by Zach Smith-Michaels
When I was a senior in high school, I realized that watching at least two movies a day was not the norm. I learned that I was, in fact, a film fanatic. Upon making this discovery, I began to seek out “the great” movies. At the top of most lists was Tarantino’s 1994 Cult-Classic “Pulp Fiction.” This movie really clicked with me. I loved the dialogue, the characters, the whole package. I began to recommend this film to my seventeen year old peers, and my mind was blown when one of them asked:
”What’s it about.”
I couldn’t believe it. My mind was blown. Did my new favorite movie not have a plot? Could I make movies based solely on sexy dialogue and cool characters? Well, I tried. I bought a camera, learned how to use windows movie maker, and started to create. Thank you, Tarantino.
Tarantino’s most recent cinematic endeavor is confusing. More so, the reaction to the film is confusing. The highest praise seems to be that, “This doesn’t feel like a Tarantino film.” The accolade of a film feeling different from it’s similar body of work has always confused me. Let’s say you loved steak and went to your favorite restaurant once a year for your favorite sirloin. Now let’s say that the restaurant served you a burger instead. Would that be good? Would you consider that their best steak yet?
I guess that’s how Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” felt to me upon first watch. I quite enjoyed the film after a Sunday evening screening, but I knew that I had a lot to think about. After pondering the film for a few days, I think I figured this movie out. This may feel the least Tarantino-y of his filmography…but this film might actually be Tarantino.
And just a fair warning, this review will contain SPOILERS.
“Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” tells the story of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth. Dalton is a nearly washed up A-list actor, who is making his way to supporting roles on television Westerns. Booth is Dalton’s humble stunt double. Dalton’s impending fall from grace stresses him out terribly, while Booth is just happy feeding his dog, watching television, and driving around L.A. Meanwhile, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate buy the house next door to Dalton.
Early on in the film Dalton exclaims that if he can just meet his new neighbors, that his career will be saved. In the following scene Booth goes home to his trailer, watches television, and feeds his dog.
What I think we have here are two sides of Tarantino:
One is the celebrated director who wants people to love him, and the other is film admirer Quentin Tarantino.
I’d like to look at two aspects of Tarantino’s career: “The Hateful Eight” and his involvement with “Star Trek.”
After the release of “The Hateful Eight”, audiences enjoyed the movie enough, but across the board we kind of all agreed that the film was too Tarantino-y. The film was overly long, slow, very dialogue heavy, violent, and filled with racial epithets. You know, typical Tarantino…but a little too much for some loyal fans.
Cliff Booth is simple, but he also won’t back down from confrontation. Booth likes what he likes, and tries to enjoy those pleasures to the full extent. There is a scene where a member of the Manson family punctures a tire on Booth’s car, and Booth casually gives the man a severe beating. Have you ever seen Tarantino defend his use of violence or racial slurs in his movies? I think that Cliff Booth represents who Tarantino is at his core.
Rick Dalton wants everyone to love him. He struggles with his acting through a scene (whilst under the influence of alcohol) and returns a few days later, turning in what an 8 year old actress refers to as “the best acting she’s ever seen.”
Tarantino is rumored to write and direct the next “Star Trek” movie. “Star Trek” is a huge franchise with an adoring fan-base. Tarantino has only made one sequel, and that was “Kill Bill Vol. 2.” He was displeased with “Star Wars” shoving “The Hateful Eight” out of cinemas, and you won’t see his name in the credits of any Marvel movie. So why “Star Trek?”
In “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate are wildly popular, and Dalton is desperate to get on their radar. A pregnant Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski are housing guests (who we know end up being murdered by the Manson Family) and the film concludes with Dalton finally stepping into their home…seemingly stepping to his death. Or at least, that’s how I interpret the ending.
Does Tarantino want to be a member of “the club?” does he want that MCU level of popularity? Does he want to be a franchise hero? Does he want to step inside the house? Maybe, but he seems to know better. See, while Tarantino may act like Dalton, desire like Dalton, and maybe even hurt like Dalton…at the end of the day Tarantino is Cliff Booth. He likes what HE likes, and he likes himself enough to keep on doing what he does best: Whatever he wants.
“This above all: to thine own self be true.”-William Shakespeare.