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‘Once Upon a Time In Hollywood’ Ending Twist Is Worth the Whole Movie

Confused about where history ends and fiction begins? That's the point.

Credit: Columbia

If the ending of Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is confusing, it’s supposed to be that way. In fact, the reason why the ending of Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie is so affecting is that the entire movie plays-fast-and-loose with historical facts. If you’re worried that this movie is a pretentious movie-snob hall-of-mirrors, where only hardcore cinephiles and historians will “get it,” think again. The ending of the movie proves what the whole thing is really about.

Major spoilers for the ending of  Once Upon a Time In Hollywood follow. Seriously. Stop reading if you haven’t seen the movie.

So, if it’s been a while since you’ve really thought about the history of the late 196os, you might be wondering how much of the new Tarantino flick is real and how much of it is invented. Here’s the easy answer: Everything going on with Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio is fiction, specifically what they do in the ending. There was never a show called Bounty Law, and Cliff Booth(Pitt) and Rick Dalton(DiCaprio) were not real actors, and the latter certainly did not live next door to Roman Polanski in 1969. You don’t need to know anything else about real history to enjoy the movie. Just remember, these two guys didn’t exist, meaning anything they do, is also fiction.

In real life, actress Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie in the movie) was tragically killed by followers of Charles Manson’s deranged “family” cult. But, in the ending of Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, that’s not what happens. Instead, Cliff and Rick take out the wackos and prevent Tate from dying. Leo even gets to use a flamethrower! It’s a quintessential Quentin Tarantino gore-fest, but, it doesn’t happen until the very end of the movie, and, this twist turns what you think is a tragedy into a strangely happy ending.

Because the ruminative film sometimes feels all-over-the-place tonally, this ending is fantastic because it strongly confirms what you might have been worried about all along No, this movie is not a docudrama. It’s weirder — and oddly — kinder than that. It suggests a longing for a time before a murder like this became sensationalized news, a time before Charles Manson was a household name.

The only flaw in the ending — which isn’t Tarantino’s fault — is that it’s really too bad that Leo and Brad’s characters weren’t really there on that night in 1969. It seems like the world might have been a slightly better place had they been. Which, of course, is the point Tarantino trying to make.

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is out in theaters now.