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Film

The origin of the Ezekiel monologue in Quentin Tarantino film 'Pulp Fiction'

If there was one film that defined the prevalent sensibilities of the 1990s in America, it has to be the Quentin Tarantino magnum opus Pulp Fiction. The combination of Tarantino’s energetic filmmaking and starring turns from the likes of Samuel L. Jackson as well as Uma Thurman resulted in the creation of an endlessly quotable and thoroughly enjoyable masterpiece.

In addition to Andrzej Sekuła’s brilliant cinematography, a major reason why Pulp Fiction works so well is because of the excellent writing by Tarantino and Roger Avary. Told through a non-linear narrative structure, Tarantino believed that the narrative devices used in novels such as cross-cutting would work well in films because they were inherently cinematic.

Tarantino’s vision of what cinematic storytelling should be turned out to be really effective and not just because of the structure. There are unforgettable moments of fantastic screenwriting, featured in the form of memorable dialogues or even iconic monologues such as the one starring Christopher Walken as a Vietnam war veteran with the gift of a special clock.

One of those famous monologues is also delivered by Samuel L. Jackson, the actor who exuded an unbelievable amount of artistic power according to Quentin Tarantino. The filmmaker claimed that Jackson had the sublime ability to dominate the screen with his presence, gracefully manipulating the bodies of others within the frame like pieces on a chessboard.

Voted as the fourth greatest film speech of all time in a 2004 pool, Jackson’s iconic Ezekiel monologue is one of the definitive segments of Pulp Fiction. In it, Jackson recites a semi-fabricated and paraphrased portion of Ezekiel 25:17 in pivotal moments as he attempts to deliver a surreal sermon about vengeance, violence and the spectrum of human morality.

In an interview, Tarantino acknowledged that he had borrowed the phrase from a 1973 Japanese martial arts film called The Bodyguard which starred Sonny Chiba. An almost identical quote appears at the beginning of that film which remained embedded in Tarantino’s mind. The director also borrowed inspiration from a Japanese TV show Shadow Warriors.

The filmmaker went on to add that the cartoon chronicled the battle between progressives who welcomed Western influence and conservative traditionalists who wanted to stop neo-colonialism. It revolved around a group of ninjas who delivered similar sermons about human morality to their targets before ultimately killing them in spectacular fashion.

“My friends and I were always fascinated by these endings, which we found cool and poetic. It was in this spirit that I put the quotation from Ezekiel in Jules’ mouth,” Tarantino explained. “When I was writing the scenario, I realised that in the final scene in the coffee shop, Jules couldn’t say this religious epiphany in the same way as he’s said it before. After using it for ten years, for the first time he realises what it really means. And that’s the end of the film.”

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