Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the latest film from acclaimed director Quentin Tarantino. The trailer left people wondering what to expect, but once again Tarantino managed to surprise his audience with a brilliant re-writing of the past.
Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Leah Padalino

Written and verified by the film critic Leah Padalino.

Last update: 20 October, 2022

Tarantino did it again. In the non-stop, impatient world we live in, he managed to gather people together at the movie theater and hold them there, spellbound, for almost three hours. No one in the audience checked their cell phones because they were immersed in the film. Tarantino gave us another gem, an ode to the seventh art, without pretense or gimmicks. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the most recent movie from a director who has spent decades making his mark on the collective imaginary.

When an artist of any kind makes something that reflects what they truly feel, you can tell. These days, Tarantino has an audience who waits anxiously for his movies to come out and plenty of money to make exactly the kind of films he wants to make.

He doesn’t care if what he wants to do is “right” or is all the rage. He entertains himself with his influences and his fetishes and re-writes history. Tarantino reinterprets something that already happened, but could have been.

Always pushing the envelope

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is proof that not everything has been said and not all commercial films are the same. It shows the world that some people are still willing to let themselves be carried away by a story for a few hours.

Audiences feel that Tarantino made this movie for himself and no one else. Therein lies the key to how the story unfolds. Unlike its predecessors, the icing on the cake doesn’t come until the end.

Intertextuality is key in Tarantino’s films

Quentin Tarantino learned about movies by watching movies. He immersed himself in the classics, the long-forgotten, and the rejects. That’s his inspiration for his own creations. He shows his audience that art is everywhere.

From the beginning, it was clear that Tarantino fills his movies with what he likes. From the music to the constant movie references, watching any of his movies is a glimpse into the mind and the life of the man himself.

Tarantino’s movies can teach you about the history of film. They might make you curious enough to do your own research, to check out spaghetti westerns or binge on old kung-fu movies. Along the way, you’ll discover some true gems that the movie industry wants to hide.

Art goes much deeper than what’s fashionable or imposed. It goes beyond politics. Art is its own category and has its own value. Thus, if a director you like comes out with another movie, maybe you should give it a chance.

A scene from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

A big question mark

The trailer for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood left audiences with more questions than answers. Even diehard Tarantino fans weren’t sure what to expect.

Was the movie going to talk about Charles Manson and the murders perpetrated by the Manson Family cult? Would it be fiction? An homage to the old western stars who fled to Europe in search of better roles? Yes… and no. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is all that and more.

The movie is packed with references. As it’s impossible to catch them all, it’s fun to talk to your friends about the ones they noticed. Everyone’s inherited culture is different, so you’re predisposed to hear some messages and not others.

Quentin Tarantino made a movie about everything he likes, whether or not it made sense. At the end of the day, he made a story that could have happened… or not.

The golden age of Hollywood

Even the title is a reference to one of Tarantino’s favorite filmmakers, Sergio Leone. Two of Leone’s films have a similar title to Tarantino’s latest film. Leone is credited for inventing the Spaghetti Western genre, and his last in this genre was called Once Upon a Time in the West. The other, Once Upon a Time in America, was supposed to be Leone’s big break in the United States, but it wasn’t well received.

There are nostalgic elements in Tarantino’s film from the very beginning. He shows how Hollywood, idealized by actors, ends up being a hostile environment that forces them to conform to what they’re given at a certain age. It’s a bizarre fable, fantastic and real at the same time. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood shows the worst side of the film industry.

All of this happens in the middle of a well-known and tragic story: the murder of Sharon Tate. In the movie, we meet her as a lively young woman, sitting in the audience while she watches herself in one of her movies.

The audience, of course, knows her tragic fate, and sympathize with her. It’s also easy to sympathize with another character, an actor who could be Clint Eastwood, who suffered the consequences of growing old in an industry that boxed him in.

The movie is infused with nostalgia and memories of a glorious age, but it’s mixed with the harshness of Tarantino’s daydreams. His desire to come up with his own version of what could have happened. There’s plenty of choreographed violence, like in any other Tarantino film, and many ironies. Here, the violence is simultaneously beautiful, pathetic, and entertaining.

Sometimes, it seems like you’re watching two movies at the same time. Two truths or two lies that come together in a surprising, laughable, and spine-chilling end.

The three main characters in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

A quintessential Tarantino ending

WARNING: The rest of the article contains spoilers!

Tarantino has given us a story about Hollywood’s past, a place where dreams do come true but also vanish just as easily. The stories of real people mix with fiction, although these products of Tarantino’s imagination could have easily existed in real life.

In fact, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood plays with what the audience knows about the time period, especially when it comes to the story of Charles Manson. Tarantino introduces you to the young women of the Manson Family through a well-known song, “I’ll Never Say Never to Always”.

But does anyone really expect to see Sharon Tate’s tragic death at the end of a Tarantino film? No, definitely not. It wouldn’t be the kind of violence that he likes. It’s not aesthetic, entertaining, or choreographed to music.

While Sharon Tate isn’t one of the most important characters in the movie, Tarantino plays with blocking and composition to get the viewer to follow her everywhere. For example, he dresses her in yellow in the middle of a crowded party, and the camera deliberately draws your attention to the young woman. The viewer is obliged to empathize with her, to get to know her without too much dialogue.

You get to know Sharon through the opinions of others, and the way she interacts with her surroundings. Would Tarantino really want to present this likable character just so he could show her tragic and horrible end? Of course not. What’s more, if you’re really paying attention, Tarantino gives away the end at the very beginning of the film.

Re-writing history

Thanks to a scene that refers directly to his movie Inglorious BastardsTarantino lets the audience in on a little secret. After all, what did he do in Inglorious Bastards? He rewrote history and he got his artistic vengeance on one of the most depraved characters in history. Tarantino killed Adolf Hitler himself.

After that reference, it’s not too hard to connect the dots. No, you’re not going to see crude, tragic, and painful violence. Instead, Tarantino re-writes history with entertaining violence. A dance of blood, flames, and action.

This movie is full of stories that seem unrelated but come together in an eclectic end. Tarantino is ever careful with the details and is constantly playing games with the viewer. Anything is possible in his films, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is an homage to film, an ode to the seventh art, and a perfect example of Tarantino’s ability to tell stories, satirize reality, laugh at everything, and, above all, enjoy life.

Although the icing on the cake comes late in the game, it’s cathartic, a release for your conscience, and an ode to what should have been.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.