June 22, 2019


Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" and Flannery O'Connor (Dwight Longenecker, June 21st, 2019, Imaginative Conservative)

What glimmers of light do we spy in O'Connor's weird stories? Grace penetrates the fantastic freaks and gothic grotesqueries. Like light filtering through cracks of a dungeon wall, there are moments of enlightenment. The grandmother touches the Misfit tenderly the moment before he shoots her, and in her final moment grim reality finally punctures the facade of her smug self-righteousness. A calm resignation penetrates the story as Motes pursues an ascetic life in recompense for his insane violence. Some power is unleashed in the midst of the horror--a power that could not be at work in the same way without the horror.

Whether Mr. Tarantino intended it or not, the same tremor of redemption and hints of grace reverberate within his terrible film. The gangster Jules believes he was spared from the bullets intended for him by a miracle, and he decides to turn from crime to be what we might recognize as a holy fool--a wandering pilgrim. Butch the boxer saves Marsellus Wallace (the man who was about to kill him) from the depraved rapists, and he himself is spared only by a seeming coincidence from being killed by Vincent Vega. Does the working of grace echo through Pulp Fiction as it does through the work of Flannery O'Connor?

There doesn't seem to be anything in Mr. Tarantino's other work or in his own comments on the film to indicate an awareness of theological depth that might underscore the story. And yet there is that curious detail... after Butch escapes the torture chamber and returns to rescue his enemy Marsellus, he rides off into the sunset on a chopper motorcycle with the word "Grace" emblazoned on the tank.

Are Pulp Fiction and the work of O'Connor witnesses to the absurdity, violence, and insanity of nihilism, or are they pointers to the prevailing power of Providence? The fractured structure of Mr. Tarantino's film and the episodic and seemingly disjointed structure of O'Connor's Wise Blood smell of nihilism: "There is no structure here," we want to say, "There is no meaning, no overarching narrative. All is random. All is meaningless."

Yes, but at the end of the film, and at the end of O'Connor's stories with their famous sting in the tail, the light of Providence glimmers tantalizingly. So there was a meaning after all! But it was not the meaning I was expecting. So there was a plot line and structure after all! But it was not the structure I was expecting.

And isn't that what life within the adventure of faith is all about?

Nevermind the Obligatory Crucifix Scene, Mr. Tarantino even includes a resurrection.

Posted by at June 22, 2019 7:02 AM