Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Some Thoughts On The Ending Of Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In...Hollywood And On The Film Overall

An exchange with someone prompted a few considered thoughts on this most excellent movie, one that goes into the pantheon.

I wrote this in answer to someone saying he found the ending unfulfilling, too easy, facile.

I’ve only focused on one part of the film and what I see as a big theme in the film.

The movie is capacious. Somebody could write a very, very, very—that’s three verys—long essay about it and not begin to exhaust what’s to be said.

....You misunderstand the ending. It’s not easy or unsatisfying, not at all. 

It’s ominous, anti fairy tale, anti Once Upon A Time... For we know what the Mansonites will do to the very pregnant, innocently sweet and luminously lovely Sharon Tate. No one will live happily ever after. So the final scene of a happy social coming together of Tate and Dalton is forebodingly undercut by what history tells us murderously happened. 

In that, a central theme in Once Upon, the play between what’s made up—tv, movies, all art—and actuality culminates. It reaches a dizzying height in the film-represented Sharon Tate watching the actual Sharon Tate on screen in the Dean Martin movie in a fictional scene. Fiction and fact are juxtaposed throughout, informing each other. Dalton and Booth jostle cheek and jowl with projected real life characters, (who are also made up insofar as they’re represented by actors in the movie in fictional scene after fictional scene.) Bracketing all of that, as noted, are the sheer facts of what happened to Tate and her guests and, too, the later awful statutory rape by Polanski of a 13 year old girl, pushed on him, as it happened, by her mother. That rape is implicitly referred to in the scene when Booth turns down a blow job from Pussycat in part out of concern for how young she is. 

As—so it’s often argued—the murder of Tate brought the sixties, the ludicrously so-called “decade of peace and love,” to a close, so does Tarantino by obvious implication. He sets the happy, sweet, convivial, neighbourly getting together of Dalton and Tate against our knowledge that her very, very pregnant self and her guests will be horribly stabbed to death many times over. 

For that matter, in line with this anti fairy tale theme, the ending also undercuts the Western film mythos of the good guy riding off into the sunset on his horse after putting down the bad guys. Here Booth, badly stabbed and shot, is brought low. He can do no better than be carted away in a stretcher by an ambulance. 

In the scene at Spahn Ranch, brimming with menace and incipient violence, Booth seems invulnerable. He’s totally self-confidently undeterred in checking in on George Spahn out of concern for him. He with a few hard punches to the  head straightens out the hippie who flattened the tire on Dalton’s Cadillac. He then easily holds back the threatening, approaching group of hippies by warning that the guy he slugged will get more. Tex comes riding in to save the day—as if he could—but by then Booth is comfortably driving away. The whole scene suggests Booth is impervious to any physical defeat. But the ending shreds that suggestion. 

So the notion that Tarantino is too accommodating or facile or understated or evading fullness in the ending of this movie is misconceived and reflects an unnuanced, ill thought through reading of it and of the movie as a whole. 

Tarantino—I’m no expert on his films—often subverts, explodes really, his movies by surreal episodes of violence that are so beyond belief as to have him winking at some of us by joining those of us who get it in the realization of how ridiculous it all is, how he winkingly qualifies the very thing he’s created. We get it; he gets it; and aren’t we clever, superior really, in that, in finally not taking it all too seriously. 

But there’s a subtler, more nuanced, more complex iteration of that subversion in Once Upon. The surreal, subversive-of-the-movie-itself violence occurs in the penultimate over the top violent scene culminating in Dalton’s over the top firebombing of the Mansonite hippie in his pool, literally incinerating her. But the movie doesn’t end on that absurdly surreal note. It softens and the surreal fades into the real as though, as I see it, Tarantino isn’t satisfied with his former hip, we’re cooler than school, winking subversion. 

Booth, as noted, is in an ambulance on his way to a hospital. Dalton affirms their friendship and says he’ll visit him tomorrow. Then Dalton recounts the night’s events yet again, before to the cops, this time to Sebring, and then confirms everything’s ok to Sharon Tate herself, speaking to her for the very first time. He’s always wanted to, ever since she and Polanski moved in beside him. Hey, maybe Polanski will cast him, he tells Booth.

I take this in part as Tarantino’s bracketing his former kind of subversion. The movie goes on for a bit to its end afterward, placidly, prosaically and convivially between these nice, charming neighbours. The fictional ending is believable but, as I keep arguing, it’s surrounded by the ominous horror at what actuality tells us what all too really happened. And the point here is, I’d argue, that reality will overwhelm an ostensible fairy tale—Once Upon A Time...—every time.



‪I think I'd be in broad agreement with your argument in that convincing review of OUATIH.  I feel the same about the movie and it seems to be that the violence at the climax is not only Tarentino exercising fictional rights to make history come out differently (as with Inglourious Basterds), but also the nature of contingency that's always in his plot mechanics.  Here the Family have no real idea of violence -- they're not good at it -- and even mix up the street addresses, and the combo of Booth's fighting skills, the fact that he's high (on the spliff that the hippie girl gave him, ironically), and a ruthless attack dog is too much for them.  In that sense, it's a moral lesson: open the door to savagery and you could find something even more savage on the other side.‬

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