Caitlyn McHugh explains why Quentin Tarantino's characters drink so much.... coffee.
Is that coffee between them? Of course! (Courtesy Miramax)
In a game-changing scene in Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, The Hateful Eight, four characters silently plot to kill the rest of the cabin’s visitors while joking and teasing out loud about Minnie Mink’s famous fresh brewed coffee. So what makes this scene so perfectly Tarantino? Hint—it’s not the blood.
Similar plot devices and stylistic consistencies show up in all of Tarantino’s films and for the most part these conventions are noticeable. For example, obviously Tarantino likes revenge plots, over the top violence, bounty hunters, and female fighters. But a subtler pattern is found when looking at the beverages his characters drink in these exaggerated scenes.
Tarantino’s characters drink coffee almost as often as they kill people.
Writer-directors include food, music, and work in their movies to give characters and scenes the texture of real life. That’s why coffee has always played a part in film. Drinking coffee can be critical to starting the day and at the very least is perceived as a shared ritual – something people drink with other people, often from the same pot. It’s communal and universally understood. Consequently, drinking coffee normalizes characters and immediately makes them more relatable on some level despite how different from the audience they may be.
No matter how over the top Tarantino’s characters are – Vincent Vega (Pulp Fiction), The Bride (Kill Bill), or even Bridget Von Hammersmark (Inglorious Basterds) – they become more relatable with a mug in their hand. Tarantino doesn’t necessarily believe his audiences are capable of the kind of violence he puts on screen but he does suggest the characters who are committing these acts of violence are people who look and act “just like us.”
Coffee helps Tarantino set a tone for a scene. In his 2007 grindhouse film, Death Proof, the adventurous and car-obsessed female leads have a long-winded conversation in a vintage diner, so naturally there’s so much coffee being drunk and poured you can practically smell it. As the camera rotates around the table, showing the characters holding and sipping their coffee, laughing at the story being told, the focus is slowly racked to their stalker staring at them from the counter behind them. Although this scenario is anything but common the setting and the characters’ actions are very much the norm, causing you to instantly feel for the characters and root for their safety.
In Kill Bill, directly after an intricate fight scene between Vernita Green and the Bride, Vernita offers her old friend some coffee. She asks the Bride, “You still take cream and sugar right?,” suggesting that not only do they know each other but they’ve drank coffee together before. In this scene, coffee acts as the white flag. The two literally have to put down their knives in order to grasp the hot cup with two hands, forcing them to look and act more human and natural.
Reservoir Dogs starts off with all of the film’s main characters at a diner discussing the idea of tipping and whether or not it makes sense. Steve Buscemi’s character points out, “Look I ordered coffee. Now we’ve been here a long fucking time she’s only filled my cup three times. I mean when I order coffee I want it filled six times.” Clearly, Mr. Pink is a man of excess what with his addiction to cigarettes and his trigger-happy fingers and in this first scene, we’re introduced to this fact by the way he likes his coffee. The amount of coffee one drinks – or expects to be poured – is not only telling but it’s understandable by anyone who’s ever waited for a refill.
Coffee is also included in a scene in Django Unchained when Django is telling Schultz about his wife Broomhilda. In this scene, the camera is level to both of their heads as they talk and drink, demonstrating that these two characters, one a slave and the other a foreigner, are on the same level. The coffee shared between them is still another equalizer.
In the film that put Tarantino on the map, Pulp Fiction, coffee (and food in general), plays a major part in normalizing and connecting the characters to each other. “Big Kahuna” burger scenes aside, Pulp’s characters are constantly talking about the food and drinks in front of them. That’s especially true for, coffee and breakfast, which bookend the film.
Even more notably, Tarantino puts himself in a Pulp Fiction scene in which three other characters are figuring out how to dispose of a body all while, you guessed it, drinking coffee. Jules takes one sip and yells, “Goddamn Jimmy, this is some serious gourmet shit.” Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta are wearing matching suits that are covered in blood and they each take their first sips of coffee the way anyone would to start their day.
While Tarantino uses a lot of ways to make his characters more human, coffee is arguably the most universal. In fact, coffee is so common that many even drink it at the movies. In Boston, a Coolidge Corner Theatre employee said that during their screenings of The Hateful Eight many people ordered coffee during the intermission break. Was that because Tarantino made it look so appealing? “It could be because they feel like they need to stay awake for the next half. The movie is so long people need caffeine.”
Either way it’s clear that Quentin Tarantino is right in assuming coffee is a staple in our culture and it gives us reason to think we could share a pot with his otherwise hyperbolic characters.