How Tarantino Uses Dialogue in the Burger Scene to Intimidate

Credit: Miramax
Now that's a tasty burger. 

I think we can all agree that Quentin Tarantino is the master of dialogue. His movies sizzle with engaging repartee and the way his characters speak reveals a lot about them. One of the most famous Tarantino scenes is the "tasty burger" scene from Pulp Fiction. It involves hitmen Jules and Vincent showing up to collect a debt owed to Marcellus Wallace, and devolves from there. 

The whole scene is a showcase of intimidation, characterization, and... great dialogue. 

Check out this video from Savage Books, and let's chat after. 

As you can see in the video, Tarantino uses escalating conflict as well as nonsequiturs to amp up and then relax tension. This seesaw of chatter keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. We get two guys going into a scene with clear motivation: they want the money they're owed. We also know their clear worry, that they should have shotguns because they know this can get messy. 

In the burger scene below, you can see it play out in real-time. 

What makes a scene like this special is how it sets and defies expectations. We get the idea that it's about money and trouble. And we've seen that happen in many different movies. But what Tarantino does with his dialogue is approach this from a roundabout way.

He comes in with the burger. That's the entry point. It's a callback to the car, and it humanizes everyone in the room. As soon as we see everyone as human, we understand the stakes are life and death. 

When the guns come out, we know the change. But we're always waiting for the guns. The conversation takes a long time. It beats around the bush, circling, like a shark. We see the body language. Vincent casing the joint, Jules casing the people. He's digging for answers. 

When you tackle a scene, think about how it affects your characters' lives. What do they spark to inside the scene? What prompts a memory or a conversation? Can that conversation be a greater metaphor, or can it be exploratory within the humanity at hand? 

What are some things you took away from the video? Some strategies you'll use in your writing? Let me know in the comments.      

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3 Comments

Agreed it's a classic, but nothing compared to the Strudel Scene in Inglorious Basterds.

November 5, 2021 at 11:57AM

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Bob Sirwaitis
Videographer/Editor/Director (Semi-Retired)
99

One of Hollywood's most sought-after screenwriters, Aaron Sorkin, often compares dialogue to music. According to him, dialogue in cinema must maintain a certain rhythm, sometimes it looks like super-fast but harmonious jazz, sometimes it looks like classical melodies. If, when watching a good dialogue movie, you focus on this, you can really catch the musical rhythm in the conversations of the characters.

November 8, 2021 at 10:38AM

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Kelly Peebles
consultant, researcher, and editor
109

This was a movie for the ages!

November 9, 2021 at 12:10PM

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