What I’m about to do is gross and wrong — to judge a work of art before it’s even been made — but there’s something about Quentin Tarantino tackling the Manson family murders that feels … well, gross and wrong.
The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday reported that Tarantino’s next project would be a “unique take on the Manson family murders,” and that “script details are fuzzy but one of the stories centers on Sharon Tate.”
Tarantino’s sensibilities and true crime? These things go together like chocolate and onions.
Tate was eight months pregnant in 1969 when she and four other people were stabbed and beaten to the point of mutilation by four individuals at the direction of Charles Manson, who is still in prison for that and other grisly crimes. It ranks among the most ghastly and upsetting murders in American history, and the grief it caused still lingers.
Tate, a rising Hollywood star at the time, was married to writer/director Roman Polanski, whose Chinatown (which came out five years later, in 1974) is considered possibly the greatest film ever made. Polanski still lives in exile after he pleaded guilty to raping a 13-year-old, a crime he committed six years after his wife and unborn child were slaughtered.
There’s just a whole lot to process with this one. This is not some faded, deliciously juicy Hollywood tale for the soapy-podcast crowd to script up and dish about. Due in no small part to its sickeningly morbid nature, this is still pretty fresh in people’s minds. These are the Manson murders.
And take nothing away from Tarantino, a master filmmaker. He’s just the wrong guy for the job.
Tarantino made his bones fetishizing gangstery murder, torture, extortion — surrounding suffering with cheeky dialogue, burning with revenge, taking old genres and bending them into his own. He made killing seem stylish and cool. And he has a voice in the gratuity; brutality stokes his fire, blood is baked into his brimstone. Great vengeance and furious anger — it’s all there. He’s the best at it.
In a parallel universe, I’m writing that Tarantino is the perfect director for a Manson murders movie
In a parallel universe, I’m writing that Tarantino is the perfect director for a Manson murders movie. Inglourious Basterds worked precisely because it took aim at a real-life tragedy, then attacked it with machine guns, machetes and baseball bats. But we’re in this darkest timeline now, and Sharon Tate and her friends were not notorious Nazis.
And no matter how far Tarantino tries to distance his script from that morbid reality, the reality will be right over there, looking at us forlornly. Five people, tied up, tortured, punched open with dozens of knife-holes, blood spattering everywhere.
What could possibly be fun about that, whether onscreen, implied or otherwise?
So … does Tarantino try to handle this delicately? Obliquely? Respectfully? That’s not his style at all. He couldn’t do that if he tried, and no one wants that from him. They don’t want Django understated, they want Django m——-f*cking unchained.
If Tarantino leans into what he does best, and we get a slick, hard-headed, blood-soaked Manson murder gore-fest, ughhhhh. NO. Pass the Dramamine. And that’s just from reading the words I just typed.
I don’t want to be entertained by a cult leader’s murder of five innocent people and one unborn child, and especially at the hands of a guy who would write that kind of thing into a script for shock factor — and probably do it well.
I feel queasy enough judging art after it’s made, let alone before. This is a bad hot take. And who knows? Maybe Tarantino will make a great movie.
But you know what? It’ll still gonna be a bad idea.