I am about to write about a movie that is currently in the theaters, called Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I have seen the movie, and I am about to write about the movie. This means reading the following may not behoove you if you have not seen said movie and intend to. Requisite spoiler alert handled. Get on with yer bad self.
I don’t know about you, but the first thing that tickled me about Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” was an unabashed, non-masked appropriation of the Wilhelm scream.
It is the first hint to its audience of what this film is: It is, on the whole, Tarantino’s mash note, his Lloyd Dobbler with boom-box raised above his head scene, his rose petals sprinkled over the bed and chocolate covered strawberries to Hollywood.
And it is this in multitudes. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play, respectively, an early-’60s western series actor Rick Dalton and his stuntman Cliff Booth, now in 1969 when America’s love for shows like Gunsmoke and The Rifleman are fading. Dalton is being wooed for Italian spaghetti westerns and resists, though his current spate of jobs is guest-starring as the heavy on the remaining shoot-em-ups on television. It is within this context that Tarantino gets to create a mini-western within his film, a phrase that is challenging, frustrating, doubtful, and in the end victoriously redemptive for Dalton.
Tarantino, as you might know, is a master at mis-direction. His movies pull quarters out of your ears and put the card you picked into your own pocket. There is a macguffin in Hollywood but it’s not a fucking briefcase. It’s the Manson murders and what Tarantino is going to do with them. Is he going to do what I had expected and create a vengeance motive? Or would he dare to once again change a huge story’s ending, as he did in Showing results for Inglourious Basterds and to some extent in Django Unchained?
Well, as Tarantino bashes you over the head with near the film’s end, THE MOVIE IS CALLED ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. It’s named like a fairy tale. What do you think happens?
What happens in the end is yet another Tarantino vengeance fantasy. For most of the film, harsh violence is more whispered than it is shown. Until the end. Until the end. Holy forking shirtballs, until the end. But, as in Basterds and Django, it is a bizarre pop-culture catharsis. Unlike those films, the violence is depicted in a way that unscrews the lid completely. You will see a person’s face as a mangled, bloody stub. It may help you feel better that the person portrayed is Patricia Krenwinkel, one of the Manson Helter Skelter clan.
My Dad and I agreed that this would somehow via butterfly effect have been a better world had Tarantino’s story played out, had two washed up Hollywood boys thwarted the most infamous Hollywood murder ever, had Sharon Tate been allowed to carry her pregnancy to term, or even, what the hell, had Jay Sebring not been shot, kicked in the face, and stabbed to death at age 36.
Somehow, Tarantino’s rewriting of these events is incredibly uplifting.
Once upon a time. The most fucked up fairy tale I’ve ever seen.
P.S. Margaret Qualley has impossibly beautiful legs. There, I said it.