“So pretty please, with sugar on top, clean the fuckin’ car”
An analysis of changes in dynamic in “The Bonnie Situation”
The beginning scene of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction involves two gangsters, Jules and Vincent, who pay an unexpected visit to the apartment of Brett, an associate of their boss, Marsellus Wallace. When they enter the apartment they find a group of men sitting around, eating Big Kahuna Burgers for breakfast. Jules and Vincent begin a tense conversation with the men in order to make them feel on edge and vulnerable. Jules proceeds to ask for a bite of Brett’s burger and a sip of his Sprite, which he drains to the bottom, as the camera zooms into a close up of his menacing stare. Not many people could provoke a stranger to allow them to eat the rest of their breakfast. Thus, this scene presents the strongest indication of the power that Jules and Vincent hold: they are intimidating and they use this trait to their advantage. Fast-forward a few minutes and the hierarchy of characters changes. A shot is accidentally fired, a man’s head is blown to pieces, and the scene of the crime is parked in a homely garage; “The Bonnie Situation” is created and the dynamic of characters, gender, and race in Pulp Fiction changes completely.
When Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in the face he and Jules must avoid the roads, which forces them to visit Jimmie, a close friend of Jules. They arrive early in the morning and find Jimmie in his bathrobe holding a cup of freshly brewed coffee, an image that causes him to appear comically similar to a housewife.
Jimmie is not amused as he stands in his bathrobe early in the morning
This housewife characterization is enhanced when we learn that Jimmie’s wife Bonnie has spent a long night at work while Jimmie is at home, and that she will be angry to the point of divorce if she finds “a bunch of gangsters doin’ a bunch of gangsta’ shit in her kitchen” (Pulp Fiction 115). This idea of Jimmie as a househusband is exacerbated when Jules attempts to strike up a friendly conversation with Jimmie. Jimmie dismisses him and lectures the men instead, almost as if he is their mother: “knock it off Julie… I’m talkin’. Now let me ask you a question, Jules. When you drove in here, did you notice a sign out front that said, ‘Dead nigger storage?’… Answer the question” (112-113). Jimmie’s choice of language during the lecture facilitates the change in character dynamic. For example, Jimmie refers to Jules as “Julie” and demands that he answers his questions, which highlights the idea that the men’s statuses are demoted and stresses the image of Jimmie as a mother-like and feminine character. In addition, Jimmie’s unexpected “dead nigger storage” comment emphasizes the changes in character hierarchy and also in race relations that occur in “The Bonnie Situation.” Being a white man, it seems taboo that Jimmie uses this sort of language, especially directly towards a black man. Although, upon careful observation, we realize that Bonnie is black, which seems to give Jimmie an entrance to this type of lingo. We also realize that Jimmie does not use the term in a derogatory manner; he uses it to make his points blatantly clear. The phrase “dead nigger storage” provokes both our and Jules’ attentions and alerts us to the gruesome nature of Jules’ and Vincent’s line of work. Tarantino’s inclusion of this line creates an instance in which Jimmie uses motherly “tough love” and talks down to Jules in order to express his concern over his lifestyle. Essentially, the men are forced to learn “the language of humility”; because of their actions they are lectured with intense language, which causes them to temporarily become more humble characters. Finally, we see Jimmie’s lecture from a reverse angle shot, or a shot that shows the second participants in a dialogue; in this case, Jimmie’s point of view of Jules and Vincent as he lectures them.
Reverse angle shot of Jules and Vincent as the mother-like Jimmie lectures them
The use of the reverse angle shot along with the terse language allows us to read Jules’ and Vincent’s reactions while they are lectured. This enhances the change in character hierarchy from experiencing “the language of humility”, as they appear defenseless and wrong, rather than their usual intimidating selves. This tense interaction sheds light on the change in dynamic that arises from Jimmie’s language choice; usually Jules and Vincent would call the shots, but due to Vincent’s mistake, they are reduced to childlike characters who have just gotten in trouble with their “mother”.
When Jules and Vincent arrive at Jimmie’s house and learn that Bonnie will return home shortly, Jules calls Marsellus and alerts him to the situation at hand. In reaction, Marsellus sends in his best man for the job: The Wolf. Just as Jimmie becomes a mother figure to the sibling-like Jules and Vincent, The Wolf becomes a father figure. From the second he arrives at Jimmie’s home The Wolf takes command. When he walks through the door The Wolf already knows the names and faces of everyone involved in “The Bonnie Situation” and immediately gives orders to correct the mess. He tells Jules and Vincent to clean the car and asks Jimmie to find dark linens to cover up the bloodstained interior of the vehicle. When Vincent hears these orders he retorts, “a ‘please’ would be nice” to which The Wolf replies, “Get this straight, Buster. I’m not here to say ‘please’. I’m here to tell you want to do… So pretty please, with sugar on top, clean the fuckin’ car” (120-121). The Wolf ‘s terse language suggests that he is like a frustrated father to the men who are, once again, portrayed as childlike siblings. Additionally, The Wolf’s choice of “buster” as a nickname and his use of the childlike “pretty please” are another case of language used to demote Jules and Vincent. Finally, when Jimmie and The Wolf make Jules and Vincent strip down in the backyard and clean them off with the garden hose, it is as if the men are brothers that got dirty playing outside and must be washed off by their parents before being allowed back in the house, which again alerts us to the change in character dynamic that occurs in “The Bonnie Situation.”
Jules and Vincent are washed down in the garden
Beyond the change in character hierarchy, “The Bonnie Situation” also highlights changes in gender roles in Pulp Fiction. As mentioned, Jimmie is portrayed in a very cliché feminine way. When Jules and Vincent first enter Jimmie’s home we watch as they clean the blood off of their hands. After Vincent dries his hands and produces a formerly white, now bloodstained hand towel Jules exclaims, “what the fuck did you just do to his towel?” (111). Jules’ concern over the bloody towel stresses the idea of Jimmie as a feminine character; we get the impression that they are two brothers who have ruined their mother’s best linen. The reversal of gender roles continues when we see Jimmie in his bathrobe, and he describes the superior taste of his coffee: “I don’t need you to tell me how good my coffee is. I’m the one who buys it, I know how fuckin’ good it is. When Bonnie goes shoppin, she buys shit” (112-113). Jimmie’s language allows us to view him as a housewife; he goes shopping because he believes his wife does not know how. Finally, The Wolf’s arrival creates another instance of Jimmie as a feminine character. While the men analyze the condition of the car, The Wolf dismisses Jimmie to make him a cup of coffee, like a good hostess would. Later, we see Jimmie explain to The Wolf that he simply cannot give up his best linens to disguise the car because they are very expensive and were given to him and Bonnie as a wedding gift. The camera zooms in on the two men in order to highlight The Wolf’s reply to Jimmie; he removes a very large wad of cash and supplies Jimmie with money from “Uncle Marsellus” to buy a new set, as if he is a husband-like provider for Jimmie. Additionally, the tighter camera shot allows us to read Jimmie’s expression; he watches intently as The Wolf counts out bills, as if Jimmie’s only source of money is to have it handed out to him.
The Wolf treats Jimmie to a new linen set.
Jimmie is displayed as a cliché, submissive feminine character and the gender roles and the dynamic of the movie are changed.
Pulp Fiction as a whole is a remark on the way in which its main characters view life; for some it is divine, while for others it is a very human struggle. If Vincent did not accidentally shoot Marvin, which demoted himself and Jules to childlike characters, then Jules may never have gained his perception on “the path of the righteous man”; they would simply continue on with their commanding gangster mentalities because they would never have faced this sort of humbling chaos or learned “the language of humility”. Additionally, Tarantino’s creation of Jimmie as a feminine, mother-like character who uses brusque language to challenge the taboos of race further enhances Jules’ and Vincent’s perspectives on life. Jimmie’s concern about the work that the men do and its terrible outcomes is reflected in his lecture to the men and causes Jules to realize the dark nature of his work, which leads to his decision to retire. Without the changes in character hierarchy, race relations, and gender roles highlighted by the use of language in “The Bonnie Situation”, we would never experience these outlooks on life that make Pulp Fiction such a success.
“Cinematic Techniques.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.
Pulp Fiction. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Perf. Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Bruce Willis. Miramax, 1994. DVD.
Pulp Fiction. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Perf. Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Bruce Willis. Miramax, 1994. Transcript.