23 September 2021 412 Views

#WTAF @ #TBT : What is in THAT Briefcase in PULP FICTION?

by James Murphy

Weird Theories about Film (WTAF). PULP FICTION. 

On a Twitter day where this movie title is trending? Makes sense to revisit this old question. WHAT IS IN THAT BRIEFCASE? 

What we know: it glows when opened and people seem shocked when they see its contents. Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) owns it and has entrusted the guarding to two henchmen ( Vincent and Jules: John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson). And movie fans have speculated as to what is inside said case for over 25 years now.

There is no definitive answer. Just some weird, wonderful and fascinating theories. It is proof that some movies live on, years beyond release, with or without sequels / prequels etc.

What MIGHT be in there? Let’s have a think.

1: Marcellus’ soul: 

This makes thematic sense. He has a plaster on his neck, unexplained. The man enjoys seemingly supreme power and inspires fear. The results of a Faustian pact, off camera? Maybe. The case combination appears to be ‘666’.

There is the circumstantial clue of Jules being a born again religious evangelist, eager to abandon the inanity of contract murder. IE: the custodian of the case is himself a personification of the bridge between good and evil.

Meanwhile, Marcellus himself enters a kind of underworld dungeon hell. Tortured by a demonic gimp, Marcellus thereby learns the virtue of mercy. Notice: releasing the Boxer (Bruce Willis) whose death Wallace had ordered, previously.

Hence the briefcase glows, as the soul returns to the man who had initially sold it? All works, just about. But it remains subtext and speculation; an hermeneutic evolution from viewers rather than necessarily a supernatural twist by Tarantino (though he does not rule those out as seen by his involvement with From Dusk til Dawn).


Marcellus is a gangster. So he would deal in precious materials. He is unlikely to restrict his activity or trading currency to mere paper money, drugs or arms / other commodities.

It is therefore entirely plausible, both in movie logic and in the real world, that his minions are carrying a large amount of some precious material (like gold) which therefore glows upon its being seen once the case is opened. But a new variation. Gold as energy source, maybe? Or weaponised, ready to arm?

The drawback here is that if the find is so big and precious then why would a man of Marcellus’ cunning entrust his prize to two fairly limited in skill and rank, casual couriers? Yes, they are hit men and bag men. But even so, would YOU trust them with this? Too many opportunities for damage, loss, double cross etc.


Ignorance is bliss here. Perhaps Tarantino was pulling a Hitchcock. As in, the case is simply whatever YOU want it to be! It is an excuse for set pieces, a call to adventure, a deus ex machina etc. ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός (apò mēkhanês theós) ‘god from the machine’.

So yes, that COULD be supernatural but equally, might simply be a case with a bright light inside. Think MacGuffins: do we ever REALLY know what is on that microfilm in NORTH BY NORTHWEST? No. Because we do not NEED to!

And remember that the whole point of PULP FICTION and indeed, many Tarantino products, is a meta exercise in dissection of movie tropes and historical /literary trends.

Much like JJ ABRAMS, so, this briefcase is a ‘mystery box’ and perhaps best kept that way? cf: Rabbit’s Foot, M:I-3. As in, we know its power by NOT knowing the precise identity of the item, so preserving the essential magic, menace and mystery of the film, forever!

In short?

This case is film itself. Self knowledge, awareness and a meta-text within a labyrinth of never ending, organic, hermeneutical speculation. The characters all reflect that dynamic, as does the bending timeframe in plotline.

To open the case is to see the connection between plot, character, fact and (pulp) fiction. They witness their own role in a never-ending cycle of storytelling. It is the magic of movies. So it glows! But even then, we may and indeed perhaps should never know the ultimate truth in this (brief) case.

And THAT is why PULP FICTION is a timeless classic, among its many other notable qualities.


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