It’s easily the most asked question about Pulp Fiction. What was in the briefcase? Everyone has an opinion or theory about it, let’s explore some of them and then you can draw your own conclusions.
For those who don’t remember, Pulp Fiction was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and the briefcase was pursued by Marcellus Wallace, a crime lord. He sent two of his henchmen, Vincent and Jules, to retrieve it. When the briefcase was opened, the contents (which were never visible) glowed and elicited reactions of awe.
It’s a mystery that’s never solved. Tarantino himself has said he doesn’t know what the contents are, and he likes it that way. However, that doesn’t stop people from having theories. One of the more popular ideas is that it contains Marcellus Wallace’s soul. Those who support this idea offer the following points as some of the proof:
1. The combination to open the case is ‘666’.
2. Marcellus has a band-aid on the back of his neck, and the Bible says that is the place where Satan extracts one’s soul.
3. The men Jules and Vincent kill to get the case back are actually servants of the devil. Something went awry in the deal between Marcellus and the Satan, and it was “divine intervention” when all those shots miss the two hit men.
4. It glows.
Another theory claims that the case contains the diamonds from Tarantino’s first movie, Reservoir Dogs. Yet another, touted by some critics reviewing the film when it was released, drew comparisons to the 1955 Robert Aldrich film Kiss Me Deadly, where the protagonist searches for a case filled with radioactive material (it glows).
The truth is that (Quentin Tarantino has admitted this publicly) there is nothing inside of the briefcase, only a gold painted light bulb. This was done because they needed to have something of high importance inside of the case but Tarantino couldn’t think of the perfect thing for the job. So it was intentionally left ambiguous. Left up to the viewer. There is no right or wrong to this question because what’s in the case is irrelevant, it’s only to further along the story (or as Hitchcock calls it, a “Macguffin”).
What’s a MacGuffin? Simply put, a MacGuffin is a plot device. It can be anything — secret spy papers, a mysterious briefcase, etc. — but its only purpose is to set the story in motion. Once that’s accomplished, the MacGuffin usually becomes relatively unimportant. Maybe one day Quentin Tarantino will change his mind, or will use the plot device in another movie revealing finally and once and for all what is inside the case. Until then, you get to decide what you believe is in the briefcase.
Have a different explanation we didn’t include? Leave a comment below.