Tarantino reinforces edgy style in “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood”

Elena Waldman

If internet outrage culture has inhibited artists in any way, it surely doesn’t show in “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.” In a time when online backlash is the catalyst for the censorship of artistic freedom, director Quentin Tarantino boldly goes the other way and reinforces his position as a modern-day edgelord. 

Whether or not Tarantino’s preference for gratuitous violence and offensive language is an intentional mockery of politically correct culture, the context in which this film was made is hard to ignore. In addition to the current Time’s Up movement and the birth of “cancel culture,” Tarantino is actively working against his reputation. In the past, he has been criticized for being a misogynist, for underdeveloping female characters, and a racist, for reimagining historical events that either glorify or undermine the horrific situations. On one hand, “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” is an irresponsible choice for the filmmaker, which only gives his critics more to grip onto. On the other hand, Tarantino further establishes himself as someone who is willing to push the envelope and pursue artistic freedom at all costs. 

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Similar to “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained,” “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” creates surreal lore out of a real historical event; however, in this case, the Manson murders aren’t the focal subject. The plot focuses on television actor Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his close friendship with his stunt double, Cliff Booth (played by Brad Pitt). As the two struggle to find meaningful work in an industry that is quickly changing in the late ‘60s, they regularly unknowingly cross paths with cult members of the Manson Family. The secondary plot of the film revolves around Sharon Tate, a famous actress who was famously murdered while pregnant by members of the Manson cult in 1969. 

While the film builds up individual members of the cult and the eerie mysticism that surrounded it, Dalton and Booth are focused on as the main protagonists of the film. The irony in the two characters is that Dalton, a self-conscious alcoholic who is slowly disseminating into irrelevance, exclusively plays roles in classic Western shows as the badass hero or villain. The character that Dalton pretends to be is Booth’s actual persona. Booth is the exact archetype of a Western hero, which ultimately makes his encounter with Manson Family members a more satisfying result to a dark story. The nearly three-hour film eventually culminates into a showdown between Booth and three sinister cult members, offering an alternate ending to a story that didn’t end so heroically. 

The lack of development in Tate’s character isn’t the mark of a director who is attempting to adapt to today’s audiences. However, “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” isn’t about Sharon Tate, and her inclusion in the film is merely meant to set up the context for people who are familiar with the Manson Family. Critics who brand Tarantino as a sexist director may want to look back at “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill,” but regardless, “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” is a wonderfully hilarious, racy and detailed account of heroism that is one of Tarantino’s best works.

Elena Waldman can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @WaldmanElena.