Time is a constant motif and one of the central themes of the film once upon a time in Hollywood. Its set in the 60’s of LA where an aging TV actor who is trying his hand at Hollywood films and his stunt double who is his constant companion, it is about both of them trying to stay relevant to the times they live in. Another recurring character is Hollywood in itself. This stays through the background of the film in the form of movies, TV shows, pop culture references, etc., the elaborative Hollywood cocktail parties to the growing hippie culture everything comes up together as an entity and makes a presence in the film. It is mainly because of this background character we get involved in the film and its story.
For instance the character Rick Dalton played by Leo is a looking for roles in spaghetti western films and says that he doesn’t want to do a tower of Babel kind of shoot which indirectly refers to the lines the actors used to speak and the lines dubbed for them in those days were completely in a different language. There is a sequence in which the character played by Steve McQueen in The great escape is recreated by Leo. These kinds of recreated movie scenes of Hollywood films and moments inspired by TV shows like the FBI makes an impact on us at a subconscious level.
Cliff booth played by brad Pitt who brings in some sort of flamboyance to this character in his own way. There is a sequence in which he fights Bruce lee played by Mike Moh which creates a laugh riot in the theatres. He brings in the moments of extreme tension in the film makes us laugh hard with his witty lines. Yet there is an aura of mystery in this character he is a polar opposite to his friend Rick Dalton who is very expressive emotionally.
Of course this film is also about actress Sharon Tate played by Margot Robbie. But sadly she remains just as a background character in the film. The story is centered around her and not about her so, there are only in very few moments her presence is made in the film. Yet in the scenes she is featured she lives in the role of the dreamy Sharon Tate who goes to theatre and watches her own films and enjoys when the audience are reacting to her acting.
The film as a part of tarantino-verse has elements self referential to his own life and career. For instance there is a character named pussy cat in the Manson family named after the porn theatre he worked in. there is a sequence in which the characters walk by the mosaic wall at the LA airport a self referential shot to his film Jackie brown. The recurring cigarette brand in his film red apple for which the character played by Leo endorses, for tarantinophiles this movie is filled with details like these.
What makes the movie memorable and connect to everyone who watches is the humane aspect of the film. Rick Dalton and cliff booth their camaraderie is instantly connected to the audience. In fact in the title sequence the name of Leo appears at the back of brad and vice versa kind of telling us that these two are inseparable entity. The character played by Leo comes off as a man too sensitive for the times Hollywood was then. He instantly cries when someone talks about his dooming career or the parts he lost in a film and a character that is very conscious about his outwardly appearance and behavior in front of the people. The moment which is closest to my heart is the Julia butler’s conversations with the character played by Leo and how she inspires him to become a better actor. This scenes are kind of like truth bombs dropped by tarantino on the audience. This movie even though filled with references from Hollywood and the pop culture ultimately is connected to everyone who watches because of these little aspects in them. Somewhere in between paying tribute to the 60’s of Hollywood to connecting to the audience in an emotional level tarantino takes us back to the good old days.