In 2019, the film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, directed by Quentin Tarantino, hit theaters. I personally did not see the movie at that time, nor did I have any idea what it was about. However, the people around me all recommended the film. It took two years, but I finally decided to give it a watch, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Although I am no film critic, here are some of my thoughts on the film.
Firstly, I think it is important to note the historical background of the film and how much it adds to the enjoyment of the film. (Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead).
For those who don’t know, the film takes place around the time of the Manson Family Murders. For those who are interested in true crime like me, I’m sure you’ve heard of them.
For everyone else, the Sparknotes version is as follows: Charles Manson was a cult leader and the head of a communal living environment where many young, impressionable people lived. They committed many petty crimes, but eventually moved to committing a handful of murders.
One of the murders they committed was of actress Sharon Tate, who was the wife of famous director Roman Polanski. With this being the historical context of the film to keep in mind, we then follow the story of Rick Dalton, a famous western actor, and his stunt double Cliff Booth during their struggles to find work that they’re passionate about in an ever-changing Hollywood.
The story highlights the struggles Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth face. However, it also intertwines with the real history of Hollywood at the time, seeing that Dalton happens to live right next door to the Tate-Polanski residence. For those familiar with their history, the entire film feels like an eerie build up to the tragic Manson murders. However, interestingly enough, Charles Manson only appears in the film once, and is not named.
Furthermore, Cliff Booth actually makes a trip to the Manson family ranch after meeting a young lady who lives there. Yet even then, although viewers are mostly familiar with the history and can draw connections that this is the Manson family ranch, it is never explicitly stated.
I find it very interesting that despite this cult playing such an integral role in the plot of the film, it is never explicitly named. In general, this film would be very confusing for anyone not previously familiar with the history surrounding it, specifically with the way the film ends (which I am choosing not to spoil for everyone). Overall, going into this film, I would highly recommend looking into the historical context, seeing it adds a lot of value to the story.
Moving away from the contextualization of the film, the story of Rick and Cliff itself is a fascinating story of aging and the film industry. With these two people apparently barreling towards becoming “has beens,” there is an interesting juxtaposition between them living next door to the up-and-coming Sharon Tate.
Furthermore, I believe it is no coincidence that Rick Dalton is a Western star. In this genre in particular, there is a big focus on the masculine in the traditional sense. Rick and Cliff pride each other on their masculinity, and although they are “has beens,” the ending of the movie solidifies for them that they are just as macho as they portray themselves on screen. I think the final scene of the movie reads a lot like a Western film, and that this choice by Tarantino was no coincidence. It brings two stories existing in Hollywood full-circle. The film makes a point that the up-and-coming would be nothing without the legacy of the “has beens.”