This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Zach Gilbert’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
“Yes, Sharon. Everybody’s fine.”
You can read my full review here, but I’d like to take this spoiler-filled post to discuss the melancholic majesty of the ending of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
In Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino took the Nazis to task and put pure Jewish rage and retribution on the big screen for all to behold.
In Django Unchained, he similarly strung up the racist slaveholders of our past and allowed for his protagonist to singlehandedly act as a conduit for the anger of African Americans across the nation on a one-man quest for vengeance.
In both of these films, Tarantino rewrote history to right wrongs and allow for long-delayed emotional catharsis for the individuals who had experienced travesty at the hands of both groups of antagonists. However, as wonderfully written and directed as these films may be, Tarantino himself is neither a Jew nor an African-American, and although his empathetic indignation for injustice brilliantly showed through his work, never has his utter exasperation at the pains of the past been more intimate than it is in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Unlike the age of slavery and the reign of the Nazis, two time periods that this writer-director did not live through, Tarantino, who was born in 1963, did indeed experience the “golden age of Hollywood” firsthand, and he was allowed to effortlessly revel in the elegance of the era. Although he would’ve been merely 6 years old by the time August 9, 1969 rolled around and the infamous, tragic Tate murders shocked the country, this was the type of far-reaching and impactful cultural calamity that leaves an impact on every citizen of every age. My own older relatives can still distinctly remember their parents’ frightened reactions at the brutality of the murders and their subsequent scrambles for greater safety in this newfound age of uncertainty. And, although these horrific acts influenced society at large, it sent sensational seismic shocks through the thriving entertainment industry specifically, effectively stalling the previously prevailing aura of innocence and optimism.
When Cliff Booth curb-stomps Tex Watson’s head, and when Rick Dalton uses a flamethrower to “burn [Sadie Atkins’s] ass to a crisp”, these shocking, sudden bursts of violence feel different from the similarily-toned savagery from Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. This time, things feel personal.
The wide-eyed, untarnished hopefulness that was washed out of America on the night of the Tate murders was additionally torn from a 6-year old Quentin Tarantino, a burgeoning film fan with a complete and unadultered adoration for the industry and the medium. In split seconds, the world he’d grown to found a home in was in tatters, and one of its brightest stars was dulled as well.
By diverting the actions of Tex Watson, Sadie Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel to the house of the fictional Rick Dalton as opposed to the real abode of Sharon Tate, Tarantino allows for his imagined, down-on-their-luck protagonists to not only prove their might and importance in a world they’re slowly phasing out of or simply save the day from the maniacal Manson cult on one occasion, but he also gives Dalton and Booth, his cinematic surrogates, the opportunity to stave off the death of innocence and preserve the purity of the industry as a whole.
When a still living Sharon Tate angelically invites a battered Rick Dalton up to visit in her home, her voice displaced via intercom, as if its coming from the heavens above, we see the union of the fading old Hollywood and the formerly flourishing new guard. In another time, all would’ve been right in the world, and the magic and might of this community would’ve never faltered. Most of all, we would’ve been blessed with further ravishing roles from the spectacular starlet herself.
But alas, this is a mere fairy tale - an unfortunate subversion of the truth. When Rick embraces Sharon and the two waltz off into her house, this not only represents the end of our time with these individuals, but the ends of their existence as well. Rick is no more after the final credits roll, and Sharon has been sadly stolen from us for almost 50 years.
Yet, once upon a time... there would’ve been a man by the name of Rick Dalton living next door to Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski.
Once upon a time... this Rick had a badass best friend and stunt double by the name of Cliff Booth.
Once upon a time... Tex Watson, Sadie Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinke would’ve broke into Rick’s home on Cielo Drive, not Sharon’s.
Once upon a time... Rick and Cliff would’ve taken care of those criminals in the manner they deserved.
Once upon a time... Sharon would’ve been safe.
Once upon a time... both the past and the present of the film industry would’ve coexisted peacefully, bringing us art and amusement for years to come, with no challenge to this creative growth in any capacity.
Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood.