Quentin Tarantino has been hyping up the release of his Once Upon a Time In Hollywood novel to go along with the movie. He did the talk show circuit and even released a trailer for the book, and it finally arrived on shelves today.
Mine was dropped off at my doorstep by my trusty mail carrier, and I sat down to devour it. Among the many insights and nuances present on the page, I found something I did not expect. The direct answer to whether or not Cliff Booth killed his wife.
As you remember in the movie, this was an ambiguous detail that forced us to make our own judgment call about the characters and specifically Cliff's redemption arc. But in the novel, there's no room for misinterpretation.
Tarantino writes, “The minute Cliff shot his wife with the shark gun, he knew it was a bad idea.”
The passage continues, saying the spear “hit her a little below the belly button, tearing her in half, both pieces hitting the deck of the boat with a splash.”
That's pretty disgusting, but it is Tarantino. When he goes into Cliff's head, he says that Cliff “had despised this woman for what seemed like years,” but “the moment he saw her ripped in two… years of ill will and resentment evaporated in an instant.”
Of course, Cliff then tries to put his wife back together, but to no avail.
Somehow she survives this maiming. Tarantino expands on the situation, writing, “In those seven hours, they recounted their whole life together.” That is quite brutal. Eventually, she splits in two permanently and falls into the ocean.
Cliff sells the incident as “a tragic mishandling of diving equipment.”
Tarantino finishes with the ultimate question: how did Cliff get away with it?
'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'Credit: Sony PicturesTarantino writes, “Easy. His story was plausible and it couldn’t be disproven. Cliff felt really bad about what he did to Billie. But as much regret and remorse as he felt, it never occurred to him not to try to get away with murder.”
So there you have it. The answer to a question that was very fun to debate for a year.
Now, since all this was left out of the movie, you can say it's not canon and thus the movie should be judged on its own. But it is in the book, and now having read it, I am not sure I will be able to separate them in my mind.
There's also the larger question of what this means as a metaphor for Hollywood. Is this about how Natalie Wood disappeared at sea and people think Robert Wagner might have been involved in her death (with Christopher Walken as an accessory) or could it be about Roman Polanski, who we know did a horrible thing, but who thinks needs to be forgiven after all these years? Or maybe it's about something else.
What do you think of this change? Does it add to your reading of the film?
Let's hash it out in the comments.