Since Quentin Tarantino’s breakthrough hit, Pulp Fiction, hit theaters, in 1994, one question has beguiled moviegoers’ minds: what’s in the freaking briefcase? For those who’ve managed to avoid watching the modern classic: a mysterious briefcase is chased after by two gunmen for hire, played by Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta. When they finally get the briefcase and open it up, an orange light is emitted from the case. And that’s what we know so far. So what is in the darn case? Here’s a few of the most popular possibilities, ranked from least plausible to most plausible, and why they may — or may not — be accurate.
5. Marsellus Wallace’s Soul
At one point, this was the most popular theory, thanks to an
always-reliable e-mail forward. Wallace (Ving Rhames) is the one who sends Travolta and
Jackson after the briefcase. And what would Wallace desperately want?
His soul fits the bill. Adding fire to this theory is the combination
to the case — 666 — and the Band-Aid on the back of Wallace’s neck. (The aforementioned e-mail forward claims the Bible says the Devil removes souls through the back of the neck.) Many people accepted that Wallace’s soul was sold to the Devil and retrieved. However, as fun as the theory is, Tarantino himself through cold water on it, saying the combination on the case means nothing. Not only that, but the “pulling the soul out of the back of the head” thing isn’t in the Bible.
4. Violence and/or Male Inferiority
Critics have argued that the glow in the briefcase represents a variety
of malevolent forces, the two most prominent of which are violence and
the essence of male inferiority. There are arguments for each: violence
constantly needs to be contained throughout the movie, only to
eventually spill out, just like the ominous orange light. Male
inferiority, to one intrepid critic,
is the glow that resides inside every man, which they attempt to keep
locked up. Either is possible, and there’s no real way of proving
either theory incorrect — but they both feel like a bit of stretch, the
kind of thing a critic would think of, hoping to imbue the briefcase
with a weightiness it doesn’t actually have.
Considering Pulp Fiction takes place in
the real world, a real-world solution makes a whole lot of sense. And
what in the world would drive people so crazy that they’d do anything to
get their hands on a simple briefcase? What if that briefcase were full
to the brim with diamonds? The most compelling evidence for diamonds is
that the script initially said as much. Then, on set, Tarantino decided he didn’t want any part of that. So instead we got the glowing briefcase.
You could argue that, sure, it’s still diamonds, since that’s what was
originally down on paper. But how many diamonds do you know of
that glow orange (unless that’s why they’re so valuable)?
2. Atomic Explosive
Tarantino’s never shied away from referencing older movies in his own flicks. For Pulp Fiction, he admits that Butch (Bruce Willis) is based on Ralph Meeker’s character from Kiss Me Deadly — a movie in which a pursued briefcase emits a mysterious glowing
substance, which turns out to be atomic material. There’s even a shot
of one of the main characters opening the case and glow enveloping her
face that looks exactly like Travolta opening the case in Pulp Fiction.
So did Tarantino steal a plot point from the noir classic? The director says it’s just a coincidence, but, of all the theories
he’s heard, it’s his favorite. It’s ours too: if there’s anything in
that case, it’s a nuke.
1. It’s Just a MacGuffin
But of course the most likely scenario is that it’s just a good old
MacGuffin, which, for the uninitiated, is an “event, object, or
character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in
motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance.” Given that
Tarantino has implied the briefcase may very well be a MacGuffin,
repeatedly, chances are that it’s just a MacGuffin. But aren’t those
other theories so much more fun?