Goodbye, Cool World: Unpacking The Double-Barreled Nostalgia of Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”

(Cliff Booth and Rick Dalton, portrayed by Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, entertain themselves, and the audience, through common friendship rituals such as drinking & watching TV together in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.)

“Nostalgia has replaced epochs in the modern culture. There is the increasing feeling that while technology certainly races ahead in its advancement, culturally we are obsessively looking to the past… With consumer culture now defining the times and creating stagnation in any new art forms or styles, the past takes on a new glow… A friend who lived through this time period mentioned to me that the film captures the general sense of optimism of the late 60s. This might help explain our obsession with recovering not so much the past but its popular surfaces, because they contrast so starkly with a new generation devoid of romanticism or idealism.”

(Theater Marquee in Blythe, AZ)
Above: The New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles.
Below: Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate outside Westwood’s Fox Village Theatre in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood | Photo: Andrew Cooper, Columbia Pictures
Tarantino’s revenge trifecta. Right to Left: A Nazi officer gets a head-bashing in Inglorious Basterds, A racist slave owner gets a taste of his own whip in Django Unchained, and a Manson Family hippy gets her own head-bashing in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
From Left to Right: Samantha Robinson as Abigail Folger, Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, Costa Ronin as Wojceich Frykowski and Emile Hirsch as Jay Sebring as they share drinks at the El Coyote Restaurant in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
Above & Center: Cliff & Billie Booth, portrayed by Brad Pitt and Rebecca Gayheart, as they engage in a drunken argument aboard their boat in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
Below: Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner on board their yacht in 1958, the year following their marriage.
Above: Margaret Qualley as “Pussycat” publicly condemns Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth, after he refuses to join in solidarity with the Manson Family.
Below: “Social Justice” demonstrators surround a casual diner in Washington D.C. after failing to raise her fist in solidarity.
Characters seeking out leisure and enjoying life’s simple pleasures mark an underlying thematic refrain in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

The justice critics aren’t interested in fictions that feel like memories. They want movies that adhere to their vision of the way the world should be. To them, the movie is too white, too violent toward women, and too uninterested in Margot Robbie, whose Sharon Tate has few lines.

What’s really got the justice critics worked up, however, isn’t the violence or the nostalgia or the silencing of Sharon Tate. What’s rattling them more than they realize is that this movie is transgressive as hell. Only Tarantino would have the balls to make something like it, something that embraces values that have repeatedly been proved — proved! — to be dangerous, outdated, the thing that people don’t want anymore. Box-office poison. And only Tarantino could do it so skillfully that it’s not until you’re back in the car that you realize what he’s done: made a major motion picture in 2019 about a man with a code, a man who hews to the old values of the Western hero.

We can’t have a movie like this. It affirms things the culture wants killed. If men aren’t encouraged to cry in public, where will we end up? And the bottom line is the bottom line: Audiences don’t want to see this kind of thing anymore. The audience wants the kind of movies the justice critics want. But the audience gave Once Upon a Time in Hollywood the biggest opening of Tarantino’s career. The critics may not get it, but the public does. Is Tarantino making a reactionary statement at a dangerous time? Or does the title tell the truth, that the whole thing — including those old masculine values — was always just a fairy tale, a world “that never really existed, but feels like a memory”?

Left: Montgomery Clift, Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable in The Misfits.
Right: Luke Perry in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

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