By: Josh Leichter  | 

Let’s Just Pretend for a Moment: Tarantino’s Revisionist History Reconsidered

One of the most common phenomena in film is the billing of a film as “based on a true story” or “inspired by true events.” Upon the release of these movies, however, further research indicates that they are often very loosely based on the actual events, taking creative liberties with the truth to make the movie more engaging to the audience paying to see it on the big screen. Interestingly, the backlash to this tactic of ignoring the historical truth is generally muted, as if we accept the idea that these movies are not meant to tell us what really happened. After all, isn’t that what nonfiction is for? On the other side of the coin, there is furor in some circles that these movies are attempting to have their cake and eat it too, wanting us to believe this is a real event while never letting the audience consider whether or not what’s being played out on screen matches reality. 

With the release of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” director Quentin Tarantino has wrapped up what many unofficially refer to as his revisionist history trilogy, which began with 2009’s “Inglorious Basterds,” which followed a group of Jewish-American soldiers during World War II eager for revenge against the Nazis and 2012’s “Django Unchained,” which saw the eponymous freed slave on a quest to free his wife from slavers in the pre-Civil War South. These three films look towards the historical events of World War II, American slavery and the Manson Murders of 1969 as jumping-off points for us to redirect our notions about them. Rather than being reminded of the terrible tragedies that transpired during these tumultuous times in history, the viewer is allowed to cheer when they see Hitler being killed by a Jewish soldier in a burning French theater or when a stuntman and a fading actor kill the members of the Manson Family dispatched to kill Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring and Abigail Folger on that tragic night of Aug. 8. 

While some have said that these films dishonor the memory of those that suffered and perished at the hands of such sadistic individuals in history, I think that it is important to remember why we watch these types of films in the first place. We know walking into them, based on Tarantino’s filmography, that we are not going to be getting a straight history lesson — if we wanted that, we’d watch a Spielberg movie instead. Rather, the way that the subject matter is addressed by Tarantino is in such a highly stylized manner that we as the audience want to believe that this is the way the events should have taken place. That with all the blood squibs exploding in the foreground and background, maybe for just two hours we can believe that these villains did get what was coming to them and the good guys did save the day, whether by blowing up the plantation in “Django” or a theater full of the Nazi elites in “Inglorious Basterds.” Yet tragically, we know once we see the card that reads “Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino” that the reality was much more brutal to those same good guys and that unfortunately, the villains we longed to see collect their due got away with their crimes or were punished in a manner incommensurable to the atrocities they perpetrated against their victims. 

But at the same time, to exist in that state of blissful ignorance is what movies are for: to let ourselves temporarily ignore the cold harshness of our world today, close our eyes to the tragedies around us and just pretend for a moment that those wearing the white hats always win and those who choose to wear black will always be foiled. Because that’s what we need right now. And it’s something we’ll always need. 

Photo caption: Quentin Tarantino at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons