It’s radioactive material
It’s the diamonds from Reservoir Dogs
It’s an orange lightbulb
Over the past 22 years of this film’s existence, theory after theory has come out concerning the contents inside the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. It’s such a coveted mystery, that not even Tarantino himself knows what’s inside. He has stated before that he couldn’t think of anything fitting to put in the briefcase, and instead resorted to leaving it up to the viewer to decide; leaving it as what Alfred Hitchcock calls, a “MacGuffin.”
What I believe is in the coveted briefcase is not gold or diamonds or a soul, but something you probably would never expect to find in anything that mundane:
A gold crown and a gold archer’s bow.
Because Marsellus Wallace is the antichrist. Or, he believes that he is.
But why then the crown and bow? Well, it says in the book of revelation within the description of the four horsemen:
“I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” –Revelation 6:1-2
It has widely been speculated by theologians that the white horsemen of the apocalypse is the antichrist, given his crown—to rule over all nations, and his bow with no arrows—to conquer without destruction.
After he read the book of Revelation, Wallace saw himself as this man who will conquer the world under his own order, ending racism by eradicating all the racists who have offended him. So naturally he requested for a crown and bow to be made for him out of gold from Africa, the Blacks’ ancestral country.
But if Marcellus Wallace is the white horseman, who are the other three horsemen?
Butch is the red horseman, given the instruction by Wallace to “take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword.” –Revelation 6:4
Vincent is the black horseman, who is given authority to balance a new law that would lead to a great worldwide food deprivation: “Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!” –Revelation 6:6 Thus, Wallace has sent him across the world, including Amsterdam, in order to learn the economical laws.
But what about the pale horse? According to Wallace, that horsemen will be Death himself. This is why he’s committed to killing as many people who offends him as possible, so that Death may be pleased by his service of delivering more sinners to hell.
“And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.” –Revelation 13:15
Okay, so Wallace is the antichrist, Jules is the false prophet, Butch is the red horseman, Vincent is the black horseman, and Death himself is the pale horseman. But what else within the film suggests this abstract idea of what lies in the case? Well, let’s start with the first scene we see the briefcase:
Vincent & Jules
We know at this point that Marsellus Wallace’s briefcase was lost to a bunch of kids who purchased it from him. But the question here really becomes: how did it end up in their hands in the first place?
Because Marsellus Wallace is crafty that way. Brad, the one who had purchased the case, is an intern at the local church (you can tell as he mentions he’s read the bible), and his pastor has had a feud with his neighbor, Marcellus Wallace, who has the crown and bow displayed proudly in his front window. The pastor demands that he takes these relics down, as he cannot let this man flaunt his own ungodly pride, an act of hatred the pastor makes with a bash to the back of the head by a bible (that’s why Marsellus Wallace has a Band-Aid back there). This ends with the pastor’s death by a bullet, and Brad takes matters into his own hands. He offers Marcellus Wallace his entire yearly salary of $20,000 in exchange for the crown and bow. But Wallace is no idiot, he knows this kid intends to destroy these things. So he goes ahead and puts them in the briefcase for the $20,000, and tells his associates how he was “cheated” in this bargain. That way, these religious punks will no longer interfere with his perseverance towards world order, and he still gets the $20,000.
This is why Vincent and Jules are here: Jules so he can speak to Brad and his other White roommates about the truth of who they’re dealing with, and Vincent so he can see firsthand what this apocalyptic judgment of the earth will look like.
So Vincent and Jules calmly walk in, and Jules makes light chit-chat with Brad as Vincent searches for the briefcase. Jules asks the White roommate where this briefcase is, and Marvin is about to answer, and you all know how Jules responds to this.
So then Brad offends Jules and Marsellus Wallace, and hears a declaration by the False Prophet before his demise.
The Bonnie Situation
Someone else is hiding behind the door, and tries to kill Jules and Vincent, with an empty gun. It may have looked like God came down and blocked the bullets, but if you look at the scene beforehand, the bullet holes are already there. So this disproves Jules’ theory later that it was a miracle of God for their mission.
Next thing they know, they bring Marvin with them so that he can get a Black-to-Black talk with Marcellus Wallace as to how to end racism in the world. But what happens? Vincent accidentally pulls the trigger out of nervousness, as he’s doubting this whole mission.
Okay, so the bullet miracle wasn’t real, and Vincent’s nervousness led to the death of an innocent African American that Wallace was trying to redeem, does all this mean that Wallace’s belief of being the prophesized antichrist is incorrect?
Jules does later that morning admit that he’s unsure, as he declares to Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. He’s not sure whether if he’s the shepherd or the righteous man, or what his place in society is.
Vincent Vega & Marsellus Wallace’s Wife
Butch is listening to Wallace give him a speech about pride right before going into a boxing match to lose it and earn the big man some money, possibly as a setup toward conquering nations.
Later, Vincent takes Marsellus’s wife Mia out on a date, particularly to keep her company, as the wife of the antichrist. If you look into the Wallace’s home, it’s all decked out in the way Wallace would want his heritage displayed: African art everywhere. There’s also hidden security cameras, so that he can keep an eye out for anyone like Brad or his pastor who will try to interfere with his mission.
As for the date between Vincent and Mia, where do they go? Jack Rabbit Slim’s, a 50’s diner that flaunts the pop culture of the decade. These two take a particular liking to this era as the post-WWII/pre-Civil Rights era when religion was considered the one defining trait of a person. But it’s also worth noting here that gold is spotted in two areas, once on the plate that Marilyn Monroe stands on, and once on the trophy to the dance contest that Vincent and Mia participate in. It significantly matches the gold in the briefcase, as if Marsellus is still there taunting Vincent to keep his wife out of harm- or else.
Anyways, once Mia is revived in the funniest way possible, and Vincent brings her back home, she tells her little joke she told while on television, which is about a slow tomato getting squashed. It means that Vincent is the slow tomato, and for the sake of his life, he’s got to “ketchup” to the standard the Wallaces are expecting him to meet.
The Gold Watch
Sure enough, Mia is right. He’s killed by Butch after his failure to prepare ahead of time for his arrival. Now, not only has Butch let down Marsellus Wallace by not following in on their deal, but now one of the supposed horsemen is dead, due to another one of the horsemen turning against a deal.
But where’s Jules?
Well, here’s the interesting thing: he’s dead. He took a bullet to the head after getting the idea that he’s not the False Prophet he assumed he was.
Thus, Vincent’s alone in the apartment as Marsellus Wallace is out to get food.
It’s also notable to point out the gold watch that Butch keeps at all times, one that has been with his father and grandfather in the most recent great American wars. It just proves Marsellus Wallace’s theory even more that Butch is the horseman of war.
Until another unpredictable event occurs out of nowhere. The two run into each other, and end up in the torturous basement of a rebellious shopkeeper.
Now comes the climactic moment of Marsellus Wallace’s journey in the narrative of this story. He’s chosen between him and Butch to get butt-raped by the shopkeeper in the most humiliating act of racism.
So Butch then has to save Wallace with a samurai sword, like what the red horseman is described as holding. At this point, Wallace has already figured that Vincent was dead after hearing the gunfire and seeing Butch in the area still unharmed. So now his False Prophet and black horseman are dead, and his red horseman has needed to rescue him from the very act of hatred he was trying to rule over. Hence his dead serious declaration, “I’m pretty f*cking far from okay.” So what does he have left to do now but force Butch out of the country, watch his rapist die slowly, and return home to end everything?
Well, that was it. That was my prediction as to why it was so important for Vincent and Jules to get the mystery case back to Marsellus Wallace. For me, Pulp Fiction was made as a black revenge fantasy in the form of a carefully hidden story on how religion and international angst translates into our pop culture. That’s why it’s called “pulp” fiction, because it’s all told in a graphic fashion like the popular magazines that defined an entire generation throughout the 40’s and 50’s. That’s why the disjointed events are told out of sequence, because each member of this conflict has his own story to tell, and the purpose is in Jules’ final words in the last chapter.
This is precisely what’s so intriguing about this movie, and the Tarantino universe in general; they’re all so open to interpretation and most anyone can enjoy them despite the gore and language.
*All images are used from Evan E. Richard's blog on http://evanerichards.com/2010/965.