If you’ve already seen Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood, then you’re already aware of its unexpected ending. No doubt the biggest topic of discussion from the film, the ending actually has a lot of subtle touches that may be more true to life than they first appear, making it an all the more effective rebuke against the Manson family legacy.
Beware. There will be many spoilers ahead.
The first turning point in the final act is when Rick Dalton is instead targeted by the Manson family, and the four member hit squad, three women and one man, approach his house. One of the women, played by Maya Hawke of Stranger Things fame, claims she forgot her knife, heads back to the car and drives away in panic.
This character is Linda Kasabian. While present at the Tate murders, Kasabian did not participate. After witnessing the appalling violence, Kasabian attempted to stop the massacre by telling the others a car was coming, but her efforts ultimately failed. The only of the four to show any remorse, Kasabian would later testify against the others at trial, and proved instrumental to their conviction. Given this, the film spares her, and reserves punishment for the other three.
Upon entering the house and confronting Booth, the male member of the Family, Tex Watson, utters his infamous line “I’m the Devil, and I’m here to do the Devil’s business.” Tex Watson did in fact say this when confronted by real life victim Wojciech Frykowski. It has been referenced numerous times in pop culture, most notably in Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects.
What’s significant about this moment is Booth’s reaction. While most cite the line as chilling, Booth finds it ‘dumb.’ It’s one of the most potent parts of the film. The Manson family has been built up quite a bit in pop culture to the point that they’re minor legends. Tarantino seeks to destroy that legend with this film, including insulting the very moment that entered the lexicon of popular culture. It’s the start of a ballad of violence that is designed to humiliate the Manson family as much as possible.
In the already iconic climax, Booth and his dog Brandy violently attack the three remaining invaders, killing Tex Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel, and injuring Susan Atkins to the point of hysteria. One of the most appalling things about the Tate murders was the shear level of violence suffered by the victims. Here, the film heaps that same level of overkill on the Family themselves, and the results are glorious.
It’s also noteworthy that for most of this sequence, Booth does most of the work while Dalton sits unaware in his pool. This actually makes a lot of sense as it further displays the relationship of the two. Dalton is the actor and Booth is the stuntman, so Booth does most of the heavy lifting while Dalton shows up for the final shot. This was pointed out on the podcast Half in the Bag, which can be viewed at this link.
The third and final home invader is perhaps the most notorious. Susan Atkins, along with Tex Watson, killed Sharon Tate. Atkins later bragged in prison that even after Take begged for her child’s life, she told her she didn’t care. Atkins was also quite disruptive during the trial, shouting that Manson’s trial was ‘the second crucifixion of Jesus Christ’ and along with Krenwinkel, was filmed singing outside the courthouse. It’s no wonder the film treats her the worst out of the three. Given her vocal nature, it’s strangely appropriate that her first wound is a can of dog food slammed into her mouth. It’s another example of how the film attempts to humiliate the Manson family.
After having her teeth broken and being mauled by Brandy, a now frenzied Susan Atkins rushes through a glass door and falls into Dalton’s pool. Dalton escapes, returning with a flamethrower he kept from a World War II film he did and burning Atkins alive. This is set up in a previous scene where we see a clip from the movie, and Dalton recounts how he learned how to use the flamethrower so he could be the one to fire it on camera, the one stunt he actually did.
Dalton’s career appears to be modeled after a young Clint Eastwood. Like Eastwood, Dalton starred on a successful western series (Rawhide for Eastwood and Bounty Law for Dalton). Afterwards, the pair had struggle finding success, appearing in Spaghetti Westerns and some films in the States that both were relatively dismissive of. Dalton isn’t fond of the World War II movie he starred in. The film in Eastwood’s library that most closely resembles Dalton’s is an action film titled Where Eagles Dare, which featured a young Eastwood killing swaths of nameless Nazis in an effort to save an American General from a snowbound castle. Tarantino also happens to be a huge fan of Where Eagles Dare, so perhaps this is his nod to one of Eastwood’s most underrated films.
After this sequence, the film makes an effort to dismiss the cult as unimportant, with their motives and significance not known by the leading characters. Dalton downplaying the incident is the final nail in the coffin for the Manson cult in this film. Rather than playing up the attack or even his own antics, Dalton is dismissive of the incident. The person Dalton speaks to in this scene is Jay Sebring, a real life ex lover to Tate and one of the victims of the murders.
After the attack, Tate, concerned for Dalton, buzzes him up to the gate to speak with him. In the final shot of the film, Dalton is met by Tate, wearing a jersey, and the two share a hug. The jersey Tate wears was the same one worn by the real Tate on that fateful night. Upon seeing that, I did find myself tearing up. While the film allows us a moment to enjoy a fantasy of what should have happened to the Manson family, we are nonetheless reminded of the harsh reality, and given a glimpse of a person whose life was cut tragically short. Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood is a fantasy, but it doesn’t let us forget about the real tragedy.
The ending to Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood is one of the best sequences in any Tarantino film. It’s simultaneously a hysterical and rewarding bit of wish fulfillment, while also making sure to remind the viewer about the real tragedy that occurred in 1969. Perhaps my favorite thing about is is how it seeks to demolish the legend built around the Manson family. It reminds the viewer that they don’t deserve their status as icons, while Sharon Tate deserves to be remembered as more than a victim, but an artist who came painfully close to seeing her dreams true.