The contents of the suitcase in Pulp Fiction remain one of the great un-answered ambiguities in pop culture. As always, Tarantino knew exactly what he was doing, engineering the mystery to inspire endless debate via the various dazzled responses of the people who see what’s inside. It can feel like a tired argument until you watch the movie again and the careful exposition of the mystery makes you sort of stare into the middle distance afterward and wonder: What exactly was in there?
In a typically clear, well-researched essay, ScreenPrism lays out the various arguments. The big go-to take—that it’s Marcellus Wallace’s soul—gets a lot of screen-time, via the “666" combination to enter the briefcase and the theory that the band-aid on the back of his neck is from, um, his soul being removed. The video also takes a look at whether it’s a filmic meta-reference—either an intentional MacGuffin or a reference to the 1955 noir Kiss Me Deadly, although Tarantino himself has said that the latter isn’t the case. In a move anticipating the massive shared universes the internet collectively wills into existence today, there are a couple of theories connecting the contents of the briefcase to Reservoir Dogs and True Romance, but the most satisfying description is probably Samuel L. Jackson’s: Two lights and some batteries.
ScreenPrism ends up making the case for its ambiguity as a plot device in and of itself, which is a little unsatisfying but probably the best we’re going to get. Some of us will just have to continue believing it’s an Elvis suit.