Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is kind of a love story, kind of a biopic, and kind of a history.
Note that this post contains spoilers. Don’t read on if you haven’t seen it and care about being spoiled.
Or maybe “buddy pic,” rather than “love story;” but the relationship between the two leads will be analysed for its homoerotic content, no doubt.
How it certainly has been described is “a love letter to Hollywood,” and that’s fair enough. What it also is, is a counter-factual, or alternative history. But don’t worry, I’m not going to claim this one for SF.1
The main characters – fading cowboy actor Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and his regular stunt double Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt – are invented. But most of the other named characters, and many who are mentioned or appear as extras, are real people. The most significant of these is Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie. And it’s her story that makes this film most interesting, and maybe problematic.
Because of course she died tragically, murdered by members of Charles Manson’s “Family” cult. And in this version — she doesn’t.
If you know the history — which of course, many younger people won’t, which makes for different ways of experiencing the film — then you spend half the time expecting the massacre. There are captioned dates, and even though most of us wouldn’t know the date of the murders, there can’t really be any other reason for showing them. And then when it comes, something else happens.
The violence in that scene is gruesome, over the top, ludicrous — almost hallucinogenic, making me wonder if the tripping Booth2 is meant to have hallucinated some or all of it. But there’s no need for there to be so much of it, or for the majority of it to be directed at women. The “Family” did consist largely of women, I guess, but I can’t help but feeling that Tarantino is revelling in it a little too much.
And on top of all that, as my family agreed after seeing it: there’s no real need for the whole Sharon Tate thread of the story. It would have made a fine tale if were just about the two actors against the backdrop of late-60s Hollywood. I wonder what the point of it was. Did Tarantino feel he could in some way “save” Sharon Tate?