Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood: a breakdown

Didn’t understand the point of Quentin Tarantino’s new movie or what Sharon Tate had to do with it? Here’s a breakdown.


Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is based in Los Angeles in 1969, and is set around fictional characters Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double/best friend, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate, who is not a fictional character, but was an actress who was at the peak of her career before she was murdered in real life.

Tarantino uses fiction and nonfiction to tell his version of Hollywood in the ’60s. While the plot was made up, most of the storyline was based off true events, places, and people.

The main point of the movie will go right over your head if you don’t know anything about Charles Manson or the murders that took place at Cielo Drive on August 9, 1969. Since I love true crime, I understood what was happening throughout the almost three-hour long film, but some of my friends left the theatre scratching their heads.

In real life, Sharon Tate married director Roman Polanski in 1968. Tate had previously dated Jay Sebring, a celebrity hairstylist in Hollywood. Jay is played by Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) in the movie, and was still in love with Sharon and often kept her company while Roman was out of the country working on films.

Far away from the Hollywood Hills where Sharon and Roman lived on Cielo Drive, lived Charles Manson and his cult, also known as the Manson Family. Their hippie commune was a 55-acre ranch where movies used to be filmed at a place called Spahn Ranch. All of this was portrayed in Tarantino’s film.

Manson’s dream was to write and record music. He got lucky one day and met Dennis Wilson, the drummer of the Beach Boys, while picking up weed at a friend’s house. Wilson and Manson became friends, and he later introduced Manson to music producer Terry Melcher.

In Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, there’s a scene in which a man with shaggy brown hair knocks on the door of Sharon Tate’s home and asks for Terry Melcher. Jay Sebring answers the door and tells him Terry doesn’t live there anymore. This actually happened in real life — Terry Melcher used to live in the same house Sharon and Roman Polanski did. The man who knocked on the door was Charles Manson.

When Wilson and Melcher figured out Manson was a psychopath, they cut off communication with him, which pissed Manson off because he had recorded music with them and thought he was about to live his dream life. While this was going on, back on the ranch Manson would give his “family members” LSD to brainwash them into believing he was a manifestation of Jesus, and eventually was able to manipulate them into doing whatever he asked them to do.

Some of the Manson Family members included Charles “Tex” Watson (played by Austin Butler), Susan “Sadie” Atkins, Linda Kasabian (played by Maya Hawke, who also starred as Robin in Stranger Things 3), and Patricia “Katie” Krenwinkel. It was these four who went to the house on Cielo Drive the night of August 8, both in the movie and real life.

On August 8, 1969, Sharon, Jay, and two of their friends, Wojciech Frykowski and coffee heiress Abigail Folger, went for dinner at El Coyote, a Mexican restaurant. Afterwards, the four of them went back to Sharon’s home at Cielo Drive and settled in for the night. Tarantino included all this in the film and uses time stamps to show the night progressing, which adds tension as it gets closer to midnight, which was when Tate and her friends were murdered. He even goes as far to include minor details, such as Tate’s lounge-wear, which she was famously wearing when she died.

Shortly after midnight, the four Manson members showed up at the house on Cielo Drive with instructions from Charles Manson to kill whoever they found inside. In the movie, Linda’s character takes off and leaves the other three there alone. However, in real life, Linda stayed near the car and became a key witness in the investigation. Tex, Katie, and Sadie broke into the house and forced Sharon and her friends into the living room, where Tex tied a rope around Jay’s neck, looped it over the ceiling beam, and then tied it around Sharon’s neck. He ordered Jay, Sharon, Wojciech, and Abigail to lie on their stomachs, and Jay protested for Sharon’s safety, since she was 8 and-a-half months pregnant at the time. Tex immediately shot Jay, killing him right in front of Sharon, who was still tied to her ex-lover’s lifeless body.

Without getting into too gory of details, they continued to brutally murder Frykowski, Folger, and then Tate. It was reported they stabbed Tate 16 times and hung her from the ceiling beam. They wrote the word “PIG” in Tate’s blood on the front door of her home.

According to CNN, Susan Atkins told another inmate she murdered Tate because they “wanted to do a crime that would shock the world, that the world would have to stand up and take notice.” Nobody really knows why Manson targeted Tate or the house on Cielo Drive. It’s believed it was to get revenge on Terry Melcher for bailing on his music career, but Manson knew Melcher didn’t live there anymore. Was it to send a message? His choice in Tate appears to have less to do with who she was as a person and more to do with what she represented in Hollywood at the time.

All of this, of course, was left out of Tarantino’s retelling of what happened the night of August 8th. Instead, Tex, Sadie, and Katie break into Rick’s house next door, Cliff and Rick fight off the intruders while on acid with a flamethrower (how very Tarantino), and Sharon and Jay invite Rick inside the house for a drink afterwards. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is the fairytale version of what actually happened that night. It’s the version that Sharon Tate and her friends (and her unborn child) deserved.

Tarantino’s film is a hilarious look back into the culture of Hollywood back in the 1960’s, when the hippie movement was in full-swing and Los Angeles was rapidly changing. Unfortunately, the real events changed LA forever and marked the end of the ’60s. Everyone was afraid to leave their home, nobody knew who was responsible for the killings, and the energy in the air was anything but freedom, peace, and love.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is Tarantino’s ninth film and is playing in theatres everywhere.