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Film

The classic film that inspired the briefcase scene in Quentin Tarantino masterpiece 'Pulp Fiction'

Quentin Tarantino has directed a number of interesting features over the years, but his legacy is still defined by his achievements during the 1990s, a period which had an enormous impact on the landscape of American cinema. More than any other film, it was Pulp Fiction that caught the attention of film fans all over the world and established Tarantino as a modern auteur.

A truly postmodern piece of film art, Pulp Fiction explored the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles through non-linear narrative strands featuring eccentric characters. Tarantino had always conceptualised cinematic narratives in a way that was similar to literary storytelling which is why Pulp Fiction comes across a visual novel.

Building on Tarantino’s unique framework of arthouse action and violence, Pulp Fiction’s momentum is carried forward by the strange monologues and the conversational screenwriting. These provide a philosophical foundation to the depictions of human depravity and social imbalances on the screen, drawing the viewer into a dark and disturbing world.

Since its release, Pulp Fiction has been extensively discussed by film critics and fans on various online forums. One of the major questions that keep popping up from time to time is: “What’s in the briefcase?”. This is in reference to the iconic briefcase whose contents will probably remain unknown forever.

Designed as a MacGuffin, the mystery briefcase was locked with the code – 666 – which has generated a lot of fan theories since it has a lot of religious connotations. Although Tarantino has consistently refused to explain the source of the golden glow within the briefcase, some fans have claimed it contained the soul of Marsellus Wallace.

Tarantino believes that the viewer’s understanding of the contents of the briefcase is highly personal and subjective but the symbolism of the briefcase itself wasn’t an invention at all. In fact, it was inspired by the seminal 1955 film noir by Robert Aldrich called Kiss Me Deadly which had an identical scene.

In Aldrich’s work, the mysterious box that gave off the ghastly glow contained radioactive material as a metaphor for the horrors of nuclear warfare. Visual references to the mystery box scene in Kiss Me Deadly can be found in various other films as well, ranging from Alex Cox’s brilliant Repo Man to Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Due to this extended genealogy of the glowing symbol, many scholars have noted that the briefcase in Pulp Fiction symbolises nothing but inevitable and all-consuming violence. Described as a “postmodern puzzle”, the Pulp Fiction briefcase is a logical continuation of a visual element present in multiple masterpieces.

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