One of the most memorable scenes in Pulp Fiction is the one of the adrenaline shot, but is it scientifically accurate? Let’s take a look.
Pulp Fiction has many memorable characters, scenes, and lines, and among those is the adrenaline shot scene involving Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega – but how scientifically accurate is that specific moment? Quentin Tarantino is one of the biggest and most controversial names in the film industry, as his peculiar narrative and visual style have earned him the praise of critics and viewers, but his graphic and generous doses of violence have also drawn a lot of backlash. Tarantino’s career began in 1992 with a lot of success, but his big break arrived two years later with the black comedy Pulp Fiction.
Tarantino went for a non-linear narrative for Pulp Fiction, following different characters in different segments that together form a cohesive story, and with these characters crossing paths at some point. The leads of these segments are hitmen Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), their boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), his wife Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), and boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis). Although all of them star in at least one segment, the marketing of the movie focused more on Vincent, Jules, and Mia, who are often pointed out as the protagonists of Pulp Fiction, and even more so as Vincent and Mia are at the front and center of some of the most memorable scenes, including one that was controversial at some point.
Vincent and Mia’s paths cross when the former is asked by Marsellus to escort Mia while he’s out of town. Before picking her up, Vincent stops at his drug dealer Lance’s (Eric Stoltz) place to make a purchase and keeps his dose of heroin in his jacket. After having dinner at Jack Rabbit Slim’s and winning a dance contest, Vincent and Mia return to her home, and while he’s in the bathroom, Mia finds his heroin and mistakes it for cocaine, so she snorts it and suffers an overdose. Vincent rushes to Lance’s house, where they decide to give her an adrenaline shot directly to the heart, which immediately brings her back. The scene is as graphic as it can be, but is it scientifically accurate?
According to then-general surgery resident Annie Onishi (via Wired), the adrenaline scene in Pulp Fiction isn’t too far fetched but still a bit of a stretch, as she explained that for certain arrhythmias (which is when the heart beats in an uncoordinated fashion) a milligram of adrenaline or epinephrine would kickstart the heart. However, she points out that Vicent and Lance spent too much time talking before giving Mia the shot and she probably would have given her chest compressions while they discussed who was going to inject her, and that they could have easily accessed the heart “through one of the intercostal spaces” instead of straight through the sternum.
However, others have pointed on different platforms, such as Reddit, that the adrenaline scene in Pulp Fiction isn’t accurate at all, starting with the substance itself. According to many, in case of an overdose they would have to inject Narcan (naloxone), a substance used to reverse the effects of opioids, and the shot doesn’t go through the sternum, as Onishi explained, and some have pointed out that, in some cases, the patients have sat right up like Mia Wallace after the shot, though they usually slowly wake up over the course of 30 seconds. Scenes like the adrenaline one in Pulp Fiction can be tricky as they more often than not end up being far from what would be done in real life, and while the way Quentin Tarantino wrote and filmed the scene, along with the cast’s performances, made it an unforgettable one, it’s not exactly scientifically accurate.
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