This film makes us ask fundamental questions: what is truth; where is the fairytale? In modern terms: where is the fake news? And what is the difference between them? And it does that in amusing ways. It’s a very good film.
It toys with “true events”—the murderous rampage led by Charlie Manson and his band of followers. But that event which is expected throughout the film is only the background to the film. It is not the true story of those events. Or maybe it is. After all, what is truth anyway?
It tells the entirely fictional story of Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) Hollywood stuntman to star Rick Dalton (Leonardo diCaprio) a fading Western movie star and Sharon Tate, (Margot Robbie) a real person who was brutally murdered by the Manson gang. Dalton lives next door to the house shared by Tate and her husband Roman Polanski. That lends an ominous quality to the film right from the start. Given that Quentin Tarantino is the director we always expect (no dread) the worst. Al Pacino plays the role of a casting agent and Kurt Russell as a Hollywood hot shot and Bruce Dern plays an old blind former star who wants to warm his hands one more time at the fire of life with a Manson girl. When Booth shows up at his home where he is sleeping and introduces himself as a stuntman, he retorts, “every man needs a stunt man.” For sure.
Though inspired by actual events nothing is straight-forward in this film. After all truth is murky. To misquote Bob Dylan, reality does not talk it swears. Characters in the film are or are not based on actual characters. What else would you expect about a film based on Hollywood’s golden age that went sensationally down in fire after the murder of Sharon Tate and friends?
But the finale still surprises. There are multiple story lines but all revolve around the world of make believe, and of course, we never believe. No one tells the truth, and no one cares. An 8-year old child star sounds like a middle-aged matron. Actors may or may not be acting. Like the Beatles said, ‘Nothing is real.” Nothing to get hung-up about. It’s all Helter Skelter, reputedly the words in a Beatle song that inspired Charlie Manson. For a while the action moves to the Spahn Ranch, that was also used as movie set, was where the Manson team hung out in dilapidated splendour is the scene. Here we get to meet the Manson clan on their own territory and it is not a pretty sight.
Tate spends an afternoon girlishly watching herself in a recent Dean Martin film. Dalton plays scenes that may or may not be real.
Needless to say, the night of the planned murders do not go according to plan. It is a melee. The Manson gang goes to the wrong house, but they see that Dalton is a worthy candidate for murder too. After all why not, “kill the guys who taught us to kill?” Since we’re in Hollywood that makes sense doesn’t it? To the others it seems like a “great idea.” The night ends up being the blackest of comedies.
Here is a conversation between Cliff and a young Mansonite:
Cliff: “You are real right?”
Teen: “Real as donut.”
Cliff, thinking it is all a joke, asks, “Who are you?”
Teen: “I’m the devil and I’m here to do the devil’s business.”
That explains it. Or does it?
When all is done, the survivors party on. No one cares about the dead. Would you? After all, nothing is real. Except maybe escapism of Hollywood movies. That is true escapism. True lies.