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.

Starting out as he did as a master of pulp fiction, it’s fascinating to me how Tarantino has changed gears slightly and become a master of meta fiction over the course of his filmography. Upon a second watch, Once Upon A Time... becomes even more clearly a clever game the writer director plays with his audience both as a guessing game the first time and then as an Easter egg hunt the second. Not the obvious ones the detail minded, nostalgia obsessed filmmaker has always put in regarding references to other films, but in the way he uses those touchstones and how they resonate with the film’s themes. Things like the impeccable song choices that don’t only evoke a place and era but inform character, and in Sharon’s case all deal in some fashion with time and tragedy. Things like the lengthy conversation between Rick and the 8 year old actor (not actress) being the key to the entire movie thematically—she teaches him that devotion to the craft (and by extension the arts themselves) above all else will save him, and it does literally and figuratively him and the rest of the characters. And especially things like one of the most ambiguous scenes in the film, with Cliff and his ex-wife on the boat. There’s been much discussion about that scene and how it can be deliberately read two ways, which informs Cliff’s character and how others (especially the audience) respond to him as a result. But an easy to miss bit of dialogue where the ex-wife mentions that her “sister Natalie” told her not to get involved with Cliff not only makes it clear that Tarantino knew exactly what resonance he was using with the scene and its implications, but also, given the movie’s ending, may create a third interpretation. What if that sister “Natalie,” thanks to whatever happened to her sister on that boat that day, decided from then on never to go on any boat with her spouse? The people who make movies are just that, people, fallible and flawed and finite. But the movies they make are eternal fairy tales, letting them live on forever in one way or another.

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