Is The Past Just A Story We Tell Ourselves?— Based on Tarantino's New Film

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in  Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. |  Columbia Pictures

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. | Columbia Pictures

*Warning, this article contains spoilers*

The summer of 1969 can be chalked up to one singular and catastrophic series of events: The Manson Murders. The phenomenon of these murders and their attack on Hollywood royalty—actress Sharon Tate and notorious director  Roman Polanski—gave the murder spree global recognition. It is an eerie and unforgettable part of Hollywood’s history. Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to reimagine these events in his 9th film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. He creates a completely new narrative surrounding the Manson Murders, following the lives of fictional characters, actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his sidekick and stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). This narrative tactic is reminiscent of Tarantino’s 2009 film, Inglourious Basterds, which is a revenge fantasy on Nazi Germany and World War Two, and how Tarantino would have preferred give a new ending to the story. 

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. transports the audience into the world of 1960s Hollywood with its glamor and haze. The narrative is driven mainly by the lives of Dalton and Booth, as they try to navigate being “has beens” in their respective ways. This is an intriguing plot point for a Tarantino film, straying away from his usual violence and gore, and instead touching upon male fragility and the cruel nature of Hollywood that takes you in and spits you out. Tarantino tactfully weaves the storyline of Dalton and Booth with subtle shots of the lives of the Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha). The dialogue is left almost entirely to DiCaprio and Pitt, and their relationship is what drives the movie. However, Tarantino depicts the ethereal Sharon Tate immaculately, with her almost-fairy-like presence guiding her as she glides through Playboy Mansion Parties and later picks up hitch-hikers from Westwood Blvd. Tarantino is giving life back to Tate in this movie. Robbie embodies the Sharon Tate “it” factor, with her gleaming smile and effortless performance. It almost tricks the audience into believing Tate is alive and well in all her glory, and that Tarantino has successfully reneged the past.

The movie transitions back into Manson territory when Booth picks up a beautiful hitch-hiker looking to catch a ride to Chatsworth, giving the audience a clue as to where they would be heading (Spahn Ranch in Chatsworth, where the Manson “family” hid). The ranch is an utterly eerie freakshow, with disheveled young women silently swaying as they watch Booth interact with one of their leaders. Tarantino captures the uncapturable in these scenes, bringing the Manson “Family” dynamic to a palpable reality. Booth interacts with varying members of the ranch, including actors Dakota Fanning, Austin Butler, and Lena Dunham. When he departs from the ranch, after inevitably beating a family member to a pulp, (Tarantino…), the audience is left wondering how and if their paths will cross again. 

The movie’s ending is a major component to the film’s growing buzz from its audience. Dalton and Booth return from a 6-month stint in Italy, ultimately deciding to part ways after Dalton decides to get married. They plan to celebrate a decade-long era of brotherhood; meanwhile, a very pregnant Sharon Tate and her friends (including Emile Hirsch), are celebrating. Tate and co. head to El Coyote, a notorious Mexican restaurant on Melrose, while Dalton and Booth enjoy their time at Casa Vega, a famous Valley joint. These events are dated to have occurred on August 8th, 1969, placing us at the actual date of the Manson Murders. So we know something is coming. 

Austin Butler’s character, Tex, and two other women arrive at Cielo Drive (actual address of Tate and Polanski), with the promise of killing Hollywood A-listers who perpetuated violence in their movies. Instead, they end up at the house of Dalton, where Booth wards them off with the sound of a click to his vicious dog. This is where Tarantino returns to employing his usual, extreme violence. The Manson Members are violently chewed to shreds, while Pitt’s character viciously kills one of the women. It gets even more outrageous when DiCaprio enters the scene with a flame-thrower. The violence is so erratic and obscene it is almost comical, yet still slightly disturbing to watch if you’re not accustomed to watching acts of incredible violence. The irony of the ending is that the Manson Clan got the wrong house, and failed at their mission. The movie concludes with Dalton divulging details to Tate about the “crazy hippies” who had attacked his home before being invited to her house for drinks. Tarantino redefines the tragic truth of the Manson Murders, and creates a story where the past can be erased, where the “what if” is actualized. The movie is ingenious and triumphant, and leaves the audience hoping for the ending Tarantino has created, wishing the past could be whatever we conceive.