Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I don't want to waste much time on the film as a whole, I suppose if you want my two cents, it's a mixed bag for me. I loved a lot of it, but a lot got under my skin. That's that on that. What really interests me is that bonkers ending, and the implication of it in relation to Tarantino and his notorious use of on screen violence.
Beyond foot shots and trunk shots, the number one staple of a Quentin Tarantino film has always been violence. Even his tamest film, Jackie Brown, has moments of violence from beginning to end. For the entirety of his career, Quentin has fought constant accusations that he is in some way complicit in desensitizing the youth, or celebrating violence altogether. When confronted with this he's always quick to retort something along the lines of,

" I like violent movies. Why do people like musicals? It's just what they like."

So how does "Once Upon A Time in Hollywood" add to this discussion? I remember reading the news that Quentin's new movie was going to have to do with Charles Manson and Sharon Tate, and I was both excited and VERY nervous. Around the time that the news had come out, I was working on a project on the Manson Family murders for a Forensic Science class, so I knew the events of the murder inside and out. I just didn't think he had the capacity to handle something that was not only this dark and heavy, but this recent in our collective memory. With Basterds and Django both topics were heavy, but their twists on history were cathartic. How can you make serial murder cathartic? How can you handle a serial killing with grace and respect? The truth is you can't.
Writers of True Crime shlock probably realize this, but also realize that they have a niche audience that expect and want that kind of a violence in the film. Tarantino also realized this, and as a result he avoided the murders altogether. In fact the killings within the film, were the massacre of the "fuckin hippies" that committed the atrocities that we had all expected to see be played out in gratuitous Tarantino fashion to begin with, and a lot of people are disappointed that that's what we got. So what does that prove?
Whether or not the film is good, great or perfect, I know one thing for sure. This film exonerates Tarantino of any claims that he obsesses over violence, or in any way celebrates it. With "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" Tarantino proves two things. One, that he detests true violence, and two that audiences revel in violence both true and fictional.
One of the biggest "disappointments" that I've often heard from general audiences about the film is that there wasn't enough Charles Manson or that they expected more of him. It's valid to have expected more of him, he was in the trailer, that's not your fault. However, instead of giving Manson a platform with villainous Joker-esque monologues Quentin turns Manson into a character that we see in one scene who is spoken about a few times. Not only does this deprive Manson of the notoriety that he so badly wanted (after all he’s basically Llewyn Davis in the 60s), but it proves that Quentin Tarantino doesn’t find pleasure in the deaths of others. Does violence and death provide thrills on the silver screen? Of course and it always has, but real violence and fictional violence are two completely separate things, and should be taken as such.
Meanwhile, the fact that Manson’s absence is a complaint speaks volumes about how audiences are guilty of the crimes that Tarantino is repeatedly accused of. At one point in the film, the larger than life Cliff Booth is speaking to the mysterious Manson family member Pussycat and she says something along the lines of
“I sure wish you could meet Charlie… you’d like Charlie…”
Quentin knows what we want. We sure would like to meet Charlie, in fact we might even like him a little bit, but Mr. Grindhouse himself, Quentin Tarantino takes no pleasure in Manson’s murders, as they aren’t the deaths of Vincent Vega, Dr. King Schultz, or the titular Hateful Eight. Sharon Tate, and the LaBiancas were real people murdered in vain.

At the climax of the movie, when the murders are about to take place Tex and the other Manson killers decide their reasoning to kill Rick Dalton and Sharon Tate is because Rick Dalton and Hollywood as a whole taught them to love violence, so they should teach Hollywood what it taught them. That’s when Cliff Booth and Rick Dalton let loose what are arguably three of the most grotesque deaths in Quentin’s filmography, and naturally, we the audience relish in it, because it’s fictional. As Cliff Booth brutalizes the knife toting hippies, Quentin lets loose on all the critics with the audacity to compare real murder to on screen violence.

And the audience eats it up because we like violent movies.

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