Director Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction presents three intertwined stories presented in such a way that it’s key you figure out the chronological order of all the episodes. Pulp Fiction elevated Tarantino’s status as a must-see director, cementing his aesthetic, thematic interests, and the kinds of stories he was interested in telling as a filmmaker.
One of the biggest selling points of Pulp Fiction is its cast, which includes John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Amanda Plummer, and Eric Stoltz. This cast comes together to tell three different stories, so to say, which are all woven together. One storyline follows two hitmen (Jackson and Travolta) whose day starts off normally before quickly descending into chaos; another storyline follows Travolta’s character taking his boss’s wife (Thurman) out for a little fun and things quickly going sideways when she overdoses; the final storyline follows a boxer (Willis) who has to go on the lam and, in a twisted turn of events, finds himself fighting his way out of the basement of a pawnshop owner. Things get very strange and very intense easily and quickly in Pulp Fiction, making it all the more compelling to watch.
One of the most notable parts of Pulp Fiction is the fact that it’s not a linear story. Over the course of the film’s runtime, it becomes clear this story is cutting from one time of day to another and it’s tough to tell just how much time is passing between events, or “episodes.” Figuring out Pulp Fiction‘s chronology benefits the story, especially because it adds some more stakes and context to what’s going on. What follows is the chronological order of events from Pulp Fiction, a film which takes place over the course of two days.
Captain Koons’ (Walken) time may be brief in Pulp Fiction, but he certainly knows how to make a lasting impression. As the film transitions from one protagonist, Vincent (Travolta), to the next, Butch (Willis), viewers are first shown a flashback scene. The story briefly goes back to the mid-’70s and we see a young Butch sitting in front of the TV. His mother enters with Koons, introduces Koons as a man who knew Butch’s father when they were both in a Vietnam War POW camp, and lets Koons take over. Koons proceeds to tells Butch a long story about a gold watch Butch’s father wants Koons to get to his son because he was going to die in the prisoner camp.
As Koons tells the story Butch’s father ostensibly told him about the gold watch’s journey from its purchase in the early 20th century and through the generations, it seems like such an inspiring tale; the Coolidge men have done whatever necessary to make sure their son gets the watch. Koons’ story takes a turn for the surprisingly disturbing when he reveals how Butch’s dad kept the gold watch safe in the POW camp so his son could have it: by storing it in a body cavity that was definitely not his mouth.
The Pulp Fiction timeline jumps back into the main events with the chronologically first episode where Vincent and Jules (Jackson), two L.A. hitmen who work for Marcellus Wallace (Rhames) are shown on the job. It’s unclear where Vincent and Jules are headed but Vincent spends some time telling Jules about his recent trip to Europe, complete with the French version of a Quarter Pounder – a “Royale with cheese” – and the bars in Amsterdam.
By the time the story is finished, Jules and Vincent are heading up to Brett’s (Frank Whaley), an associate of Marcellus’, apartment. The men proceed to shake Brett down for something he owes to Marcellus. The conversation ends with Jules and Vincent shooting Brett as well as two of his friends and taking Brett’s friend Marvin (Phil LaMarr) as a hostage to answer to Marcellus for Brett. They take the mysterious briefcase and head towards Marcellus’ house with Marvin, but things go from bad to worse when Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in the face, making a makes a big mess inside the car.
Jules and Vincent immediately head over to Jimmy’s (Tarantino) house in Toluca Lake. The hitmen know they need to get the car cleaned up and themselves cleaned up as well. It will be an incredible undertaking and only one man knows the right steps to fix it: The Wolf (Keitel). The Wolf, an old-school pro who’s been in more than one of these kinds of situations in his time, arrives at Jimmy’s house. Over a cup of coffee, he coolly tells Jules and Vincent every excruciatingly minute detail they have to take in order to clean the inside of the car, dispose of the body, and get themselves cleaned up before they can go back to work. The episode ends with Jules and Vincent out of their sleek suits and now dressed in colorful shorts and T-shirts, which they’ll be seen in a few more times in other episodes later in the day.
The story moves from Toluca Lake to the Hawthorne Grill diner, the scene that actually opens the movie, shortly after Jules and Vincent’s encounter with The Wolf in the morning. A young couple, Pumpkin (Roth) and Honey Bunny (Plummer), sit in a booth. They discuss the merits of robbing all of the people currently in the diner as well as the diner itself. They calmly come to the agreement that they’re going to go through with the robbery. At that moment, Pumpkin hops up on to the table while Honey Bunny stands on the ground and both point their guns at the diner patrons. Pumpkin calmly explains what’s going on and that he and Honey Bunny will be collecting everyone’s money and valuables.
It’s revealed Jules and Vincent have also gone right to the Hawthorne Grill for lunch after their debacle earlier that day. The men eat in their newly-acquired outfits and chat about why Jules doesn’t eat bacon as well as what just happened to them. Vincent gets up to go to the bathroom, leaving Jules all alone when Pumpkin and Honey Bunny hold up the diner. Pumpkin makes his way to Jules, demanding whatever is in the briefcase. Jules tells him that’s a bad idea because it’s the property of Marcellus and robbing Marcellus is a very bad idea. Jules instead offers Pumpkin all of the money in his wallet. At this same time, Vince exits the bathroom, sees what’s going on, and holds up Honey Bunny as insurance against Pumpkin doing anything to Jules. Jules convinces Pumpkin to take the money and leave with his girlfriend.
Once they’re gone, Vincent reminds Jules they have to go see Marcellus, so they put their guns in their shorts, take the briefcase, and leave. The last time we see them together, it’s that same afternoon as they meet up with Marcellus, who is having a conversation with Butch about throwing a boxing match later that night because it will benefit Marcellus and Butch. Vincent encourages Butch to really consider what Marcellus is offering.
The present-day part of the “Gold Watch” prelude cuts to the evening of the same day as Jules and Vincent’s mishap with Marvin, Honey Bunny and Pumpkin holding up the Hawthorne Grill, and Vincent talking with Butch about throwing the boxing match. Butch wakes up from dreaming about this memory of Koons giving him the gold watch. It seems Butch is having downtime in between rounds so, as the prelude ends, Butch is shown leaving the room and preparing to finish the fight.
That night, Vincent shows up at Marcellus’ house to take Marcellus’ wife, Mia (Thurman), out for a night on the town. It’s not romantic, but more of a favor Vincent is completing at Marcellus’ request. Vincent picks Mia up but before they go, Mia has a few bumps of cocaine to get the night started. Vincent drives Mia to a ’50s-themed restaurant, Jack Rabbit Slim’s, where all of the employees are dressed like famous celebrities from the 1950s. Over the course of their conversation during dinner, Mia tells Vincent about her short-lived career as an actress. At one point, Mia gets up, goes to the bathroom, and does another line of cocaine. She comes back to the table and she eats. About halfway through dinner, one restaurant employee announces there’s a dance contest starting, which Mia encourages Vincent to participate in with her. The pair get up on a stage on the center of the restaurant and start dancing to Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.”
The couple leaves the restaurant and goes home. They make it back to Marcellus and Mia’s house, and while Vincent is in the bathroom, Mia discovers his heroin and, mistaking it for more cocaine, does a line and overdoses. Vincent panics, thinking he’s about to watch his boss’s wife die. He rushes her to the home of his drug dealer, Lance (Eric Stoltz), to see if he can help. Lance figures out the only way to revive Mia is to take a large needle filled with adrenaline and plunge it into Mia’s heart. Vincent does the honors and successfully wakes Mia up. He takes Mia, in new clothes and looking a lot worse for the wear, back to her house and then leaves.
The “Gold Watch” episode begins right after the boxing match, which we now know is happening at the same time Mia and Vincent are at Jack Rabbit Slims. Butch leaves the match, having won and somehow knocked out his opponent (the one Marcellus wanted Butch to purposely lose to) to the point he killed him. Butch makes it back to his apartment but knows he and his girlfriend, Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros), can’t stay there. Butch manages to get her to come with him to a motel where they hide out for the night.
The next morning, Butch realizes he left his father’s gold watch at his apartment. Butch leaves Fabienne at the motel and returns to the apartment to retrieve it. Upon entering, he suspects someone else is in there. He grabs the watch and sees Vincent, sent there by Marcellus to kill him. Butch shoots and kills Vincent, then leaves the apartment. As Butch is driving back to the motel, he happens to see Marcellus crossing the street. Butch tries to run him over and the two men get into a fight and end up in a pawnshop. Things get extremely unsettling very quickly as the pawnshop owner and his friend, a security guard named Zed, take them hostage in the pawnshop owner’s basement where Butch, with the help of Zed, rapes Marcellus. Butch puts aside his differences with Marcellus and rescues him. Butch agrees to leave town and never speak of the incident, leaving Marcellus behind to brutalize his captors. Butch takes Zed’s motorcycle (actually a chopper) and goes back to the motel and drives off with Fabienne.
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