by William Skink
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood finally made it to the red box, so I rented it to see what Tarantino is up to with his creative take on the summer of ’69, Manson, and the murders that turned the hippie dream upside down.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Rick Dalton, and Brad Pitt’s character, the sidekick stunt double Cliff Booth, are key in understanding the sick fantasy Tarantino plays out on screen with this film.
The conflict Tarantino sets up is between the old western cowboy archetype, as embodied by DiCaprio and Pitt, and the appearance of a new creature–the more effeminate, long-haired hippie male.
Cowboy Rick Dalton isn’t doing so good in 1969. He’s a drunk beyond his prime, taking villain roles and getting driven around by his buddy, Booth. He does have a nice house on Cielo Drive, next door to a new neighbor–a small, weasel-looking man by the name of Roman Polanski.
There’s a particularly telling scene at the Playboy mansion where the guy playing Steve McQueen (a manly man) marvels to a female friend how Sharon Tate, who is dancing seductively, was first engaged to Jay Sebring (a victim in the Tate murders and portrayed as not very manly), then married Polanski.
McQueen says, referring to the two men: “they never had a chance”. The obvious subtext is these two beta males are no match for a woman like Sharon Tate.
While DiCaprio’s character has an emotionally vulnerable moment with an 8 year old actor (not actress, ’cause she’s obviously woke), Brad Pitt’s character gives a hippie chick a ride to the Spahn Ranch, the infamous lair of Manson and his hippie harem.
It’s here the cowboys start making their comeback. Cliff Booth shows up the hippie harem by forcing himself past the matriarch, Gypsy, to see old George, the owner of Spahn Ranch, who the hippies exploited to gain access to his property.
When Booth returns to his car, his tire has been slashed. A dirty, shirtless hippie guy laughs maniacally. Booth beats the shit out of him while all the hippie girls watch. Revenge against the hippies has commenced.
The film crescendos with an orgy of violence, but the twist is in who finds themselves on the receiving end. This is where Tarantino’s alternative reality fantasy takes hold.
Instead of a mixed-gender hippie cult descending on the goddess Tate and her clique, the hippies enter the home next door, where the sunsetting cowboys live. Violence ensues.
I won’t get into all the gruesome details of how Tarantino fantasizes his sunsetting cowboys could have regained their violent glory had they the chance to massacre the hippies, but I will mention that Rick Dalton uses a flame-thrower to torch Squeaky in the swimming pool, the same flame-thrower he is seen using in a previous film where he torches a bunch of Nazis.
The movie ends with beta male Jay Sebring asking from behind the gate what happened. Rick Dalton relates the tale of killing the hippies, then Sharon Tate’s disembodied voice buzzes in, and Rick is invited up to the house on Cielo Drive for drinks.
In Quentin Tarantino’s fantasy, the fading alpha cowboy archetype finds redemption through violently annihilating the hippie beta male and his deranged female assassins.
Maybe you shouldn’t have put the old cowboys out to pasture, Tarantino seems to be saying. Because without their fantastical and imaginary protection, look what happened.