Every movie fan knows Quentin Tarantino for his love for gory violence, wild profanity, and stylish storytelling, but few discuss him as being one of cinema’s great fantasists. Sure, we might not go so far as to compare him to the likes of Hayao Miyazaki, Tim Burton or Ingmar Bergman, but Tarantino sure loves to dabble in the world of ‘what if’, often messing with history throughout his filmography.
Whilst most of his films seem to exist in an ultra-violent otherworld, his first true divergence from the realities of human history wouldn’t come until the release of Inglourious Basterds in 2009. A violent exploitation flick inspired by other violent WWII films such as The Dirty Dozen and Kelly’s Heroes, Tarantino’s tale told the story of a group of Jewish US soldiers in Nazi-occupied France who are on a mission to assassinate high-ranking German officials.
Starring such movie stars as Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender whilst introducing Christoph Waltz to the industry fold, Inglourious Basterds was a glitzy war drama that took pride in its visceral violence right up until its shocking end in which Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was killed in a hail of bullets. Whilst his demise in Tarantino’s film might have been far more dramatic, Hitler met his end in reality when he took his own life in a Berlin bunker during the dying days of WWII.
“When it came to Inglourious Basterds, and I’m writing the sequence,” Tarantino stated about the film’s ending during an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, “And everything’s going right, the Basterds have taken over the theatre, and it seems like it’s going to go good. Now I’ve got to figure out what am I going to do about Hitler”.
Continuing, he added: “I didn’t want it to be a double, that’s always a bummer whenever that happens in a movie…and I don’t want it to be, ‘oh, they sneak him out of the back and stuff’. So I go, ‘what am I going to do?’. It’s like 4:00 in the morning, I’m writing by myself, and then I finally decide, ‘Just kill him’”.
This clearly gave Tarantino the taste to change history again, and three years later, he would do the very same thing for his Blaxploitation flick Django Unchained. Tackling the heavy concept of the slave trade, the director’s 2012 film told the story of a bounty hunter who frees an enslaved man, with the pair setting out on a mutually beneficial journey to find a plantation owner and the title character’s wife.
Wasting no time with this film, Tarantino messes with history at the very start, with the opening crawl stating that the story takes place in 1858, “two years before the Civil War”. Yet, the Civil War began in 1861, meaning Tarantino brought the Civil War forward by one year in his cinematic universe. The tweak is so slight that it could be seen as a mistake, but Tarantino is a meticulous man, and it’s far more likely that the decision was made to suggest that Django’s murderous spree across southern America would have brought the Abolitionism Act around earlier, ending the war prematurely in the process.
Similarly, in 2015’s The Hateful Eight, Tarantino also meddled with the specifics of war. The low-key tale followed a meeting of unlikely characters in a snowy cabin in Wyoming shortly after the Civil War. Two key characters are Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren and Bruce Dern’s General Sandford Smithers, veterans who fought on opposite sides during the Battle of Baton Rouge, which took place in 1862.
The historical inaccuracy here is that Jackson’s Warren is black, and black soldiers weren’t called up to fight in the Civil War until 1863, one year after Tarantino proposes the battle took place. The Battle of Baton Rouge was one of the most iconic and significant moments of the Civil War, so placing both key characters at the scene allowed for a heightened amount of tension between the venomous pair in Tarantino’s flick.
Indeed, each of Tarantino’s historical alterations has come in his most recent four movies, with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood being the most glaring example alongside Inglourious Basterds. In his 2019 magnum opus, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a faltering TV star trying to make it big in late 1960s Hollywood as American culture unknowingly awaits a major shift in the form of the Manson cult murders in which actor Sharon Tate was brutally killed.
Played by Margot Robbie in the movie, Tate is the key to understanding Tarantino’s fantasy that explores ‘what if’ one of America’s most devastating cultural moments hadn’t happened at all. In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tate isn’t killed by the Manson cult, with the crazed murderers being dispatched by Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth and DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton before they ever reach the Hollywood actor’s house.
Such makes the film something of an optimistic fairytale, speaking to the boundless possibilities of Hollywood and moviemaking itself. In keeping with his recent storytelling trend, we expect more history-bending in The Movie Critic.