If you don’t want to read my long-winded article, the Politics of Lying, then just take a look at this photo and caption.
Of course, those that have actually read that article understand that I don’t see things quite this way. If you’re a typical American, then your need for drama causes you to treat your guy as a hero and the other guy as a villain. Neither is true, but as long as you treat politics that way, you’ll be rewarding them for lying and punishing them for telling the truth. They wouldn’t act like Jar-Jar Binks if you didn’t demand it of them.
Follow me on Twitter @RobertEBodine
Here’s something non-controversial. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy it, but don’t get used to it. I love to make people fight.
Last week, I saw Pulp Fiction for what seems like the 20th time, and as always, the scene that hit me emotionally was the last scene in the movie. I posted my feelings on the scene to a Facebook thread, and decided it was appropriate to make an entire blog post on it. Be warned that I use statistics from sources that aren’t always reliable, and some are reliable but reflect current circumstances rather than those of the movie’s time period. As these stats are used to make convenient assumptions about a fictional character, I offer no apologies. Just roll with it.
In the first and last scenes, Ringo (Tim Roth) and Yolanda (Amanda Plummer) rob a diner. The first time I saw the movie, at this point (i.e., up to the final scene) I’m thinking that this has been a mildly entertaining movie, though not as big a deal as everyone has told me it was. Then this scene hits. As the robbery develops, the Coffee Shop Owner (Robert Ruth) comes out and tries to deal with the robbery. He has only a couple of lines, but these lines tore into me as relatively few movie characters can do. Click here to read his lines and the surrounding dialogue. It’s not-safe-for-work, so … I don’t know; don’t read it out loud if you’re at work or around kids.
PUMPKIN: You Mexicans in the kitchen, get out here! Asta luego!
Three COOKS and two BUSBOYS come out of the kitchen.
PUMPKIN: On the floor or I’ll cook you ass, comprende?
They comprende. The portly MANAGER speaks up.
MANAGER: I’m the manager here, there’s no problem, no problem at all –
Pumpkin head his way.
PUMPKIN: You’re gonna give me a problem?
He reaches him and sticks the barrel of his gun hard in the Manager’s neck.
PUMPKIN: What? You said you’re gonna give me a problem?
MANAGER: No, I’m not. I’m not gonna give you any problem!
PUMPKIN: I don’t know, Honey Bunny. He looks like the hero type to me!
HONEY BUNNY: Don’t take any chances. Execute him!
The Patrons SCREAM. Jules watches all this silently, his hand tightly gripping the .45 Automatic under the table.
MANAGER: Please don’t! I’m not a hero. [EDIT: This is a lie.] I’m just a coffee shop manager. Take anything you want.
PUMPKIN: Tell everyone to cooperate and it’ll be all over.
MANAGER: Everybody just be calm and cooperate with them and this will be all over soon!
PUMPKIN: Well done, now git your fuckin’ ass on the ground.
So let’s summarize what happened. The robbers cleaned out the back areas and didn’t find the manager. To my recollection, he wasn’t always in the scene, which seems reasonable because he seemed to speak up as soon as he appeared. Assuming there’s a back door, he could have escaped and called the police, which would give him a decent excuse for running away from the scene. He didn’t do that, though. Instead, after likely calling 911, he exposed himself to the robbers, taking the risk that he also could be shot. In fact, he tried to place the focus – and thus, risk – squarely on himself.
Side note: The Coffee Shop Manager is standing up when he first appears on screen, and it appears he could have entered from the back of the store before speaking up. I’m assuming that’s what happened, and considering that his delay in speaking would be out-of-character from his dialogue and choices he otherwise made, I’m operating under those assumptions above. If I’m wrong, that’s a failure of filmmaking, so please leave me to my interpretation, whether true or not. Similarly, I once told my Star Wars fanatic cousin, @KesselJunkie, that I interpreted the Emperor’s disfigurement as existing prior to his fight with Mace Windu. What happened was he was weakened, and the veil of the Dark Side dropped, exposing his true appearance, which had been warped by the Dark Side long ago. At that point in the story, there was no longer a need to waste energy on that veil, so he never restored it. I couldn’t care less whether George Lucas agrees. That’s the truth for me. Non-nerds, just ignore that other example.
So who is this manager? Out of convenience, we’ll assume that he makes $52,102 (if the link doesn’t work, you may verify via a simple search on salary.com), which is today’s average for Los Angeles and excludes managers of “fine dining restaurants.” We’ll also assume that he’s in a stereotypical nuclear family, and thus has a wife and 1.2 kids at home.
What are his responsibilities? As a typical restaurant manager, he has to have a reasonably pleasant personality and patience in the face of unruly customers. Some people have these traits naturally, so that’s probably not that big a deal. He also has to be an amateur accountant, taking care of the books for the store. We’re not talking about solving differential equations here, so again, maybe this isn’t a big deal. Things get a little trickier when you consider that he has to have the knowledge of a lawyer (average salary in Los Angeles, CA of $92,899) focusing in human resources matters, but as I like to say, I have an undergraduate degree in physics. I’ve studied rocket science. In most cases, the law isn’t rocket science (exception: patenting a bigger better space rocket). So, maybe he doesn’t deserve anymore than his $52,102 salary, as many people could do that job even if they didn’t have a college degree.
According to this scene, though, we see some other skills this manager must have. He must be calm in the face of danger. He must be a psychologist (average salary in Los Angeles, CA of $90,739), being able to diffuse a potentially life-threatening situation despite his own fear. He must be an EMT (average salary in Los Angeles, CA of $33,074), because if someone gets shot, and no one else steps up to the plate to help out, he has to keep the person alive long enough for help to arrive, presumably with nothing more than a first aid kit. What if he can’t stand the sight of blood? Tough luck. It’s his job, so he has to man up and do it. Of course, he’ll probably get a plaque or something.
Still, perhaps his average salary is appropriate. Despite common American complaints about income disparity between executives and the ordinary workers, if that’s what the market bears, then that’s what it bears, and we’ll conveniently accept that. However, under the circumstances, it seems unfair to look down on this hard-working guy for being “just a restaurant worker,” but that’s what I see from most people I meet. Most people look down on those that serve them in this regard, or perhaps even worse, ignore them altogether.
And these are the people the Coffee Shop Manger is trying to save at his own tremendous risk!
I find this to be absolutely appalling treatment of this one guy, and I just can’t get past it. He’s the one and only hero in this entire movie, and one of only a few people not belonging in jail.
Some Other Good People (or at Least Not-Bad)
Pulp Fiction was a movie about a lot of bad people doing bad things to each other. While the crimes of some are more serious than the crimes of others, leaving you to prefer one over the other, in the end, no one should care if any of these guys get their comeuppance. However, there are certainly some good people in the movie, or at least people we don’t have any reason to assume are bad, and aren’t annoying (e.g., Kathy Griffin’s over-assuming Hit-and-run Witness). Butch’s mom (Brenda Hillhouse), the female cab driver, and Butch’s girlfriend, Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros), who just wants some blueberry pancakes, seem to be decent people who didn’t annoy me at all.
Of all of these other “not bad” characters, the only ones that are caught in the crossfire of the bad characters are the diner’s patrons and the Shot Woman, who was shot by Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) after trying to help at the scene. For those characters, however, there wasn’t any drama to it. Instead, it was just on-screen movie violence that, at this point, is tuned out by the average viewer. That is, we just ignore a woman getting shot in the leg, saying, “Oh, so someone got shot, huh? That’s nice.” It’s often about shock value, so even, where here, it’s a reasonable part of the story, we largely ignore it.
We can’t ignore the Coffee Shop Owner’s predicament because it’s not about shock value; it’s about drama. His predicament is handled almost completely through dialogue, and it’s front and center. It requires good acting to convey his fear and courage at the same time.
And he did it with only a few lines.
There’s one other difference between the Coffee Shop Manager and these other characters. Despite his one lie in his dialogue claiming he wasn’t a hero, only the Coffee Shop Manager was a true hero. While the Shot Lady should be commended for her willingness to help, and the result was tragic, at that point in the scene, she didn’t feel she was in any danger. She had no reason to believe Marcellus was going to be such an asshole (and let’s face it; he didn’t have any reason to shoot her). That makes her a good Samaritan and a victim. The Coffee Shop Manager, on the other hand, threw himself into ongoing danger to save people, many of whom probably didn’t respect him, knowing full well that his wife and 1.2 kids, who probably depend on his salary, would be in a very bad place if he were killed. He continued to handle the situation even after Yolanda suggests that Ringo execute him. The Coffee Shop Manager was a hero.
It’s so frustrating to see a good person treated this way.
Am I Insane?
I don’t know why this one character had so much of an impact on me. Is it because of who I am as a person, or is it because of some good acting or good filmmaking. If it’s the filmmaking, I’m surprised because, on the whole, I found the movie so-so. (My friend, Erik, pointed out, though, that even giving such a minor character that many important lines is the mark of good filmmaking, and on that I agree. I’d also say that good dramatic filmmaking requires that you empathize or sympathize with the characters, which occurred for me only in this one scene.) One thing I would like everyone to take from these thoughts is that everyone who’s working hard for a living deserves your respect. I don’t care what they do, and neither should you.
If you want to watch the scene, one viewer’s re-edit of it is below. Robert Ruth enters at about 5:50. Again, this is not-safe-for-work.
Follow me on Twitter @RobertEBodine