is the simplest perspective, namely that the briefcase contains gold or something similar with a high monetary value. In favor of this is the manner in which the briefcase seems to shine gold onto the face of whoever opens it.

Pulp Fiction Briefcase As A MacGuffin Joke

The term ‘MacGuffin’ was popularised by the director Alfred Hitchcock to refer to any item of value that drives a plot. In essence, a MacGuffin need not be anything specific aside from the fact that the characters consider it valuable in some sense or another. The reason it is called MacGuffin is that it is derived from a Scottish joke in which two travelling men are on a train. One man points to the luggage rack and asks the other what is in a case, to which he responds that a MacGuffin is in it. When asked what a MacGuffin is, he responds that it is a device for trapping mountain lions in the Scottish highlands. The first man states that there are no lions in the Scottish high lands, to which the second says that it is no MacGuffin then. The point of the story is that people should mind their own business, which is probably the point of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. The audience, as well as the characters, are meant to mind their business about what is in the case.

Pulp Fiction Briefcase As A Symbol of Male Stoicism

It can also be argued that the briefcase in Pulp Fiction serves as a metaphor for male stoicism and the inability of men to escape it, though they may try1. The argument is something along the lines that men have a ‘heart of gold’ hidden inside an inaccessible case that they are always trying to open. To continue with this argument, Jules is the one who is placing the most effort into freeing himself from male stoicism, but still ends up leaving the diner with it.

Pulp Fiction Briefcase As Containing Marsellus Wallace’s Soul

One possible interpretation for the briefcase is that inside is stored Marsellus Wallace’s soul. Basically, the three men in the apartment are meant to be servants of the devil to which Marsellus has sold his soul. Thus, Vincent and Jules go to the apartment to get his soul back for him. There are a few bits of evidence to back this theory up, the first is that the number to unlock the briefcase is ‘666’ and that Marsellus has a band-aid on the back of his neck, which is where the devil allegedly draws out a person’s soul. The problem with this argument is that the actor Ving Rhames, who plays Marsellus, has a scar on the back of his neck which Tarantino tried to cover up rather than any specific meaning behind the band-aid.

Pulp Fiction Briefcase As A Manifestation of the Viewers Imagination

As a tie in with the MacGuffin argument, it could also be argued that the contents of the briefcase can be left up to the viewer’s imagination. This can tie well into the general post-modernist themes of Pulp Fiction in that it allows the briefcase to have different contents depending on the interpretation of the film. If the viewer takes Vincent’s logical perspective, the contents are probably just gold. If the viewer takes Jules spiritual perspective, the contents could very well be Marsellus’ soul.

Reference:

1. Fraiman, Susan (2003). Cool Men and the Second Sex. New York: Columbia University Press. Pp. 13,14.

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