Once Upon a Time in Hollywood


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino

Things seem new, shiny. I’ve caught myself noticing seemingly mundane things for far too long, quite a few times now. That unremarkable potted house plant deserves more of your attention than you actually bestow on it. Those life-giving creatures with complex inner systems that keep them alive, in turn helping them keep us humans alive, do not die from cancer.1 The indoor plant at my place lives on two doses of water a week. 2 in a week! This is when they are not even trying to push the limits, they can survive without it for far longer than a week. While you are patting yourself on the back for coming up with the one meal a day diet2, plants are sitting in your room like a buddhist monk and a honey badger at the same time, being so inspirational and modest and giving you writing material for your next diary entry.

Speaking of one meal a day diet - or the Mu Sigman diet - I just want to remind you that poor lifestyle choices or lack of any kills the plant sooner than you think (you are the plant; this is a metaphor). So, pause reading this now, stand up and go drink a glass of water. While I’m doling out free advice, incorporate some protein and fibre in your diet, regularly eat fruits, stop eating processed sugar and call your mom. She’d like that. Listen to some more (42) simple rules to live by3, when you have the time.

Enough of self-improvement4, now for some indulgence - I saw a movie this week - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Let me break the movie down because I like doing that. There are lessons in every thing if you look hard enough, or you just conjure up messages to reaffirm your own biases5. Spoilers ahead.

This is not your conventional Tarantino movie. It is a piece of art. There is no other explanation of the disjointed storyline of the three characters - Brad, Leo and Margot - apart from giving your critic-hat a rest and just assuming that you won’t get the significance of the first 80% of the movie because it is art and you don’t understand art. There’s Lieutenant Dick Winters6 thrown in with a frizzy wig as well. But, after your initial rage subsides and you look beyond the movie’s high ratings that don’t make sense, you would hopefully see the meaning. The movie is a tribute to the old Hollywood era, the 60s, the hippie culture and the rawness of the people, except Brad Pitt, Brad Pitt is suave as ever.7

The storytelling seems disjointed because that’s how it is in real life. You won’t have events that are thrilling and full of suspense stacked too close in time. There are moments where all the signs, the thumping music and slow-motion pan shot, point to something big that’s about to happen, but nothing does. The scene where Pitt is standing on the rooftop fixing the TV antenna with Margot Robbie in the next door house, in the first-floor room, dancing in the line of sight Pitt, you just expect an interaction between the two characters. But it doesn’t happen, in the entire movie! The other scene where Pitt walks into the hippie-conquered ranch begs for an action sequence, but it ends with a scrawny guy with buck teeth getting punched in the nose. There are normal, everyday routines of people that you should keep in mind to understand that the characters are, unto themselves, pretty boring. Margot’s entire movie going experience shows us nothing of significance apart from showing that she is a small time actor and good human being who likes walking and dancing.

I won’t talk about the money shot, or the climax that is the hallmark of Quentin Tarantino. But the buildup to that is long, just like the buildup to the point of this diary entry. Foreshadowing hint: there is no point.

Leo’s struggle with his acting skills, drinking habit shows the lives of (a few) actors in the Hollywood of 60s. Leo’s acting is on point though, as always. There’s a scene when he’s playing a bad guy on a movie set shooting an intense scene, he has to act as if he forgot his lines, break the bad-guy character, get yelled at by the director, get back into the bad-guy character, finish the scene and go back to his vanity van and curse himself for breaking character five minutes ago. Brilliant.

It’s only when the characters interact with each other, does something of consequence happens. Interactions over entities - sounds familiar?

The movie wants your attention in all the unconventional places. Like the beauty of the house plant, the purpose of the movie comes to you after you’ve left the theater hall and allowed yourself to see the often overlooked things, now with a much more observant eye.