once upon a time in hollywood theory

The Once Upon a Time in Hollywood trailer is here, and it’s a blast. The latest film from Quentin Tarantino is a star-studded affair, and based on this trailer, it’s going to lean heavily into comedy. That may seem like an odd choice, since the film features both Charles Manson and Sharon Tate, one of the victims of the Manson Family.

But I have a theory – a theory I’ve had for a while now, and one that I feel stronger about after watching the trailer. I think Tarantino is going to take the same approach here as he did with Inglorious Basterds, and change history. Significantly.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set in the summer of 1969. Quentin Tarantino has said this previously, and the trailer seemingly confirms it. It was an infamous summer in Los Angeles, because it was the summer that Sharon Tate and four others were murdered by the Manson Family. Margot Robbie plays Tate in the film, and she certainly has the look down.

Ever since early set photos of Robbie in character surfaced, I’ve had a theory. In all the set photos, and in all the footage in this trailer, Robbie’s Tate is slim and trim. But here’s the thing: in the summer of ’69, the real Sharon Tate was pregnant. And she wasn’t at the start of her pregnancy, either. When she was murdered in August of ’69, she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant.

And for all we know, the film will jump back and forth through time and all of these shots are from a period before 1969, or in its earlier months. There are a handful of set pics where Robbie’s Tate does appear very pregnant (no, I’m not sharing them, because I don’t want to get in trouble). But that’s not focused on at all, or even presented, in this trailer.

Which brings me to my theory: Tarantino is going to subvert history, significantly. The filmmaker has already done this with Inglorious Basterds, a film that ends with American troops murdering Hitler just as a movie theater filled with pretty much every single high ranking Nazi official in it explodes. Even if you’re a bit fuzzy on your history, you likely know that that’s definitely not how World War II ended.

With all this in mind, I have a sneaking suspicion that Sharon Tate is going to make it out of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood alive. That the Manson Family murders won’t happen. And that Manson himself might befall a fate similar to Hitler in Basterds. 

We catch a quick glimpse of Manson (played by Damon Herriman) in the trailer. It’s so fast that you might not even realize it’s supposed to be Charles Manson. In fact, if you had no idea this movie involved the Manson Family, you’d get no real indication of that from this trailer. Sure, there’s a few shots of the Manson Girls lounging around, but you have to be looking for them to notice.

Then there’s the tone of the trailer, which is straight-up comedy. Tarantino has balanced tones before. Almost all of his films contain comedy, even the brutal ones. But the tone here feels almost identical to the tone of Inglorious Basterds, which had big dramatic beats but leaned heavily into humor. You wouldn’t expect a movie involving the Manson Family murders to be so damn funny, just as you probably wouldn’t expect a film about commandos hunting down Nazis to be comedic either.

If you want to buy into this theory of mine, the big question you have to ask is: would Tarantino be so bold as to take this approach? I think he would – he doesn’t strike me as someone who would consider it to be in poor taste, even if others might.

Then there’s the question of how Tate’s surviving loved ones might react to all of this. When Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was first announced, Debra Tate, Sharon Tate’s sister, expressed outrage. She was particularly disgusted that Sony originally planned to release the movie on August 9, which would coincide with the 50th anniversary of Sharon Tate’s murder. The release date was later changed July 26, 2019, and Debra Tate agreed to sit down with Tarantino and read the script.

After this meeting, Tate changed her opinion of the film. The news of the Tate/Tarantino meeting came via TMZ, with their article stating:

Debra says she voiced her concerns and he heard her out, then explained the movie’s plot … which made her feel much better. She says she now believes Tarantino has honorable intentions  … “This movie is not what people would expect it to be when you combine the Tarantino and Manson names.”

The “not what people would expect” statement sends up a red flag. Is Tate confirming this theory? On the opposite side of the coin, would Tate be okay with Tarantino making such a drastic change to history? I really don’t know.

I’m freely willing to admit here I might be wrong! This is a theory, after all. I have nothing to “prove” any of this except a wild hunch. But I wouldn’t be surprised if this is what happens. When the official Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Twitter posted the trailer today, the tagline included featured this excerpt: “Experience a version of 1969.” The emphasis on version is mine, but again, I can’t help but think this is yet another clue hinting at a film set in some sort of alternate reality. A reality where the terrible events of August 9, 1969 didn’t happen at all. And as that title implies, this is “once upon a time.” This is not reality – it’s a fairy tale.

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