By David Bentley Hart
August 6, 2019
I would not know if that’s true, but that’s certainly how Tarantino depicts her, and how Margot Robbie plays her. It’s impossible not to find the Tate of the film endearing. Whether dancing at a party, singing along with Paul Revere and the Raiders while folding clothes, giving a girl hitchhiker a lift and parting from her with a hug, charming her way into a matinee of the Matt Helm film she appears in, grinning in guileless — almost childlike — delight at the audience’s response to her performance onscreen, she comes across as kind, young, beautiful and happy, and one wants nothing bad to happen to her, ever. But of course, one thinks one knows what’s to come.
I knew from certain of Tarantino’s previous films — specifically, “Inglorious Basterds” (2009) and “Django Unchained” (2012) — that he has a fondness for creating alternate, counterfactual histories. Until now, it was not clear to me why. Perhaps the sheer immensity of the evils those films addressed — the Holocaust, slavery — overwhelmed my critical perspicacity. I certainly understand why some find it pointless to pretend even for a few hours that the most gigantic evils of the irrevocable past never occurred because fate took another turn at some crucial juncture. What can it offer, after all, other than a temporary emotional salve?
I admit that it came as a shock of relief and an immense emotional pleasure when, in the much-discussed ending of “Once Upon aTime … in Hollywood,” Tarantino’s version of the story unexpectedly veered away into some other, dreamlike, better world, where the monsters inadvertently passed through the wrong door and met the end they deserved — torn to shreds, bludgeoned to a pulp, burned to a cinder. Even the violence delighted me. I thought it gave glorious expression to a perfectly righteous rage. And I was glad to slip briefly into some other order of reality, if only an imaginary one, where ethereal sweetness had survived and horror had perished. Still, what’s the point?