What ‘Shooting Marvin in the Face’ Taught Me About Making Mistakes

One of the most, if not the most, memorable scenes in the history of movie making is the shooting of Marvin in Pulp Fiction. It is a scene that completely turns the movie on its head, generates a shock value unparalleled in its nature, and leads the movie down paths that turn out to be future reference points in movie making. But I am not here to sing praise of the movie or the scene. I am here to point out something rather subtle that I observed in the scene and which has taught me a valuable lesson.

So let’s revisit the scene, shall we? Here it is, in all its glory:

Wow. Talk about shock value! Nothing hits you in the head (pun intended) more like this scene!

At about 55 seconds in, Vincent (John Travolta) shoots Marvin in the face that results in a blood and gut drenched car driving on the interstate in broad daylight, with two men in blood soaked suits in the front, and a dead, headless Marvin in the backseat! Now I am going to ask you to completely set aside the dark comic nature of the scene (no, really) and focus objectively on the way Vincent Vega reacts to the ‘incident’. Here is the transcript:

Vincent: Whoa!
Jules: What the fuck's happening, man? Ah, shit man!
Vincent: Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face.
Jules: Why the fuck did you do that!
Vincent: Well, I didn't mean to do it, it was an accident!
Jules: Oh man I've seen some crazy ass shit in my time...
Vincent: Chill out, man. I told you it was an accident. You probably went over 
a bump or something.
Jules: Hey, the car didn't hit no motherfucking bump!
Vincent: Hey, look man, I didn't mean to shoot the son of a bitch. The gun 
went off. I don't know why.
Jules: Well look at this fucking mess, man. We're on a city street in broad 
daylight here!
Vincent: I don't believe it.
Jules: Well believe it now, motherfucker! We gotta get this car off the road! 
You know cops tend to notice shit like you're driving a car drenched in fucking
blood.
Vincent: Just take it to a friendly place, that's all.

                         

Now Vincent’s first reaction to the shooting is significant. What he says is as important as the way he says it. What he says is “Oh man! I shot Marvin in the face!”. And the tone that he uses is completely out of sync with the nature of the situation at hand. Instead of completely freaking out (much like Jules does), the tone he uses is perhaps something more appropriate for far lesser ‘crimes’. Something along the lines of the following everyday oversights:

  • Oh man! I forgot to add sugar to your coffee!
  • Oh man! I forgot to charge my cell phone before heading out.
  • Oh man! I still haven’t renewed my drivers license.
  • Oh man! I spilled some milk on the floor.
  • Oh man! I locked myself out of my car.
  • Oh man! I left my debit card at the ATM machine.
  • Oh man! I missed my exit on the interstate.

You get the idea.

Now use Vincent’s tone and expressions in any of the above reactions to every day oversights, and it will seem to be rather fitting for a ‘crime’ of that significance. So how or why would Vincent use that tone after he shot a seemingly innocent kid in the backseat who just ‘didn’t even have an opinion’ about ‘divine intervention’?

The answer to that is Vincent instantly acknowledged his ‘mistake’, accepted the situation, AND forgave himself for it. And with his ‘mistake’ forgiven and firmly in hindsight (within a few seconds), he proceeds to describe the situation as such – something wrong he did in the past that he doesn’t feel attached to anymore, and having come to terms with it completely. He even proceeds to clarify that it was indeed an accident and that he had no intention to shoot Marvin.

Now make no mistake. There was a marked carelessness that preceded the shooting – Vincent holding his gun in his hand, finger in trigger, AND pointing it straight at Marvin while talking to him. It is a carelessness that could have been easily avoided, thus sparing Marvin’s life*. But our man Vincent Vega chooses not to dwell on those aspects. He perhaps acknowledged those actions of his and ensures that he doesn’t repeat them in the future. And he does so instantaneously, thereby also ensuring that he doesn’t live with the guilt and blame for the rest of his life.

*But, seriously, why on earth would anyone want to be in a world where Marvin is still alive?!?

Now let us just ask ourselves some questions here.

  • How do WE react when we or other people make mistakes?
  • How long do WE dwell on our or others’ past mistakes and situations?
  • How long do WE hold our guilt and regret over something that happened in the past?
  • What does it take for us to accept the situation for what it is and move on in our lives – free of baggage?

We all make unintended mistakes – many of them arising out of our own carelessness or indiscipline. And then we typically spend months, years (and maybe even the rest of our lives) blaming ourselves or others for them and holding varying amounts of guilt/resentment and/or living in despair. Our lives and the lives of people around us are adversely affected because of our guilt and resentment. But what if we could simply forgive ourselves the way Vincent Vega did after accidentally shooting Marvin? It doesn’t have to be instantaneous, surely. But what if we at least genuinely considered that forgiveness was an option? Wouldn’t that be a far better option than living the rest of our lives with a ‘What if’ of ‘If only’ preceding our every thought?

So let’s run by a few such situations where we shall substitute our typical reactions with what Vincent Vega would say in a similar situation:

  • Oh man! I got badly drunk the night before the <insert name of important exam> and screwed up my chances of going to college.
  • Oh man! My alcoholic mom totally screwed up my childhood.
  • Oh man! My ex cheated on me big time.
  • Oh man! My dog got run over when I was distracted on my phone.
  • Oh man! I wish I was around more often with my kids when they were growing up.

There is absolutely no attempt at humor with what I have written in the list above. I write this only to put across the point that even things mentioned in the list above (and similar) merit our acceptance and forgiveness. The path forward would lie in accepting the situation for what it is, recognizing our mistakes and role in the situation, forgiving ourselves for it, and ensuring that we do not repeat them in the future. And the first 3 are necessary to accomplish the last one because it is that much harder to not repeat the mistakes when we are still beating ourselves up over what we did in the past.

So please, whenever it is you find you are blaming yourself for something that you did or that happened in the past, just stop and ask yourself the following question:

What would Vincent Vega do?

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PS: It should be pointed out that this post was written sitting in a coffee shop and watching Vincent Vega blow Marvin’s head off on a loop! Try doing that and still having a straight face to write a post about acceptance and forgiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hidden Gem in ‘The Bonnie Situation’

So there is this movie that was released in 1994. It went on to win the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and brought to limelight a certain Quentin Tarantino. The movie goes by the name of Pulp Fiction. You may have heard of it. If you have watched it, you probably worship it. If you haven’t watched it, you WILL watch it….. and THEN you will worship it.

The Bonnie Situation: Pulp Fiction

I classify in the former. I can probably justify the worshiping aspect with the small fact that I have watched it at least 50 times (That is to say I lost count after 50). And perhaps the reason why I revisit the movie every now and then is because every time I watch it, I find something new – something I hadn’t noticed earlier. It is usually something very subtle, but profound. These moments usually get lost in the build up to a more memorable piece of dialogue which we generally look forward to on every repeat viewing. One such moment came to my attention a few weeks ago.

This takes place during ‘The Bonnie Situation’ part of the movie. This is where Jules and Vincent come to Jimmy’s (Tarantino) house to clear up the mess in their car after Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in it. Needless to say, Jimmy is visibly upset with the situation he finds himself in and does not appreciate Jules much for putting him in it. This is the part where Tarantino utters one of the most memorable dialogues ever:

“Did you notice a sign in the front of my house that said ‘Dead N****er Storage’?!!!??!!”

Everybody who watches the movie is inevitably looking forward to this piece of dialogue – whether they like to admit it or not. The sheer audacity and the matter of fact nature of Tarantino’s character helps pull it off without sounding particularly offensive or explicit. But there is no need for me to talk about that. What I intend to draw your attention to is something that follows this above mentioned line. Specifically, it is how Jules reacts to Jimmy explaining that it “ain’t there to storing dead ni**ers in his fucking business!”. Watch the clip and see if you are able to catch what Jules exactly  says to Jimmy in response to his explanation.

Caught it? Jules says it exactly at 1:00 but Jimmy overrides him with a dismissive “No, no, no…”. See it?

Well, in essence, what Jules says to Jimmy is this:

“Jimmy, we’re not gonna STORE the motherf***er…..!”

Do you believe it??!!? Amidst all the drama and tension that Jimmy is expounding, Jules makes a sincere and genuine effort to actually CLARIFY to Jimmy that they do not intend to actually STORE the ‘motherf***er’ in his house! Now how is THAT for comic and ironic humor??!??  I can’t decide which part is more funny – the sincere intention and attempt to clarify, or Jules referring to the corpse as ‘the motherf***er’! It really is a gem of a line!

Now go watch it again….and again..and again!

As I had pointed out earlier, this is one of the many instances in the movie which can easily be missed while we look forward to all the memorable parts. There really are plenty more like this. The true joy is when you discover it for yourself. I have given you a sample. Now go watch the movie a dozen times and find more for yourself! Then feel happy that you got it!