Hold It: Pulp Fiction, the Restroom, and Imminent Death

By  · Published on December 5th, 2016

How going to the can foreshadows kicking the bucket in Tarantino’s film.

Tarantino is a master of turning the insignificant on its ear with a bombastic display of violence. Remember Jules, Vincent, and Marvin in the car in Pulp Ficiton? There they are, having a casual conversation, nothing too interesting, and then BANG, literally – the car hits a bump, Vincent’s gun goes off, and Marvin’s head explodes. What was only seconds before a mundane tableau is now the impetus for act three.

Pulp Fiction especially is filled with these sorts of moments, and there’s an interesting bit of symbolism attached to almost all of them: the bathroom. Practically every major death and bit of violence in the film is preceded by a visit to the john, usually taken by another John, Travolta. Think about all that goes down while or just after Vincent Vega has hit the shitter: Pumpkin and Honey Bunny start robbing the diner; Mia overdoses on Vega’s heroin; and, of course, Vincent’s own murder by Butch happens right after the former steps out of the water closet. Even being in proximity to a bathroom invites violence around Vincent, like earlier in the film when one of Brad’s accomplices played by Alexis Arquette bursts from the lavatory to unload his pistol on Vincent and Jules, miraculously missing them with every single shot before being pumped full of more lead than a 1952 paint job.

While there’s a lot to be said by such symbolism, Tarantino’s ultimate point seems to be that life isn’t just extremes, it isn’t entirely the boring day-to-day humdrum we all go through, nor it is all intense moments of significance; rather life is a balance between the two, made up of punctuations within routine that can come on a moment’s whim and change everything.

In the latest video from Screen Prism, the symbolism and significance of potty breaks in Pulp Fiction are analyzed and explored in greater detail, including the not-so-mysterious reason it feels like Vincent is always popping a squat, and the relationship between the privacy of bathroom time and the ultimate privacy of the grave. Not since that essay on David Fincher and refrigerators has something seemingly so mundane captivated me so much, as I think it will you as well. And at only four minutes long, you can watch it on your next bathroom break.

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