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.

So this is the adjacent simultaneous spoilery review, giving me some space to muse about that, uh...unique finale more directly:

Another revisionist ending, Tarantino? Whatever you were trying to say with this, it can't help but seem like a lazy repeat of something you should've gotten away with once at most, yet have now chosen to do in three of your four movies over the past decade. It was shocking and audacious for "Inglourious Basterds", not quite as effective in "Django Unchained", and here clashes with the unspoken yet omnipresent weight of inevitable cultural change.

We're supposed to hoot and holler at the wacky over-the-top brutality that Rick, Cliff and Brandy inflict on the Manson cult psychos, and I admit it was hilariously gory (goddamn those head bashings..) and sated a certain lizard brain wish fulfillment synapse of mine, but at the same time as Tarantino's (now signature) hoodwink dawned on me during this sequence, my heart kind of sank at the thought that he's disguising cop-out happy ending bullshit and his own addiction to sadistic violence-as-climax as some boldly original, sophisticated artistic statement.

I feel bad for Sharon Tate and the other murder victims that their tragedy was papered over with grindhouse-nasty revenge-porn slapstick. Save these impulses of yours for a remake of "I Spit on Your Grave" or something, QT. I know, maybe we should've felt bad for the millions of Jewish people who never got the vindication of taking down Hitler, re: "Inglourious Basterds". Maybe we should've felt bad for the slaves who never rose up and annihilated their oppressors like superhero Jaime Foxx in "Django". But this being the third time Tarantino has pulled this same trick, I think it's easier to pick apart now. What's next, a 9/11 movie where air marshal Bruce Willis throws the terrorists out the window and their bodies splatter in the jet engines, and then Zoe Bell lands the planes safely in Times Square? It's times like these that you can really see his dueling predilections as a filmmaker - on one shoulder, an auteurist of great ambition and intellect trying to synthesize the trash that he grew up watching into legitimate pop-art; on the other shoulder, fuckin' Eli Roth telling him to include gnarly gross-out kill scenes and cast his (lovely yet) talentless wife Lorenza Izzo, however inappropriate both might be to the endeavor at hand.

So what would be a better ending? If the Manson kids had killed Rick and Cliff instead of Sharon and her friends? If they'd killed everybody up there on Cielo Drive? If they'd killed Sharon and her friends like in real life, and Rick and Cliff are helpless witnesses in some way and it sears their souls forever? If they'd killed Sharon and her friends like in real life, but Rick and Cliff aren't even aware of it because they're so high and drunk next door, and the movie ends on their happy obliviousness, suggesting that this is the final snapshot of relative innocence in their lives before they a) never work together again, as planned, and b) hear about what happened to their neighbors the next morning? If they'd killed Sharon and her friends like in real life, and then Rick and Cliff kill THEM afterward in similar gruesome fashion to what happens in this movie? I don't know. I expected the movie to reckon with what happens to Sharon, be it directly or not, and I don't think it has any meaningful reason not to. It feels like cheap fake catharsis.

It also feels like a desperation to bend expectations. Over and over since the beginning of his career, he's been making variations big and small on stand-offs with unexpected resolutions (remember what happens to Travolta in "Pulp Fiction", the robbery that Jules interrupts at the end, how Beatrice kills Bill, the confrontation between Candie and Schultz in "Django", the tavern scene in "Inglourious Basterds", etc.), and he does it again here, first when Cliff goes to the ranch. We're just waiting for something awful to happen, since he doesn't know what he's up against, and we're goosed to expect it even more as we watch Tex gallop intensely back to intervene, only for him to arrive too late, as Cliff drives safely away. So maybe the ending is that same huckster's gambit played in the big picture of us knowing what happens to Sharon and waiting for the movie to reach that point, with its read-outs of exact dates and times of day marking the countdown, until gotcha! This coiling suspense that QT is so good at building gets released in a weird way you didn't see coming, like always! Maybe that's what why he ended the movie this way, even if he never admits it. He doesn't like being predictable, and what's less predictable than erasing the major event from a true story?

Whatever. I look forward to reading Letterboxd reviews in the coming days, in pursuit of wiser interpretations that will enlighten me as to the more fulfilling purpose of this ending.

Otherwise, great movie!

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