So... Did Cliff Booth Kill His Wife in 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'?

'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'Credit: Sony Pictures
What happened with that harpoon, Cliff? 

It's been a little bit since Tarantino's masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, came out. And I think we've had an ample amount of time to look at one of the central questions inside the movie's characterization. It's one left unanswered, though it is frequently addressed. 

So what do you think? Did Cliff Booth really kill his wife? 

Check out this video from Strats, and let's talk after the jump. 

So... Did Cliff Booth Kill His Wife? 

Here's what we know. Cliff was on the high seas with his wife. She was drunk and berating him. He was drinking and holding a spear gun. She died. But did he shoot her and dump her body, or did she just fall out of the boat and drown? It was a choppy day, but nothing too bad. 

We know that many people in Hollywood think Cliff did it, except for his friend Rick Dalton. But Rick could just not want to be alone, which would make it reasonable for him to lie. 

Cliff could also just have a bad reputation, which could make it why people believe him capable of something despicable, and not a tragic accident. 

Even people in real-life Hollywood are split on whether or not he did it. 

If I had to sit here and decide whether or not he did it, I'd probably have to say I don't think he did.

I think the boat bucked, and she probably hit her head, falling over and drowning on her own. The reason I believe this is that I think the movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is about how hard it is to be known for one thing. When you think about the moments that define your career or your celebrity, we see that people like Rick Dalton are concerned with their legacy. How will they be remembered? 

Across from him is Cliff Booth, a guy who seems to have been a great stuntman before this pervasive rumor derailed who he is and how he's seen. At the end of the movie, Cliff gets to be a hero, saving Rick from the Manson family and probably changing the terms around his legacy. He becomes a real killer to live up to his legacy, but this time, his actions are justified. 

Credit: Andrew Cooper/Sony Pictures
This would mirror how Rick gets another chance to live up to his own legacy as an actor since the movie ends with him getting a shot at a Polanski film. It also mirrors the story of Sharon Tate, who famously survives in this movie and gets to become the screen legend she was denied in real life. 

That kind of full-circle writing feels appealing to me and would tie into the hopeful and celebratory Hollywood narrative at the center of this movie.

But I could be totally wrong. That's my take, but I want to hear your ideas. Did Cliff Booth kill his wife, or was this all just a misunderstanding? 

Let me know in the comments.      

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Your Comment


They didn’t actually say his wife was dead. It’s all hearsay. She could’ve just left him and moved away without telling anyone. Life is full of that kind of stuff.

I feel unanswered should remain as such, unanswered... until the sequel :)

June 2, 2021 at 5:54PM

Matthew Carnes
All Trades that Pay

That essay is not good. I feel the film implies pretty heavily that he did kill has wife, and combined with a few other aspects that felt like Tarantino's middle finger to feminist readings of the film, it left a bad taste in my mouth. Despite being an accomplished film I'm not a fan.

June 2, 2021 at 10:09PM

Stu Mannion

Of course he did...It was a convenient scenario (being at sea) and she clearly was an abusive drunk that complained constantly about her life with him. Beyond that, OUATIH was a terrific love story for Sharon Tate and late 60's Hollywood.

June 3, 2021 at 7:12AM

John Foundas