The two-time Oscar winner and cult director Quentin Tarantino appears in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019) from his age-mild and wistful side. In this spoiler review we’ll spoil why this dreamy declaration of love for times gone by is still clever. Be warned!
Rick and Cliff: a slightly different Hollywood dream couple
The plot summary
February 1969: The washed-up television star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) finds himself in a career dead end. Since his western series “Bounty Law” was canceled, he has struggled in vain to find a foothold on the big screen. Now he appears as a guest actor from television series to television series. Meanwhile, Rick sees the offer to film a western in Italy as more of an insult than an opportunity. Rick’s best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) would have a lot more reason to complain, but unlike Rick, the war veteran, who is completely despised in the TV business, lets life drive him along. And while Rick hopes every day that he will strike up a conversation with his new neighbors, the aspiring actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and the sensational director Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha), and thus improve his career prospects, Cliff exchanges glances on his car rides through LA dating a hippie girl (Margaret Qualley). She lives with a cult on an ex-TV ranch…
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood Movie Meaning & ending
A name hovers in the public eye about “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” like no other: Charles Manson. The cult leader and serial killer dominated the discourse about Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film from the second it was announced. Even months before the film was released, there was a heated discussion in film fan circles and media journalism about whether it was good that Tarantino, famous for his film violence and his cool film quotes, was making a film about Los Angeles in the year in which Manson caused nefarious bloodshed. The fact that we didn’t mention Manson’s name in our “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” plot statement should be your first indication that the entire preliminary debate was in vain. Because Manson only plays a very minor role in Tarantino’s ninth and potentially penultimate directorial effort (years ago the director announced that he would be retiring after ten films) – and what’s more, he isn’t mentioned by his full name once. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is not a Charles Manson film. It is a nostalgic, but by no means glorified, daydream about the Los Angeles where Tarantino spent part of his childhood. A love letter to a Los Angeles in which you could walk into a cinema every few meters, restaurants and billboards drew attention with shimmering neon lights and hippies traipsed barefoot through the streets.
Leonardo DiCaprio takes on the role of Hollywood star Rick Dalton – a western star.
Contrary to what the “Pulp Fiction” maker is used to, this declaration of love takes place more in non-verbal form than in the form of extensive monologues in which characters describe something as wonderful, cool or great, which also happens to be liked by Tarantino: Nobody in this range of topics and atmosphere, rather than plot-driven ensemble narrative, halts the narrative flow to pontificate on the virtues of living in 1969 Los Angeles. Tarantino doesn’t give Golden Globe nominee Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie, a monologue in which she raves about the magic of analog cinema. He, who has punctuated several of his films with loving references to Sergio Leone films, even lets Rick coldly and curtly gossip about spaghetti westerns several times. In “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Tarantino leaves the praise and worship of what he loves so much to the imagery: in long, calm tracking shots, Tarantino and cameraman Robert Richardson (“Kill Bill,” “Aviator”) glide through it just as lovingly such as detailed recreations of Los Angeles in 1969 and extensive western series sets. This foray through another time is accompanied by an atmospheric selection of music that deliberately does not just rely on chart hits that are celebrated to this day, which Tarantino incorporates largely diegetically: sometimes the pieces of music crackle from a car radio, sometimes they sound from a record player.
This retro atmosphere is further condensed on an acoustic level by cropped radio commercials, while Richardson reinforces it visually by giving the daytime scenes in Los Angeles a sunny, slightly faded yellow tint – as if it were (of course, we’re talking about Tarantino here). ) film, which was actually shot on film, is an as-yet-unrestored find from that time. On the surface, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a “hangout movie” that transports us to another time and place where we hang out with entertaining characters. With the cool but also dubious sock Cliff, who causes Brad Pitt to once again demonstrate his enormous talent for casual wit, as well as with the narcissistic, but in his deluded way also somehow clumsy and lovable Rick, who DiCaprio pointedly describes as a constantly dramatic caricature of one acting idiots. And of course with Sharon Tate, who walks cheerfully and carelessly through Los Angeles. On the one hand, the fact that Tate gets the least to do of the three main characters is unfortunate, as Robbie portrays her as an infectiously happy, light-hearted person in her comparatively few scenes with facial expression.
Sharon Tate, famous Manson gang murder victim, played by Margot Robbie.
It’s hard not to want more from her. However, Tarantino explained in interviews that it was intentional: he didn’t want to create a story for this actress he admired, but rather just give her a carefree screen existence. Although it is debatable whether there would have been a few more minutes of film, it is believable that Tarantino is not just making this statement. Because Tate’s sketch in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” fits exactly with the thematic level of this film below the simple element “Look, it was nice here”:
Warning: From here on, the spoilers become increasingly clear! If you’ve already had enough, jump to the conclusion!
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” deals, among other things, with how easily the course of a story can change and that ultimately every fate is interchangeable. In one scene, DiCaprio’s Rick reports that he was in discussion for Steve McQueen’s part in “Broken Chains” and how his life would have changed as a result. Tarantino even briefly shows off what the film would look like with Rick Dalton in the lead role. Previously, in a scene at a party, Steve McQueen tells how Sharon Tate swapped her ex-boyfriend Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch) for Roman Polanski and she obviously has a clearly defined taste in men – of which he is not one. Both Rick and Steve McQueen end their stories with a resigned “I never had a chance”. We also see Cliff Booth as having no chance in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”: the stuntman is repeatedly refused jobs because there is a rumor that he killed his wife. However, the film leaves open whether he did it or his wife died in an accident, even if Tarantino throws breadcrumbs in the direction of both possible answers. So, depending on your own interpretation, Cliff either represents how a brutally wrong decision justifiably ruins your life or how a stupid, tragic coincidence is responsible for a life of shame.
Another person in the “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” cast of characters who never had a chance is Sharon Tate – at least in real life. Instead of becoming the acting star that Tarantino sees in her (an entire sequence is devoted to Tate winning over movie audiences even in an uneven comedy), she was murdered in cold blood by Manson followers. Manson thus became a macabre pop culture icon. And because he and his followers were perceived as hippies by the media and politicians (even if assassinations are about the clearest opposite of the hippie core philosophy imaginable), the hippie movement in the USA was dominated by the Publicity nipped in the bud again.
Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) has a dark past…
However, in addition to being a film about the inexplicable, sometimes tragic and heartless ways of fate, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is also a story with a narrative (distorting) mirror motif. Fact and fiction are broadly similar here, only to then separate from each other. This is true metafictionally (Cliff Booth is based on Gary Kent and Burt Reynolds’ stunt double Hal Needham, Rick is a walking archetype of that time, Tate and Polanski, on the other hand, are thoroughly real personalities) as well as inherent to the film: when Rick takes on an important guest role in the series , the story of the TV episode he is filming is roughly mirrored by Cliff’s parallel visit to the ranch where the Manson Family is holed up. Only the tonality and outcome of the two scenes are different. With this element, Tarantino gradually prepares the outcome of his nostalgic Hollywood daydream: After spending over 100 minutes in a by no means perfect Los Angeles (Cliff and Rick both have racist tendencies, women are perceived as objects rather than subjects and from smoking kills, no one has noticed anything yet), but there are many aspects of it that he also loves, he approaches the re-enactment of a terrible historical turning point. And then… Tarantino callously takes another turn. He doesn’t let bloodthirsty pseudo-hippies take away his daydream, he doesn’t grant Charles Manson dubious fame, he doesn’t want to separate himself from this Hollywood in which old warhorses still have their last career chances, real hippies stand up for peace, love and equality and the pithy counter culture (which Tarantino loves just as much as his old warhorses) is showing its first rough blossoms.
And so this film, which has been consciously aimless and dreamily wandering for so long, ends in a frenzy of violence staged with slapstick tempo and exaggeration, in which Rick and Cliff (ironically without knowing it) grow into the larger-than-life heroes they think they are anyway forcefully rewrite history. It is not without coincidence that the title, which deliberately evokes associations with fairy tales, is only shown when Sharon Tate, who is so thrillingly innocent and friendly, invites Rick Dalton into her house in complete astonishment: The real fairy tale is only beginning now – in our heads. What would a Los Angeles look like from 1969 onwards in which hippies didn’t fall into disrepute? A Los Angeles in which a cursing, drinking, macho skin actor, who first encountered feminist ideas on an important shoot, forms a friendship with Tarantino’s ideal Sharon Tate and is thus given the opportunity to continue learning? A Los Angeles where the best of old Hollywood meets New Hollywood and society doesn’t even get a taste for glorifying monsters? It would be once upon a time… in Hollywood.
Conclusion: Tarantino, in a dreamy way: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is a “hangout film” dripping with nostalgic love and atmospheric period color with a great ensemble that gives the willing audience hours of food for thought to take home with them. Everyone else gets a calmly told film that spices up its slight melancholy with a lot of situational comedy.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood can be seen in USA cinemas nationwide from August 15th.