Daydreaming with "Once Upon a Time.. in Hollywood"
"Once Upon a time.. in Hollywood" is a fairy tale. It is a 161 minutes long dream experience. It is the unique light of Los Angeles and the Hollywood hills that shines into and through your eyes, instantly triggering endorphins release and making you humming some Mamas and Papas songs while you drive an imaginary Cadillac.
Although I truly enjoyed most Tarantino movies, I was a bit reluctant to join into the mad enthusiasm around Once Upon a time. I definitely did not enjoy the last two, Django Unchained and the Hateful Eight, which my brain has combined into one disappointing pointless blood tainted Western movie.
It may not seem obvious that a Tarantino film makes an entry in a Psychotherapy blog. It may be my love for the big screen, for Los Angeles, for Hollywood and for great scripts and actors. But that is not all.
Before you venture further with the reading, please bear in mind there are many spoilers ahead.
What is the movie about? Quintessentially, pure Nostalgia for Hollywood and what it used to be.
The main characters are Rick and Cliff, Leonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt respectively, but there are many more stories that follow.
Rick Dalton is a fading star, a now B western action movie/tv actor who is doomed to be relentlessly casted for the “HEAVY” roles, the meany, ugly cowboys and soldiers whom the public despise, impossible characters to root for. Brad Pitt is his stunt double from the glorious days, his personal assistant and his best friend with a sinister past. As the story unfolds , Rick cannot ignore the awareness that he is failing and he attempts to cope with the disappointment for his career which is never really going to take off by drowning in all-night-long Whiskey Sours drinking, instead of rehearsing his lines for the next day on set. His only chance to escape his destiny of failure seems to be the one offered by Schwarz (Al Pacino) which implies going to Italy and playing in Spaghetti Western movies which he despises.
Rick’s next door neighbours on Cielo drive happen to be Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, newly married, and later on in the movie, soon-to-be parents. Sharon Tate’s presence, innocence and smile haunt us from the beginning, it is February and then August 1969 and we know and fear what is going to happen: one of the saddest and most violent tragedies Hollywood has ever known.
Except it is a Tarantino film and he reminds us that Hollywood has the power and magic of revising and re-writing stories and history. The Manson Family on their way to kill Sharon Tate and her friends bump into an inebriated Rick Dalton complaining about the noise their car is making outside his house. The murdering plot suddenly changes. The Mansons are not going to target Sharon Tate’s house after all but the cowboy actor's instead. They reckon he deserves to be killed “because he taught our generation how to kill”. But when they come back they find Cliff and his dog and eventually Rick to annihilate them. In Tarantino’s somehow fair world, the Manson family never got around to attacking Sharon Tate’s house. She will continue enjoying her night in her house with her friends and will eventually invite Rick over to hear his adventures. The loser becomes the hero. Sharon Tate and her baby are safe.
How many times did you pray and hope that a story with a tragic end that you have known, read and watched innumerable times magically changes, that our character gets to live. She won’t be killed! He will survive the battle and come home! They will escape that awful accident!
It happens to me all the time. I read Marie Antoinette’s biography by Stefan Zweig this summer and even then there was a part of me that still hoped she would not be killed by the guillotine.
I love having the chance to imagine better stories and happy endings and Tarantino gifted us with nearly three hours of dream. I think it has also a psychological value and I am not referring to truth denial (obviously I imagine that if Roman Polanski ever watched the movie he would have a totally different emotional reaction) .
Once Upon a time in Hollywood transforms us in daydreamers. The long shot scenes, the bright candy colours, the mellow 60s songs bring us to a place- or should I say a state- where we wander in and out of reality, a place where heroes have a chance to determine their lives and save others’.
Daydreaming consists of a shift of attention where we move away from focusing on a task to a stream of thoughts and memories in free association. According to a research from Singer, there are 5 different types of daydreaming. The one I am referring to is called “Positive Constructing Daydreaming” which is associated with openness to experience, reflecting a curiosity, sensitivity, and exploration of ideas, feelings, and sensations.
I believe great movies have the power to elicit this kind of daydreaming. We are watching the movie but at the same time we are momentarily visiting a different place, a sort of parallel world . Our attention turns inward but in a creative and not obsessive ruminating way. We become mind wanderers and according to Smallwood, this allows to access our global mental workspace.
While it seems pointless and it is indeed beneficial only for a limited time as it does not focus on a specific task, the Positive Constructive Daydreaming can serve important functions such planning the future, create new paths and solutions, motivate towards new goals.
Unfortunately nowadays there are not many movies that drive us into that positive daydreamy place and this is what made Once Upon a time quite special for me. It brought us back into the Hollywood Golden Age by also becoming a Hollywood Golden age movie.. with a Quentin twist.
His movies have consistently been criticised for being unnecessarily violent, gruesome, mysoginous ( have these critics ever watched Jackie Brown?!) but very seldom it has been emphasised how Tarantino brings us in some ways the optimism we all need and long for: behind all that cynicism there is hope, behind failure and self-loathing there is a possibility of redemption for all of us.