Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★★

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

This review may contain spoilers.

Tarantino has had his share of great movies (and let's be honest, his share of real turds too) but Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the first that I'd call "beautiful" or even "joyful" and my god is it such a nice change of pace. It's certainly my favorite of his movies since Pulp Fiction and a little more time and thought might put this as my favorite of his all-time.

OUTH (wow, what a gross acronym) covers ground that would easily lend itself to cynicism. It is about an aging actor who is just at the precipice of being washed up and covers one of the greatest tragedies in pop culture history. Going in I expected a much more negative film about a dying era. Instead Tarantino went back in time and made magic happen.

Sharon Tate is shown here as a revelatory icon. She is more than human, constantly dancing, smiling, and spreading joy in the way that a goddess descended from heaven would. I have seen criticism of her lack of dialogue in the film, but her playing a mostly wordless role fits perfectly. If she talked more and had more "real scenes" she would become a character. But Tarantino makes her MORE than a character. He depicts her in the old mythological tradition in which holy figures represented abstract concepts such as love. Aphrodite was the goddess of love and Tate is the goddess of 1969 Los Angeles. And just like the trees would begin to wild if the goddess of spring died an entire era of culture died with Sharon Tate. Thus, by 'saving' her Tarantino saves the entire era of pop culture. Tate never dies and thus the culture never stops blossoming. The 70's of gas shortages and the 80's of Reagan conservatism never arrive.

I have seen a lot of criticisms of the film that it meanders until the final 30-ish minutes. My counter to that is that the meandering is precisely the point. Tarantino gives us plenty of time to soak in the culture of the era. He lets us understand the people living in the Los Angeles of 1969 and get to know them and the world that they inhabit. By doing this Tarantino makes his case that this world and this era are worth saving. He needs his audience to understand both what he is doing when he saves Sharon Tate and why he is doing it. By allowing us to love his world for two drama-free hours he makes his case. We have fun, we relax, we don't want a bunch of crazy hippies to come in and ruin it all.

OUTH, in some weird bizzarro connection, made me think a lot of Twin Peaks. In Twin Peaks the murder of Laura Palmer is shown as a cosmically symbolic act of evil. The town was presented with a vibrant and beautiful young girl and it allowed her to be raped and murdered. In a way the entire series is about an attempt to make amends for the murder that fails in increasingly nightmarish ways. In OUTH Sharon Tate is the Laura Palmer, but Tarantino's heroes don't fail. It is of course a fairytale both to believe that it is possible to go back in time to save Sharon Tate and to believe that the world would be a noticeably better place had the murder been prevented. But hey, this is a fairytale. It's right there in the title.

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