10 Marvellous Movie MacGuffins

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The Suitcase of Marcellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction

vincent-vega-opens case in-pulp-fiction

The suitcase is possibly one of the most discussed aspects of Tarantino’s 1994 masterpiece, Pulp Fiction. It is an almost constant presence in the film – if not physically, then certainly in influence. It is the motivation of Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L Jackson) – whose actions with regard to the suitcase impact upon every other character in one way or another.

They have been tasked with retrieving the suitcase from a trio of nervous gentlemen who apparently stole it from the powerful and dangerous Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). We see Vincent open the suitcase – the combination for which is the number ‘666’ – and observe only his stunned expression bathed in an otherworldly glow. There is no mention of the content – we only know that it is of the utmost importance to Wallace, and Jules and Vincent are going to get it to him.

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The suitcase is the classic Tarantino MacGuffin. As a filmmaker, he routinely inserts scenes and plot devices into his stories that silently encourage the audience to project their own sensibilities onto the action, by way of omitting specific elements. In the same way that the infamous ‘ear-cutting scene’ in Reservoir Dogs had people physically reacting to a technically unseen act of violence, the suitcase allows the viewer to project their own ideas into the story.

Some have suggested that it contains something relatively mundane, yet beautiful, such as gold or jewels. Some have noted the ‘glowing light’ reference as a call-back to anything from 1955’s Kiss Me Deadly to 1981’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark, or even 1984’s Repo Man. Perhaps the most interesting interpretation of the suitcase is that it contains the soul of Marcellus Wallace, who is seen early on in the film with a sticking plaster on the back of his head. In itself, that theory essentially turns Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction into a Coen Bros homage, which highlights the brilliance of the Tarantino MacGuffin.

Tarantino famously litters his films with homage, but none are greater than his regular nods to the audience – providing them with the means to take his work and make it meaningful in a personal way, just by doing things like hiding an orange lightbulb in a suitcase.

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