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.

As I mentioned initially, I have mostly great things to say about the majority of the film. It's simultaneously one of Tarantino's most pleasurable hangout pieces AND among his most expertly crafted exercises in tension-building. It's also the closest he will ever get to a requiem, with a borderline reflective quality toward strivers whose best days are behind them (although Tate's survival means this element of her story does not last to the end credits). But the ending causes a problem for me that Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds were able to avoid; unlike those earlier attempts at fusing Tarantino's revenge-fantasies with historical revision, I feel this one actively erases the history it chooses to engage with. In both of the aforementioned cases, the villains meet a vintage Tarantino demise, but there's also no reason to believe the legacy of those villains (metaphorically, in the case of Calvin Candie - a stand-in for numerous American slave-owners) and the damage they wrought was suddenly a blank space in the psychology of those they had terrorized.

By comparison, this film definitively wipes out the murders committed by Watson, Atkins and Krenwinkel. I am completely fine with Tarantino's plain-sight intent to spin a fairy tale in which Sharon Tate doesn't get murdered - in fact, I think it's a GREAT premise for him - but I think this version (in which all three Mansons are annihilated by Brandy, Booth and Dalton, and no innocent victims are left) also necessarily cancels out the LaBianca murders, because two of those four perpetrators would have died the night before they occurred. Some of the folks I saw this with thought it was a stretch to assume that Manson wouldn't immediately recruit two more people to accompany him and Van Houten to proceed with the following night's murders, but I think it's a much bigger stretch to assume this unmitigated thwarting on opening night of the master plan would have no effect on its progression, or on the willingness of those under Manson's spell to stay on board.

I admit that I like the climax's final-boss fulfillment of Booth's role as stunt double: take the hits and keep the stars (both Dalton and Tate) safe. But wouldn't the more poignant version of this be for Booth (and possibly Francesca) to get murdered, while Dalton and Tate survive and Watson, Atkins and Krenwinkel escape to continue their reign of terror? Sure, it would have been a bummer for people who don't want to see Brad Pitt die, and he would lose his moment of glory riding in the ambulance after a job well done (the stunt performer's eternal rite), but what other part of the narrative would this not enhance? It sure as hell wouldn't make me feel that the Mansons - and based on sentiments expressed elsewhere, the sects of counterculture that were arguably positive - were mere straw puppets, whom the great old Hollywood men could easily have vanquished (in the second and third acts) if given the chance. And this will out me as being super basic when it comes to history, but that version also wouldn't leave me wondering if/how America's extensive, revealing fascination with serial killers would ever be catalyzed. Maybe my use of the word "revealing" concedes that it wouldn't have been an "if" proposition, but I can't immediately think of another movie whose narrative consequences could butterfly effect its own place in history.

I'm fully aware that desiring a film in which history and pathos take priority over an ass-kicking rampage means I have wandered into the wrong director's universe. I can't help it. If Tarantino had only found some way to subvert his own need to hear people cheering during the last reel, this just might have been his masterpiece.

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