This post contains strong language as well as spoilers.
(Can you have spoilers for a film from 1994?)
Pulp Fiction is an undisputed masterpiece, a film so enshrined in popular culture that you can actually buy a replica version of Jules’ Bad Motherfucker wallet. It’s probably one of the most quoted and quotable films of all time, and has been parodied an uncountable number of times. It’s a wonderfully twisted, maverick movie full of paradoxes, coincidences and ultra violence. And coffee.
Coffee and diners play an important part in many Quentin Tarantino movies, but Pulp Fiction probably has the most instances of people drinking, dropping, or talking about coffee.
With what essentially amounts to a featured supporting role, coffee shows up constantly throughout the various story strands:
- The opening scene involves Amanda Plummer’s Honey Bunny and Tim Roth’s Pumpkin, drinking coffee and discussing their line of work. They are stickup artists holding up liquor stores and such, and wondering whether they should move up to banks in order to make more money. Then they hit upon the idea of robbing the diner they’re sitting in, and thus we enter the violent world of Tarantino, with it’s interlinked stories of two hitmen, their boss, his wife, and a washed up boxer named Butch (Bruce Willis).
- Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) is carrying coffee and doughnuts when he’s hit by Butch’s car, triggering the second story.
- In the flashback to Butch’s childhood when his father’s war buddy gives him his father’s watch - the watch was kept for a time in an old coffee can, before it was infamously kept somewhere... much more personal.
- The final scene sees the two hitmen, Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta), having breakfast in the aforementioned diner, with the aforementioned bandits on the other side of the room having their aforementioned conversation about liquor stores and banks.
The scene which features coffee most prominently is when Jules and Vincent take a dead body to Jimmie’s house to dispose of it. Jimmie (Tarantino, hamming it up good) makes them coffee and Jules utters the immortal words:
“Goddamn Jimmie, this is some serious gourmet shit.”
The conversation devolves from there, but that line remains a dependable compliment for any impressive cup of coffee.
As does The Wolf's (Harvey Keitel) response when Jimmie asks him how he takes his coffee: "Lotta cream, lotta sugar."
This is the sort of scenario Tarantino relishes and always handles expertly. The straightforward nonchalance of the conversation is juxtaposed with the brutality of the situation: Jules and Vincent sip coffee while drenched in blood and with a dead body in the car.
In the final scene, when Jules has his revelation after witnessing a miracle he does so while drinking a cup of coffee:
“Yeah, I was sitting here, eating my muffin and drinking my coffee and replaying the incident in my head, when I had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity.”
The miracle - being shot at from point blank range and emerging unscathed - affects him to the point of deciding to give up his life of crime and walk the earth, “You know, like Caine in Kung Fu”.
“So you decided to be a bum?” retorts Vincent.
Tarantino has mentioned his affinity for coffee shops in the past as a place to meet and talk with friends. Similarly, coffee anchors the characters in Tarantino movies, grounding them in their environment, making them more real.