Article contains spoilers and mentions of toes.
Tarantino’s 9th film Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood has finally released worldwide, sparking debate about race, the depiction of violence and the representation of women. The fast paced trailer, star-studded cast and press about the celebrity director managed to entice film bros out of their smelly, dark caves. Fight Club and The Dark Knight remained on pause for a few hours, while popcorn eating cinephiles showed their support in theatres, honouring their God and leader. Rumours say women evacuated all theatres, waiting to see the film after the Joker monologues resumed.
The controversies about Once Upon a Time… concerned the representation of Bruce Lee, the extremely violent finale and Margot Robbie’s role in playing Sharon Tate. In the film, buff Brad Pitt easily flings a cocky Bruce Lee into a car. Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter, questioned Tarantino’s representation. She took issue with his characterisation in particular, disappointed that he was depicted as arrogant and used as a punching bag (as one of the only people of colour in the whole film). Tarantino maintained his confidence in the representation, seeing no issue with creating a fictional character who could beat up Bruce Lee, noting that he was “kind of an arrogant guy.”
In the final act of the film, there is a wickedly violent confrontation between our two protagonists and members of the Manson cult. This scene twists true events, where the cult members entered Sharon Tate’s house and murdered her and her guests, instead showing a gruesome revenge fantasy, where Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio beat the living shit out of the young white supremacists. The sequence is incredibly gleeful and cathartic, especially when Leo takes a flamethrower to one of the intruders. It is this scene that affirms the title. The movie becomes a fairy tale, rewriting the horrific events on Cielo Drive into a bloody, happy fantasy. Some have shown concern with this gleeful tone, asking if it is productive to show such violent assault of young women in the current climate.
During a press conference in Cannes, a reporter asked Tarantino why Margot Robbie had such a limited amount of dialogue in the film. Tarantino replied by simply saying “I reject your hypothesis,” leaving Robbie to salvage an answer. She suggests that the film does a good job of honouring Tate, exploring the character through performance rather than dialogue. In other interviews Tarantino has described Tate as an angelic presence, and this is actually a pretty apt explanation of her representation in Once Upon a Time…. She is a glowing idea of old Hollywood, a pretty starlet with an endearing demeanour. There are A LOT of shots of her feet though, perhaps supplying Tarantino’s famous foot fetish.
I’ve always experienced a certain difficulty with Tarantino movies. Some I really enjoy, some I think are unnecessarily exploitative and often misunderstood. Previous representations of women and violence have given me pause, but I think he’s a talented filmmaker. Generally, I think Once Upon a Time… is a triumph, probably my favourite film of his. The craft of the film is confident and interesting, it’s funny and meta, and the runtime of 2 hours and 40 minutes flies by while you’re having fun. Leo reciting a monologue about being too old in Hollywood is hilarious and Brad Pitt is so damn cool. Tarantino has such a clear, unique vision, but that might be part of the issue. Sometimes the male gaze in this film is so strong you can feel Tarantino’s eyes penetrating through the screen. I wasn’t kidding about the foot shots, once you notice it there’s no way to avoid it, almost to the point of parody. Hopefully it’s parody.
I don’t think that any of this disqualifies Tarantino’s right to make movies. But contextually, he exists in a weird spot right now. As a director, he gained lots of support from Harvey Weinstein through the 90s. He has been recorded saying the n-word enough times to suggest a not-so-great worldview. In the past, he mistreated Uma Thurman on set. He has a flippant attitude towards violence and, as previously mentioned, a muddy record with the representation of women. Tarantino is incredibly self-assured (one of his strengths as a director), often to a fault, acting defensively when he is questioned about the intent of his art. Famously, Tarantino has announced he will only make 10 movies, with this one being his 9th. He’s made some great contributions, but it’s going to be so nice to not defend this view to film bros. And not hear from Tarantino worshippers. Have you guys heard about Pulp Fiction? Apparently it’s pretty good.