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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s latest flick, hit the big screen on Friday. The film’s message can be summed up in one short, and crass, line delivered by protagonist Rick Dalton (Leonardo Dicaprio): “dirty [expletive] hippies.”
While Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is nominally the story of Dalton, a washed-up actor struggling to remain relevant, it is just as much about hippies and, as the quote from Dalton indicates, how awful they were. It is, essentially, a two-hour, 45-minute middle finger to hippies.
The countercultural movement often gets viewed through rose-colored lenses. Its themes of peace and love do seem appealing, and the notion that swaths of the country dedicated themselves to promoting those ideals does sound nice. In theory. The actual movement was fairly, for lack of a better word, gross. Tarantino brings this oft-unexplored aspect of hippiedom to the forefront of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and doesn’t shy away from depicting the nasty reality of the bohemian life.
The Manson Family serves as the film’s window into hippies, and while they are obviously not representative of the movement in general (the Manson Family were, on the whole, a bit more murdery than the average hippie), certain elements of the Manson lifestyle depicted in the film were common to the hippie experience. Things like communal living and promiscuous sex, which Tarantino presents in a strongly negative light.
As viewers of the film, we are introduced to the Manson Family through a girl named Pussycat, a hitchhiker who catches the eye of Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as he drives through LA. He offers her a ride and, in return, she offers to fellate him as he drives her back to her commune at Spahn Ranch. Her seductive behavior may strike some as harmless youthful free-spiritedness; hopefully less so, however, after we find out her free-spiritedness is a bit too youthful when Booth asks her age and she admits she isn’t 18 as she initially tried to tell him.
Pussycat invites Cliff to look around the commune and meet her friends and, as Cliff walks around, we’re shown how repellent their communal life is. The ranch is rundown, the buildings are dingy, and the residents are far from clean. We find that Pussycat’s unrestrained sexuality is shared by her fellow residents of Spahn Ranch. The Manson Family was able to maintain residence on the ranch in large part thanks to the fact that many of the young women in the group were having sex with the 80-year-old owner, something the movie makes mention of but, thankfully, does not depict. The term “free love” brings to mind new-agey thoughts of love without restrictions. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood points out that truly unrestricted sex means things like ephebophilia and group sex with an octogenarian.
The far-too-loose attitudes surrounding sex depicted in the film make it no wonder that the Sexual Revolution was soon followed by the AIDS crisis, a general rise in occurrences of STDs, and out-of-control, out-of-wedlock births that consigned untold numbers to lives of poverty and hardship. Maybe, just maybe, some restrictions are in order?
The anti-hippie attitude of the film spills into the extreme at times. Take the climax, for example, a gratuitously violent scene, the details of which i’ll avoid to prevent spoilers.
But even with those few uncomfortably vicious moments it remains about as accurate a portrayal of hippies as Hollywood has yet produced. Yes, Tarantino’s portrayal of violence is disgusting. But, as the film shows, so too are hippies.