One offers brain particles all over the interior of a car, the other a drawn out, bloody journey to the cross.
One is viewed as gratuitous violence, while the other is praised for portraying the anguish of the Savior.
Let’s face it, Pulp Fiction and The Passion of the Christ rival each other in brutality. However, I left the one movie feeling like I had witnessed a miracle while leaving the other feeling like the extreme torture and suffering were imposed on me.
To start, let’s take a look at the two examples of grace in Pulp Fiction.
The first scenario has Jules and Vincent narrowly escaping with their lives after a round of bullets misses them from pointblank range. Jules calls the experience “Divine Intervention,” and he upholds this view even after Vincent’s gun goes off by accident and blows a kid’s head off in the back of the car. To be fair, Jules’ understanding of grace is flawed. According to his logic, we have to conclude that if God saved them from the bullets the reverse is true as well: God’s equally responsible for the kid’s unfortunate, untimely—not to mention inconvenient–demise.
From this perspective, a depiction of God’s grace is ambiguous at best.
Then there’s the other storyline involving Butch, a boxer in the twilight of his career who’s being paid by Marcellus—Jules and Vincent’s boss—to throw his upcoming boxing match. Butch, always feeling underestimated, find himself at a moral crossroad and ends up double-crossing Marcellus so that he could walk away with a good chunk of change and every last ounce of his pride.
It would have been the perfect plan if Butch didn’t end up crossing paths with Marcellus while retrieving his most precious possession, his watch. After they nearly kill each other, Butch and Marcellus are captured while both of them are in a weakened, vulnerable state. When they wake up, they find themselves tied up and gagged by a redneck store-owner and a dirty cop, who have extremely ill intentions. When Marcellus is dragged into the back room so that these perverts can have their way with him, Butch frees himself and heads for the door. He could have abandoned Marcellus, but something “within him” compels him to turn around. Butch chooses to make the compassionate decision and saves Marcellus, putting his fate back in his boss’ hands.
So I have to say, it’s only appropriate, after Butch and Marcellus have a no-nonsense discussion where they come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement, that Butch rides off on a rather loud chopper with the word “Grace” airbrushed on it to collect his girlfriend and start a new life with her in a new city.
Now let’s take a look at Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and see how he handles what’s “supposed to be” the ultimate religious example of grace.
When Mel Gibson brought out his Passion of the Christ, I wasn’t interested enough in the theme to see it in the theater. I think many Christians allowed themselves to be emotionally swept away by the image of the tortured Christ and all the bloodshed he endured on their behalf. But after taking the time to watch the movie and form a reasonable opinion, I found that I wasn’t touched by this graphic recreation of Christ’s execution at all. In fact, I felt that by reveling in Christ’s flogging and eventual crucifixion—when I say reveling, I mean allowing ourselves to be emotionally swept away by it, sickened and saddened—we were indulging the dark side within ourselves that would entertain the idea that this gruesome episode was required by God to atone for our sins.
If there’s an example of grace in this movie, it would only be from Christ’s point of view—I mean, if he did, indeed, think he was enduring all of his torture and punishment as a way taking the sins of the world upon himself. This would be a monumental sacrifice, no doubt about it.
The way I see it, Pulp Fiction brings out two very important elements of grace. In the first scenario, Jule’s convinced that God saved him for a reason. This conviction leads to a spiritual transformation, the miracle, which we see come to life when he doesn’t kill Ringo in the cafe in the final scene of the movie. So the miracle really happens within.
In the second scenario, we see Butch come face-to-face with his humanity. He chooses to save the very man who was trying to end his life only hours earlier. Not only is this compassionate, but this mercy is born under conditions where he was willing to risk his life to do the right thing.
I think that all of us are our own worst critic and that it’s difficult to forgive ourselves. Grace isn’t exactly forgiveness. It’s more powerful than forgiveness. Grace isn’t extended because one asks for forgiveness (although asking for forgiveness can have a role). It’s granted regardless, and wipes away the slate as if the transgression never occurred. For Jules, the bullets missing him allowed him to wipe the slate clean with himself and go on with his life with the intention of being a good person from that point forward, and he did so feeling validated by God.
With Butch, it was all about what he was willing to live with. When it came to the boxing match, he couldn’t live with himself if he threw the fight. In the situation where he saved Marcellus, he went back because he couldn’t leave anybody, even his most deadly enemy, to the devices of such degenerates, and he couldn’t have lived with himself if walked out of the store without helping. This is the type of grace that’s born for goodness sake—the selfless kind, grace in its purest form.
As for The Passion of the Christ, I don’t think there’s much we can learn about grace from this depiction, unless you consider the opposite of grace—which has plenty of material available in this picture. One man’s obsession with the torture of another human being does not transfer really well. The true miracle of the crucifixion is the difference it made in the lives of those after Christ, not the pain he endured.
There’s no need to be a pulp Christian and obsess over blood and guts. If you yearn for grace, consider the miracle of your own existence—that you were introduced to this world with so many experiences ahead of you and so many people to love. And then look to the love, forgiveness, and kindnesses people afford each other, for that’s where you’ll get the best representation of the grace of God presently active in this world.