Quentin Tarantino Wrote Pulp Fiction's Characters Like Little Kids

Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" has remained a pop culture watermark since it blasted its way onto screens in 1992. At its core, the deconstructed crime film is about disguise and betrayal. Tim Roth's undercover cop Freddy Newandyke is pretending to be a gangster, but in a sense, all of the characters are in disguise.

The monikers they take on (Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, etc.) are supposed to protect their true identity just in case any backstabbing goes on or the police nab some of them during the jewelry heist. But those fake names are also giving them permission to play pretend, just like a group of kids playing dress up. In the planning stage, all the characters are playing their parts; when the plan fails, their personas give them a reason to become more extreme versions of themselves. 

In flashbacks, we see Freddy construct his criminal self in order to infiltrate the group, suggesting that the other characters are doing the same thing. In a 1994 interview with Film Comment, Tarantino said he realized that same idea had worked its way into his next film. "That's a motif that runs through all these gangster guys. Jules [Sam Jackson] has the line in 'Pulp Fiction,' 'Let's get into character,'" he said. "They're a cross between criminals and actors and children playing roles." 

For all the film debates about Tarantino's films over the years, the idea that the gangsters in his earlier pictures may not be quite as tough as they pretend to be gives them a lot more depth and humanity. 

Getting into character

Hearing Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) talking about cheeseburgers and foot massages when they're first introduced makes them instantly relatable. They just sound like a couple of old friends catching up, not two hitman on their way to assassinate three kids for double-crossing Marsellus Wallace. Then, they turn a switch and bring vengeance down upon a room full of unlucky 20-somethings that don't have the ability or the wherewithal to slip into tougher personas. 

Jules and Vincent are simply playing their parts. Pretending to be killers, impersonating what they've seen in movies, makes them genuinely deadly hitman. Tarantino realized that's a lot like what kids would do, too, telling Film Comment

"If you ever saw kids playing — three little kids playing Starsky and Hutch interrogating a prisoner — you'll probably see more real, honest moments happening than you would ever see on that show, because those kids would be so into it. When a kid points his finger at you like it's a gun, he ain't screwing around, that's a gun where he's coming from."

Marsellus Wallace, meanwhile, almost acts like a father figure to Jules and Vincent, taking care of them when they're in need. Wallace even calls in the cavalry when Vincent accidentally shoots poor Marvin in the face after their car goes over a bump in the road. Harvey Keitel's character, The Wolf, becomes another fatherly figure when he speeds across town to help them cover up the crime scene.

A couple of dorks

The idea of the various gangsters in "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction" being childlike is a fun thing to consider on a rewatch, although it wasn't necessarily something that Tarantino was always planning. "It was never a conscious decision, playing on the idea of big men are actually little boys with real guns," the director explained. "But it kept coming out and I realized as I was writing 'Pulp,' that actually fits." 

In the case of Jules and Vincent, the two hitmen that should be the most dangerous characters in "Pulp Fiction," are really just a couple of dorks disguising themselves as killers in black suits. They're wearing the clothes they've seen assassins wear in the movies they grew up watching. 

Tarantino's comments took the idea that Marsellus Wallace's lethal enforcers are kids playing pretend one step further. "You can even make the analogy with the scene with Jules and Vincent at Jimmy [Quentin Tarantino]'s house, they're afraid of their mom coming home," he said. "You spilled s**t on the carpet. Clean up the mess you made from screwing around before your mom gets home."