The Sign of the Empty Symbol
The death of God and the Royale with Cheese.
Did you notice the word “grace” was painted on the tank of Butch’s chopper? I think that’s a pretty significant referent for the film.
I think that the use of swearing in the film is also interesting. In the beginning, when everything is meaningless, swears are thrown around every couple of words. They are expressions that don’t mean anything in themselves, they mean whatever you want them to mean. But when the moments of actualization come, the characters use them less. It’s like, by embracing a code of conduct, a moral framework, they reliquish their own power to make these words mean whatever they want them to mean.
That’s a good observation—how would you work in the skewed timeline for the film? The opening scene is actually about 3/4 of the way through the Travolta/Jackson subplot.
There’s the glowing green stuff in the suitcase, the divine intervention, etc. all as suggestions of the possibility of value and principle beyond a closed materialist system. So I don’t think the film is about nihilism at all. It emphasizes the vacuity of meaning and value in a closed materialist system, but one may respond to such a system with a search for a non-transcendent or transcendent basis for meaning and value. The movie suggests the existence of a transcendent Beyond and shows some movement toward it Jules. Butch seems drawn by love/loyalty which he does not seem to understand in transcendental terms. Jules reverts to a more traditional, classical, religious metaphysical mindset where there is at least a higher Principle one is bound to and judged by. Ideas are important to him. Butch seems more modern in having to interest in or need for this dualist model, preferring the specifics of actual relationships. Things are important to him. Nevertheless you can see both men as exemplifying ways of understanding self-world-other that have been around since ancient times.
Very intense and thoughful study. There was only one thing that bothered me. You begin by talking about how in now the 21st century we are missing something larger than ourselves, a framework of values, that in the past people could find in religion, how we must rely on pulp images to relate, and how the characters struggle to find values throughout the movie. What troubles me is that the two characters who find it, Butch and Jules—didn’t really find it. Jules had to resort to religious dogma to rely on instead of his own moral codex to understand why his actions are wrong, while Butch acted on instinct coupled with his family’s ingrained idea of being a soldier and a fighter, also learned and dogmatized concepts, rather then making personal moral thought-out choices. It makes me wonder if these characters really learned something rather then just changed their reference points slightly to make themselves more acceptable to the viewers. To remember Plato’s Republic, is a blind man who accidentally finds the right road to the city has really regained his sight? (I apologize quoting from memory)
Elise—what’s the difference between “relying on religious dogma” or “relying on instinct” and making “personal moral thought out choices”? Can’t we make a personal, well thought out decision to accept dogma? Can’t we meaningfully and thoughtfully choose to follow “instinct?” What does the word “instinct” mean in relationship to morality, by the way?—“instinct” in Butch’s case consisted of choosing the only moral example that had been presented to him in his youth, so it’s not instinct at all, really, but something taught.
I think it’s a bit silly to think every human being reinvents the moral wheel for him or herself with every defining experience/decision. Every choice has its place on the map of moral choices, maps charted by religion and philosophy for quite some time now. There are no new choices. But that doesn’t mean there are no meaningful ones.
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