Monday, September 1, 2014

"The Gold Watch"- An Unexpected War Satire

Quentin Tarantino’s second feature film and his first claim to fame, Pulp Fiction, is a collection of stories that interweave to form one of the most well-known Indie masterpieces ever created. Each story connects to the others, but also has its own distinct theme.

“The Gold Watch” follows Butch Coolidge’s quest to find and protect his father’s gold watch. The watch, which has been handed from father to son for four generations, represents the struggle of each of its owners to define his masculinity in terms of asserting dominance over other men. Unlike his forefathers, Butch's generation is deprived of a war in which he can battle and assert his dominance. Though he does it artificially through his career as a boxer, he understands that the dominance he gains in the ring can be false because he makes a deal with the crime boss, Marcellus Wallace, to purposely lose his next big fight in exchange for a sizable bribe. Even so, he is uneasy about giving up this power which defines him, to which Marcellus responds, "Fuck pride. It only hurts, it never helps." Ultimately, Butch is unable to let go of that masculine pride, and ends up killing his opponent in the ring, thus breaking his deal with Marcellus. At this point, Marcellus launches a manhunt for Butch. Though he and his girlfriend had planned to leave town, Butch is forced to stay because his girlfriend forgot his watch back at their house. 

As he struggles to get his watch from his house and return to his girlfriend at the motel, Butch is able to redefine his masculinity by being tough and ambushing those who would wish to do him harm at times when they appear non-traditionally masculine. He first ambushes Wallace’s hit man, Vince Vega, by sneaking into his own house to get the watch while Vince is in the bathroom. Butch then uses his Vince's gun to shoot him while he's on the toilet reading a feminist crime novella, which is clearly a compromising position. He then ambushes Marcellus Wallace as he is driving back to the motel and sees Marcellus strolling down the middle of the street with a pink donut box, which isn't consistent with the idea that Marcellus is a bad ass crime lord. Butch runs Marcellus over and they get into a street fight before chasing each other into a pawn shop. There, the owner pulls a gun on them as they are trying to kill each other and chains them up in the basement. For a moment, it seems as if Butch will finally be defeated when the pawnshop owner's friend, Zedd, arrives and threatens to anal rape him, but Zedd decides to rape Marcellus first. While the crime lord is being raped, Butch breaks free, steals a samurai sword, and sneaks in to find Marcellus being raped by Zedd and the pawnshop owner, thus catching them all in positions that no "traditional male" would ever be caught in. He proceeds to kill the owner and free Marcellus, who shoots off Zedd's penis. Butch, having made peace with Marcellus by saving him, then leaves as the only one to make it out of the situation unmolested. He returns to his girlfriend on Zedd's motorcycle with the watch, and his masculinity, safe and unharmed.

At first glance, "The Gold Watch" clearly seems to be pushing an ideology of male dominance in which men must define themselves individuals by their ability to force their will onto others. However, a closer look at each of the ridiculous exaggerations of dominance makes it clear that this story was meant as a satire of our ridiculous, male-dominated culture. According to this, if you enjoy feminist culture, somebody will kill you. In real life, you probably wouldn't be killed, but you would be made to feel inferior. In Tarantino world, everyone is out to get you. If you don't fight somebody first, you will get raped or run over with a car. Again, this is by no means true in the real world, but it does accurately portray a level of competition between men and a rejection of “feminine” qualities that is all too recognizable. Butch is the only character to make it out of his day with his sense of masculinity fully intact and even his name is a stereotype for a tough guy. But doesn't the level of "bullshit that [he] had to deal with today" make the price of being a traditionally masculine male too high? Butch's father had to deal with the same level of ludicrous “bullshit” to protect his sense of masculinity, and Tarantino shows that in today's society, the absurd goal of being a dominant male is clearly not worth dealing with the absurd "level of bullshit.”

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