Great Characters: Vincent Vega (“Pulp Fiction”)

February 15th, 2013 by

This month, the focus is on great characters from Quentin Tarantino movies. Today’s guest post by Jason Cuthbert features Vincent Vega from the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction, screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, story by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary.

The biggest fact of the 1994 film Pulp Fiction is that this imagined crime story, divided by three, changed many lives in the real world. The screenwriting rock star Quentin Tarantino, proved that after his directing debut Reservoir Dogs that not only was he not a one hit wonder behind the camera – but a honest-to-goodness hit maker. Tarantino’s awards seemed to be raining freely from the heavens: Academy Award, Golden Globe, Palm d’Or, BAFTA, Independent Spirit Award, National Board of Review and a landslide victory of the most prestigious Film Critic associations. Harvey Weinstein would refer to his company Miramax as “The House that Quentin Built” thanks to Pulp Fiction ringing up over $213 million on a $8 million budget.

This widely original non-linear screenplay would also become the airport for aerodynamic acting careers to take flight. Samuel L. Jackson’s Bible-spouting hit man Jules Winnfield and Uma Thurman’s hard-partying wife Mia Wallace performed their most recognized roles at that point in Pulp Fiction. Bruce Willis was able to soar high above the large shadow cast upon him by his Die Hard franchise. But it would be the unexpected casting of John Travolta as the blood pressure-bursting killer Vincent Vega that would resurrect Travolta’s career from retro 1970’s super stardom to a 1990’s renaissance resurgence.

Pulp Fiction plot summary from IMDB:

The lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a gangster’s wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.

We may meet Vincent Vega, the key protagonist in this expansive ensemble, after his three-year European escapade full of Le Royale with Cheeseburgers and legal hash bars. But his stress levels soon hit vein-eviscerating rates while partaking in three “welcome home” assignments: assassinate some young wanna-be crooks, entertain his brutal boss’s wife while the big man is out of town and tracking down a boxer who was paid to throw a fight, but changed his mind.

There is no doubt that Vega has the invisible moral fiber necessary to take life for a living. But his emotions get rigorously stirred with a boat paddle-sized ladle when his commitment to loyalty is frequently paid a visit by the unexpected. In fact, the bathroom becomes Vincent Vega’s stress-relief sanctuary to re-center his sizzled nerves three times during the course of Pulp Fiction. Unfortunately, every time he exits the john, he is greeted with a new life-threatening disaster. Round 1 in the Men’s Room takes place at the Wallace residence after dinner with the drug-test failing Mia.

VINCENT: Look, I’m not stupid. It’s the Big Man’s wife. I’m gonna sit across from her, chew my food with my mouth closed, laugh at her fucking jokes, and that’s it.

Yes, these are his intentions, until the Big Man’s wife steals a hurricane whiff of heroine out of Vincent’s coat pocket. Imagine returning to your boss’ wife and finding her laid out cold in her own blood and vomit?

VINCENT: Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go home and have a heart attack.

Bathroom Break Number 2, at Butch the boxer’s apartment actually leads to Vega’s demise. While waiting for Butch’s return, Vega sits on the excrement pit, reducing his anxiety levels by reading a little pulp fiction – “Modesty Blaise” by author Peter O’Donnell. Unfortunately after flushing, he finds his gun in the hands of Butch himself.

Vega’s third bathroom refuge takes place, out of chronological order of course, at the diner during the film’s final sequence. The last thing Vincent was expecting after returning from purging was a multi-pistol-packing Mexican Standoff in reaction to a robbery in progress. But aside from relieving himself in the bathroom, Vega surely was also seeking relief from his recent accidental shooting of an associate.

VINCENT: I got a threshold, Jules. I got a threshold for the abuse that I will take. Now, right now, I’m a fuckin’ racecar, right, and you got me in the red. And I’m just sayin’, I’m just sayin’ that it’s fuckin’ dangerous to have a racecar in the fuckin’ red. That’s all. I could blow.

For his ability to transform “small talk” into engaging anecdotes, his realistic reactions to extremely bizarre occurrences and a few trophy-worthy dance moves, Vincent Vegas is a super GREAT CHARACTER.

I’ve always looked at Pulp Fiction as having several Protagonists with Vincent and Jules a distinctive pair who experience what may or may not be “divine intervention”:

In the moral order of things in the Pulp Fiction universe, Jules gets it, he understands that “God came down from Heaven and stopped these motherfucking bullets.” He ends the movie alive. Vincent doesn’t get it: “Chill, Jules, this shit happens.” He ends the movie dead. “You will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.” That is the God of this story universe. Capable of miracles… and vengeance.

See you in comments for your thoughts on Vincent Vega and Pulp Fiction.

Thanks to Jason for the post. Next week: Another Great Character from Quentin Tarantino.

4 thoughts on “Great Characters: Vincent Vega (“Pulp Fiction”)

  1. After watching Django Unchained, I instantly went back to Pulp Fiction, and I have to say, it gets better with age.

    I’ve wanted to be a screenwriter ever since I read the Pulp Fiction screenplay when it came free with a copy of Total Film. It’s a true masterclass in writing.

    Vincent Vega is an incredible character, and after re-watching the film several times over the years, his attitude definitely leads to his demise. His loyalty is questioned, he’s foolish (Marvin’s head, anyone) and he’s disrespectful at times (The Wolf and Butch). He also breaks one of the biggest rules in boxing: Never underestimate your opponent. Butch wins by KO.

    I always wondered how the people around Vincent react to his death, particularly Mia and Marcellus. Does Jules ever find out about his friend, or is he too busy walking the earth to find out.

    Such a great, great film. You can write 10 sequels to Pulp Fiction in your own head. It’s a sign of a classic.

    1. A2Jason says:

      I agree totally Daley. A sign of a great story to me is that it causes an audience to ask questions and let their curiosity roam wild after the credits role. While I was watching “Pulp Fiction” again this week I was thinking the same thing -how would Vincent’s death effect the other characters?

      After that sickening run-in at the pawn ship, Marcellus excuses Butch for his not throwing his fight because Butch helps Marchellus escape. But The Big Man is unaware that Butch has also just finished shooting Vincent. This might cause Marcellus to not believe that they are even after all.

      With Jules and Vincent being the main protagonists, surviving near death (thanks to Divine Intervention) and possible arrest in a blood bath vehicle together, if Jules found out about Vincent’s murder, would he go “wandering the Earth” for Butch?

      While we’re at it…would the murderous Toothpic Vic Vega, Vincent’s brother, hop out of “Reservoir Dogs” and go looking to give Butch the business also?

      Mia’s brief friendship with Vincent, and his saving her life from drug-overdose, could provide enough mourning in her husband’s ear to get an Anti-Butch cavalry riled up.

      I would RUN to see that movie!

  2. Yes! I forgot to mention the Butch-Marcellus angle, too. Butch comes out of Pulp Fiction as the ultimate anti-hero: He kills Vincent, shows signs of being an abusive husband/lover, kills a man in the ring and gloats about it… The list goes on!

    You could make a thousand spin-offs out of Pulp. I’m so happy he didn’t do it though!

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