A scene with Quentin

Posted by @ 3:00 pm on November 19th, 2010

In Pulp Fiction, in what has become known as the “Divine intervention” scene, a guy hides inside the bathroom trembling under the weight of both his mortality and huge gun as he hears hit man Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) recite Ezekiel 25:17 before he shoots a co-conspirator who embezzled Jules’ employer.

The guy in the bathroom comes blasting out of the bathroom screaming “die motherfucker,” spraying bullets which seem to go through Jules and his partner Vincent, after which the former, due to the perceived miracle, resolves to become a spiritual man. This movie is 16 years old, and I’m not saying anything new, it’s just that I saw the film again last night and noticed something very beautiful: the guy in the bathroom’s pants are unbuttoned.

For one second, at the bottom on the frame, just like that: the all encompassing cognizance of description as a wholly sentient thing, not just a passive measure of context. We understand the hit men came into the apartment; we know the guy didn’t retreat into the bathroom, but was probably there all along; we even know he was taking a shit, but we never knew it—knew it via an intuition which doesn’t just imitate life, but replicates it. They say the most believable lies contain minutiae, and the best liars remember them.

And here I cannot help but talk about the novel’s responsibility, for me, to do the same thing. I can only think of a handful of authors (Flaubert, Joyce, D.F. Wallace, Proust) who, in a bathroom shitting scene, whould ignore the obvious toilet, fecal note, predictable smells, playful ventures through pipes into other surreal worlds, or, worse, the retreat into the shitter’s feelings—but who would simply honor the beautiful bloom of an unbuttoned pant, while also using it to implicate the psychological climate of severe imminence interrupted.

Part of the “Divine intervention” scene takes place early on in the movie, from the perspective outside of the bathroom, wherein Jules recites Ezekiel 25:17 the first time, which we hear the 2nd time in the bathroom as “simultaneous time” later on. (The fragmentation of verbal script and visual cues is wonderfully addressed in the T.S. Eliot play The Cocktail Party.) Can’t remember if I dreamed this, but I swear I heard somewhere that Quentin Tarantino was named after Faulkner’s Quentin Compson, which takes us full circle, as both Faulkner and the eponymous director do best at slicing time and perception with a shiny razor, whose surface also reflects the light, that transcriber of life, into our eyes.

Moments of such authorial gentleness are rare. In Ulysses, Leopold Blood, while taking a bath, notices his penis float up to the surface like a water lily. The flayed jeans which this post pays tribute to is Tarantino’s flower.