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.


The Hollywood hills.
Around three AM.
I’m being chased.

I’m not sure by who or why. I just know I have to get away. There is a darkness growing stronger, running along either side, closing in. A manifestation I cannot control. It will catch up to me, and its path is inevitable. I can feel the weight of my steps crawling to a halt. Every step takes twice as much effort as the one before it. The street lights aligning the hills are half as bright as the haze above the concrete, floating from the big city towards the still, quiet residences, raising both the smog and the air of the ethereal. Passing through; a specter of death.

I witness a house at the end of the cul-de-sac. It’s warmly lit, accepting, generous. While I sprint by countless windows, dark and cold, the home straight ahead is inviting, and the door is open. As I feel my body trudging towards the light, my vision begins to lose detail, and the house is swallowed by the sun, exuding a comfort and a safety that lingers for a moment before I wake up.

This dream (which I’ve had only twice), as I’ve come to understand it over the course of my life, reconciles the fear of reality with the comfort of fantasy. No matter the inevitability and the realism of what is chasing me, I am still allowed an ending of hope. Even my brain knows that sometimes its best to play make-believe, and to bask in what is impossible. Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood (that ellipsis is key; it forces the reader to think about the fairytale element before the setting is revealed) often flirts with that very same geniality. The darkness of Tarantino’s ninth film (or so he says) – the Manson family, the death of classic Hollywood and the start of the New, the pains and anguish of Vietnam, the last breath of counter-culture - is supplanted by the life-force of Sharon Tate, who was murdered in the final bell-toll of the summer of 1969; a wake-up call of mundanity in violence. Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate dances at the playboy mansion, picks up a book for Polanski which would eventually inspire Tess, catches one of her own performances at the cinema, hangs out at her house etc., and all of it is demonstrative of a genuine respect for her life, passions, and work-ethic. What Tarantino offers is an alternate history where her only encounter with Manson is on the driveway of her house as he stumbles around looking for a former resident. This is carried through all the way towards the rapturous coda. Never does Tarantino provide the audience with her POV during the incident; she is spared and given the depiction of a real person and a ghostly, haunted spirit, somewhat aided by the reality of the Tate murders. The intercom at the film’s end, with her crackling, joyous voice echoing into the summer night, mixing and rumbling with the quiet hum of an unsettled darkness, is as evocative, spooky, and tender as anything I’ve encountered. The slow crane shot through the dense tree-line and the culmination of a hug - a bridge between Hollywood, old and new – swept the soul out of my body and carried it towards a fantasy-land that I only find in the movies.

Better yet, it’s a dream I don’t have to wake up from.

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