For a filmmaker who has made a name for himself with the hallmarks of shocking violence, wild profanity and frenetic storytelling, Quentin Tarantino proved that he could make do without such bells and whistles for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a methodical analysis of contemporary America at the turn of the 1970s. Featuring the likes of Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie and Al Pacino, the incredible modern epic may just be the celebrated filmmaker’s greatest-ever pieces of work.
Restrained and efficient, Tarantino ditches his devotion to throwaway pulpy stories for a more controlled, personal tale of a movie star (DiCaprio) and his stunt double (Pitt) during Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’ of the late 1960s. As they grow ever more prominent in the industry, poison seeps into the promised land of Los Angeles, as the murderous, real-life Manson family plan a violent act that would forever change the identity of modern America. In the middle of this swirling cauldron of ill-fate sits the unbeknownst victim of Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie, the princess to Quentin Tarantino’s tragic fairytale that takes place under the wistful glow of the setting sun of Hollywood’s golden age.
Shockingly murdered by several members of the Manson family, the death of the promising actor Sharon Tate on August 9th, sent shockwaves through America, with the incident since being considered a major turning point in Hollywood ideals. Occurring in the backdrop of the ongoing, controversial Vietnam war, and mere years before the Watergate scandal that would force insecurity onto the nation, Sharon Tate’s death marked a cornerstone of national identity as the widely-published horrors of contemporary reality began to influence everyday citizens.
Quentin Tarantino approaches the death of Sharon Tate in 1969 with a similar understanding of such cultural importance, placing her at the very centre of his sprawling epic that seeks to illustrate such winds of change that would influence the late 20th century.
Led by the spunk and vigour of Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood appears to be the rather basic story of one man’s rise to industry fame, only to flourish into something far more complicated by the final act. Entwined with the fear, violence and hatred that festered beneath the surface of modern America, the story becomes illustrative of the intricate change of national ideas towards the end of the 20th century.
Sharon Tate is the vehicle to drive the true nuance and yearning of Quentin Tarantino’s nostalgic classic, with the gleaming smile of Margot Robbie as the iconic actor reflecting the same ignorant bliss of every American individual at the turn of such national change. Celebrating her rise in the industry with charming enthusiasm, Tate embraces her new Hollywood identity and anticipates further success as she parties with the industry elite at exclusive parties.
If Hollywood history is to tell Robbie’s Sharon Tate anything, it’s that once you’re on the first rung of the industry ladder, fame will follow. Though, of course, for the ill-fated actor, this would never be the case. Denied the glory of the American dream, Tarantino finally gives Tate the Hollywood ending she deserved during the climax of the film when history is rewritten and the actor survives her imminent murder.
As such Tate becomes the most important totem in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the central figure of a fictional fairytale that cries with the eternal ‘what if’ of reality.