Note: This article contains spoilers about Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood.’ You’ve been warned.
Let’s start with the positives: ‘Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood’ by Quentin Tarantino has glorious moments that are well worth seeing in cinema. His films are the last U.S. films that will make adult audiences all over the world see something other than mindless superheroes beating each other up relentlessly. You could make a point that Tarantino’s movies are the closest thing the public of the U.S. has to art-house cinema. And that’s a good thing.
The story in his newest film, ‘Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood,’ revolves around a stunt double, Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt, and a failed TV star and alcoholic, Rick Dalton, who happens to live next to Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski in 1969, the same year the Manson gang invaded Sharon’s home and brutally murdered her and her friends.
Both Cliff and Rick are so American that it’s almost funny to a parodic level. The story is a mess held together by these two characters and the slow decline of their careers, and this leads to the final punchline of the movie, which appears to be the only solid idea in the whole script.
Don’t cry in front of Mexicans
Cliff is an all American Hollywood macho type that panics when he sees his friend, Dalton, crying in public, and promptly asks him to hide his feelings in front of a group of Mexicans. Yes, that really happens. It’s clear that in these glorious Hollywood times, men do not show feelings in public. Those were the days, man.
Cliff is not only Rick’s stunt double, but also his personal assistant and pep-talker. The simplicity of his character is so obvious that Tarantino desperately tries to deepen him with hints about a war past, a lonely, yet almost sadistic relationship with his dog, and ultimately the fact that he probably got away with killing his wife. For those that know Tarantino well, this character really only has one true purpose for this story: to inflict ultra violence against other humans.
Fine acting and no politics
Cliff is brilliantly played by Brad Pitt, although he doesn’t really get the lines to shine. For it’s his buddy, Leonardo di Caprio, that has the most incredible moments as Dalton. The act where Dalton finally squeezes out star acting in a Western is both brilliantly done and well-written. It completely unveils the pettiness of the character that’s getting really sloppy in his job as an actor. That scene alone is a good reason to see the movie.
Politically, there’s not much going on, although this was probably the most dramatic era in the political history of the USA, where grassroots movements were fighting the war in Vietnam, the corruption of their president—and of course—the ugly segregation in the south.
The only political side that Cliff and Rick take is this: Fuck the hippies. But we’ll get to that later.
The basic idea
The movie ultimately revolves around this one idea: What if the Manson gang would have gone to Rick Dalton instead? Roman Polanski, whose house the Manson gang really went to, is depicted in this film like an odd European prick and Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie, as a naive girl. They have nothing to work with. They’re just sitting in the next house, waiting for Tarantino to alter their history.
Steve McQueen appears in a completely pointless act at the Playboy mansion, which is the first time I literally cringed while watching a Tarantino movie. With some honest editing, that scene should have been cut out wholly.
Tarantino’s idea to keep Charles Manson almost completely out of the story is well thought out. It’s also well done to send the gang to the wrong house, where they meet the macho duo instead of a frightened pregnant woman, but it’s like a good joke at the bar—hardly an idea for a whole movie.
The end is incredibly exhilarating, but for all the wrong reasons. The film might have been nice as a one and half hour movie, but, the thing is, it’s two hours and forty minutes. The first half an hour is fine, the rest, well, it’s just pointless, and doesn’t add anything to anything.
Taking the society out of the cult
The attitude against hippies though is amusing. The movie itself avoids politics altogether, which is interesting because you can’t really understand the Manson gang if you’re gonna cut out the whole society that they sprung up from. The home invaders say themselves just before invading Dalton’s home that TV taught them to kill, so they should murder their teachers. And then, like magic, one Manson hippie goes, “Wow man.”
I don’t know who Tarantino is talking to in this scene, perhaps some Republican in the early 90s, but even Donald Trump is blaming video games, not movies, for gun violence. This 30 year old rhetoric is closely tied to another script that Tarantino wrote, ‘Natural Born Killer,’ in 1992.
The reasons for these home invaders to go and kill someone is still utterly incomprehensible. Perhaps that reflects the real crime, but Tarantino is not seeking to answer that in this film.
What if Trump was a great artist?
Tarantino doesn’t segregate hippies from the Manson gang—he puts them in the same box. So in the end, when the Manson gang meets their fate, it comes out like a hate letter to hippies. An ultra violent one, also.
The feeling I got after the movie—and this fits the movies premise in a hilarious way—what if Donald Trump would have been an incredibly talented director, not a delusional politician? He would have told the exact same story. Fuck hippies, the sixties were great, men don’t cry in public, let alone in front of Mexicans, and politics are for strong all American macho types like Cliff and Rick. They would have fucked up the hippie Manson-gang with their pure American coolness, unlike Sharon and her sissy friends. The spineless European would also met the same faith had he been home.
So what’s the verdict? The movie is a mess, but an enjoyable one. If you want to ignore the politics, it’s fine. Tarantino is not trying to say anything with this movie or put hippies down. This is more like that moment where a writer accidentally unveils his true self. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s undeniably embarrassing.
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