At the February 13th meeting of the Front Range UNIX Users Group Geoff
Thompson gave an overview of the Java AWT (Abstract Window Toolkit) and the
Event Model for release 1.1. Starting with a video clip of a very early
Graphical User Interface, Geoff put GUI programming in perspective.
Since most graphical user interface programming in Java, whether in
or stand-alone applications, uses the AWT, it is one of Java's most
important class libraries. The Java language is quite stable, however,
AWT has evolved significantly from its creation to its current state in
Java 1.0.2. Some of the most important changes are coming in 1.1. (And even
more changes will follow.) At the center of this evolution is event
processing. Geoff's talk focused on the AWT and the details of event
The multi-media presentation also included live demonstrations of AWT
programs. In the end, a copy of Graphic Java, Mastering the
AWT, by David Geary and Alan McClellan, from SunSoft Press and
Prentice Hall, was given away, though we never did find out what is in
the suitcase in Pulp Fiction.
Some of Geoff's examples are available at
Due to popular demand, Jeff has supplied us with the details on exactly
what was inside the briefcase....
When Geoff gave his talk on the Java AWT Event Model,
he sprinkled great little diversions into his talk, such as a discussion
of the first mouse-based GUI done at Evans and Sutherland.
Geoff also made some promises that he didn't follow through with, namely
revealing exactly what's inside the suitcase in the movie
Pulp Fiction. We've been flooded with e-mail from
curious FRUUG members demanding the
details from Geoff and, due to the popular demand, here they are
(The story does end up having something to do with Java):
The contents of the briefcase are never revealed. It's not explained in
the screenplay either. What we know is that people are willing to go to
extremes to get it and keep it, and that when the case is opened it gives
all a visible glow. (In both cases when it is opened, it is facing away
from the camera.) Also, people are very impressed by what they see when
they see it.
Did Quentin Tarantino, the director, screw up? Did he accidentally cut out
some line of dialog that explains it? No, the omission was intentional.
The contents of the briefcase is a "MacGuffin," a narrative device that
serves to move a story forward. In other movies it is the secret plans,
the microfilm, the computer disk, or magic formula. It really doesn't
matter what it is, only that characters in the story want it.
The MacGuffin is used by many film makers, but it was popularized by
Alfred Hitchcock who used it very effectively. In his interviews with
Francois Truffaut he describes how in his earlier movies he would have an
explanation of what exactly was the secret plan or vital formula and why
it was important. This explanation would come at the end of a movie, after
some exciting climatic action. Hitchcock found these scenes were tedious
and anti-climatic and later would make them as short as possible. In "Pulp
Fiction" Tarantino simply takes the MacGuffin to a logical extreme, he
eliminates the explanation all together. By adding the glow it makes all
the simple conjectures implausible (drugs, money, guns). It is
intentionally ambiguous and unexplained, leaving it to the imagination of
the viewers. It's more fun, it tweaks the viewer, it's more effective.
In interviews Tarantino never explained the contents. When John Travolta
was asked, he said it was two lights and a battery.
Now, what did all this have to do with Java. Tarantino was operating at a
higher level of abstraction. Providing a literal explanation would
trivialize it and make it less effective. Likewise, Java operates on a
virtual machine, a higher level of abstraction of a computing machine,
which is often more effective than the traditional machine dependent,
machine language approach.