As with every Tarantino film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is rich with storytelling depth and meaning, especially as the film reaches its climax. Now that the movie’s out, it’s time to dig deep into the ending.
Let’s get the biggest development of the ending out of the way: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a movie in which the Manson family murders didn’t happen the way they did in real life. It’s clear from Cliff’s visit to the Spahn Movie Ranch that Charles Manson’s commune is up to something devious, but when it comes time to commit the infamous murders on Cielo Drive on the night of August 8th, historical fact gives way to fiction. One drug-fueled decision to change plans and try to murder Rick Dalton creates a ripple effect. Sharon Tate and her friends survive that night, and three key members of Manson’s family do not.
Though the film ends before it can explore the full extent of this ripple effect, it’s safe to assume that the black cloud created by the Manson murders in 1969 was changed in a number of key ways. Joan Didion famously wrote that the night Sharon Tate died was the night the 1960s ended. The decade was about to end anyway, but perhaps Rick and Cliff’s acts of self-defense were enough to keep the feeling of the 1960s alive in Hollywood for at least a little longer.
The last shot of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood shows us Rick, having torched Susan Atkins in his pool during the attack on his house, being invited up to Sharon Tate’s home for drinks. It’s the realization of a fantasy Rick has been nurturing ever since he figured out that the hottest director in town, Roman Polanski, and his rising star wife were his neighbors. To Rick, they’re the people who can get him into all the best Hollywood circles, the people who can resurrect his struggling career. Keep watching the video to see the ending of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood explained!
An era-ending crime no more | 0:14
Rick Dalton’s new opportunity | 1:18
Cliff Booth, hero stuntman | 2:07
Best friends forever | 3:02
The imagined future of Sharon Tate | 3:31
An alternate history | 4:11