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.

On the night of August 8th, 1969, four members of the Manson Family, a notoriously dangerous Californian cult, entered a house on Cielo Drive where eight-and-a-half-month-pregnant Sharon Tate was staying with three of her friends, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, and Wojciech Frykowski, and murdered everyone in the house.

Quentin Tarantino has always been interested in the ethics of violence, evident both in his movies and in his interviews about them. Through his filmography we see examples of revenge (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill) and Mexican standoffs (Reservoir Dogs, Hateful Eight)—I'm not going to do justice to the nuance here, but these are essentially forms of retributive violence and mutually assured destruction. Throughout these narratives, it's not totally clear whether Tarantino is advocating for these forms of violence or merely examining their harmful effects.

This pattern changes slightly with Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds. In both of these films, members of an oppressed minority (blacks living in America and Jews living in Nazi Germany, respectively) rebel against their oppressors. These are both essentially still revenge narratives, with the persecuted taking vengeance against their persecutors, but the difference here is that it becomes very clear that Tarantino is advocating for these forms of violence. Killing slavers is good; killing Nazis is good.

Violence becomes political.

In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, this evolution reaches its next stage. At the end of the film, aging movie star Rick Dalton, his wife Francesca Cappucci, his stunt double Cliff Dalton, and Cliff's dog Brandy kill four home invaders. There are no explicit references to who these four are historically, but the more you look at the details it becomes clear:
- they answer to a man named Charlie, whom we never see, unless you count the time Tate and Sebring are visited by an unnamed character looking for "Terry," a previous renter of the house and (implied) reference to Terry Melcher, a record producer who denied Charles Manson a recording contract;
- they're led by a man named Tex, analogous to the real-life leader of the Tate Murderers Tex Walker;
- they even say that their initial mission is to kill the people in "Terry's" house, but they change their mind when one of them talks about her acid trips (the Manson Family were also well known hallucinogenic drug users).

So Rick, Francesca, Cliff, and Brandy kill the murderers who were in real life, and presumably would have been in the logic of the movie, the murderers who killed Tate and her friends. While it seems Tarantino is still advocating for this type of violence, it doesn't quite fit into any of the other categories provided by his other movies. While his previous films presented fantasies of retributive violence, here we see something new: a fantasy of preventative violence. Kill murderers before they can commit their crimes.

I guess now we know the answer to the question whether Quentin Tarantino would go back in time and kill Hitler before he rose to power.

2019 | Quentin Tarantino

Fun side note: Rick Dalton's Italian film Operazione Dyn-o-mite!" is directed by Antonio Margheriti, a real Italian film director (whom Tarantino has said he admires) but also the name taken by Eli Roth's character Donnie Donowitz in Inglourious Basterds. If Tarantino is playing with historical revisionism (killing Hitler, killing the Tate Murderers, etc.), are we to understand that Donnie Donowitz directed Operazione Dyn-o-mite!"?

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