Images of Women in Jackie Brown
by Judith Grant, University of Southern California
Pulp Fiction, in turn, can literally be seen as a series
of vignettes about men and loyalty. The most striking example is the story involving
Bruce Willis. Recall that after making a narrow escape, he returns to an
unimaginably weird scene involving man-on-man sexual violence. It evokes the film Deliverance which
is, not incidentally, another story about male honor. Willis character goes
back to save his arch enemy from rape even though he has every reason to believe that
doing so will get him killed. But saving anothers masculinity is simply the
right thing for him to do. He is, after all, following in the footsteps of DeNiro
and Brando in portraying that great cinematic symbol of the honorable male: a boxer.
Jackie Brown, is played with astonishing depth by the voluptuous veteran of Blacksploitation films, Pam Grier. And Griers Jackie Brown is cool. She is smart enough to outwit the cold-blooded villain played by Sam Jackson. And though she is alone, it is implied that she is not lonely for male companionship. The hard knocks she has taken on the street have not made her bitter or ugly. When she enlists the help of the love-sick bail agent in an illegal scheme against both the cops and the bad guys, she does not become selfish or shrewish as other film-noir heroines have ( think of Barbara Stanwick in Double Indemnity, for example). Instead, Tarantinos Brown is more like a prototypical male hero who is allowed a complexity of character sufficient to allow good and bad to co-exist without fear of cinematic retribution. In short, Brown does not die at the end of the film.
Brown is a survivor with the kind of street savvy that allows her to see her one chance to save her life while escaping the kind of poverty for which she is destined as a middle-aged, single black woman with few salable skills. The film opens and closes with a long shot of her alone and moving symbolizing the extent to which this is Browns story, alone. Like the 1996 film, Set It Off, Jackie Brown explores the terrain of Black women who are basically good people but who turn to crime with mixed results. Yes, she does come to enjoy the spoils of conquest, but without love or friendship. The message is ultimately that, like male heroes, she prevails in some sense because she is alone.