• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #111: Jules Winnfield


"Say 'what?' again!"

I'm honestly not sure which came first, Samuel L. Jackson or Jules Winnfield. The actor and character are so virtually indistinguishable that it seems every role Jackson plays is a variation on his iconic troubled hit man from Pulp Fiction. The film itself is a brilliant work, perhaps Tarantino's best, and includes fantastic performances from a rejuvenated Travolta, a sultry Uma Thurman, a harried Bruce Willis, and a looming Ving Rhames (not to mention hilarious cameo bits by Christopher Walken and Harvey Keitel). And yet it's Jackson's Winnfield who bears the narrative on his shoulders.

A virtuoso of vulgarity, Winnfield channels Tarantino's signature juxtaposition of the banal and the bizarre, discussing trivialities while on his way to work like the rest of us. But his work is different, an enforcer in the employ of a gangster. Winnfield does his best to inhabit and project the tough guy image, with his bastardized version of Ezekiel 25:17 and his coarse-language wallet. But when he thinks a miracle has intervened to save his life from some big bullets, he struggles with his place in the world. This internal battle evokes the film's central tenet, the slippery continuum between good and evil, and the role of personal choices.

We never really do see what becomes of Winnfield, whether his come-to-Jesus moment endures beyond the film's scope. Does he walk the Earth, a svengali of nonviolence (a bum, as Vincent puts it)? Does he head back to Amsterdam to find out what they call a Whopper in Europe? Or does he return to the fold of Marcellus Wallace? I like to think he keeps trying real hard to be the shepherd.

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