Earlier this afternoon, I saw Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood. It was nearly three hours long but actually pretty good. My primary takeaway from the film was that it impressively and laudably portrayed the story of two men who find themselves in the twilight of their careers, knowing that “all my best years are behind me.” To me, this was easily the most affecting part of the story.
Generally, when we are young, we read many books and watch numerous Disney movies that are always hopeful and optimistic. We’re taught at any early age to always simply have faith that our best days are ahead of us. And that’s why we should never give up and always continue striving endlessly to constantly improve, to be better. That if we just try hard enough, our dreams are within reach and achievable.
But for most of us, especially as we hit our mid-thirties and forties, there is another reckoning that is seldom told in books or movies: The idea that the vast majority of us will never live up to our childhood dreams. Most of us will never end up becoming astronauts or movie stars or hall of fame athletes. It just doesn’t happen. And so that’s why I really appreciated OUaTiH— it shines because it portrays this tale of failure and disappointment, and grappling with that reality.
In the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play characters far past their prime who are now simply spiraling towards an unenviable, ignominious end. There is something incredibly profound about acknowledging, “Tomorrow will never be quite as bright as today. And today is already a little dimmer than yesterday.” The way DiCaprio comes to grip with this sobering reality is phenomenal to watch. He was once a big shot, the leading man of his own TV shows in the 50s and 60s, only to slowly piss it all away and watch everything gradually slip away from him… that’s good filmmaking. Also, Pitt is a marvel too– someone who long ago tethered his cart to DiCaprio. And so as DiCaprio’s fortune wanes, Pitt’s career too declines following a similar trajectory, an agonizingly slow death over many years which he is likewise powerless to stop or even retard. This narrative theme of futility, resignation, and acceptance was by far my favorite part of the film. To be honest, I knew nearly nothing about the Charles Manson murders so that entire part of the storytelling was pretty lost on me.