‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Novelization Reveals Whether Cliff Booth Killed His Wife
Quentin Tarantino doesn’t leave any stone unturned in his new Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A Novel, as the book gives a definitive answer to what happened to Cliff Booth’s (Brad Pitt) wife. Cliff’s past is shrouded in mystery, as Tarantino never reveals if Booth killed his wife intentionally or if her departure is nothing more than an accident. Now that the novelization is published, all ambiguity is lost, for better or for worse.
In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, we learn Cliff sometimes has trouble finding a job as a stunt performer because everyone thinks he intentionally killed his wife by shooting her with a speargun while the two were alone on a boat. Cliff claims his wife’s death was an accident, and the movie does little to clear out the whole affair. We get to see Cliff and his wife on a boat during a flashback, but the scene is cut before the speargun is shot. The flashback shows that Cliff is angry while his wife complains about his drunken state. There’s enough evidence to leave to the viewers to decide which version they want to believe. Well, not anymore.
The novelization of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood retells the boat scene and lets us know that “the minute Cliff shot his wife with the shark gun, he knew it was a bad idea.” The bloody detailed description of the poor woman’s death tells us 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.” Cliff is deeply shocked by the event, as “the moment he saw her ripped in two…years of ill will and resentment evaporated in an instant.”
Cliff desperately tries to keep his wife alive by holding the two halves of her body together. The two of them talk for seven hours and clear out all their differences until a rescue team comes by, the two halves of Cliff’s wife fall apart, and the woman is finally dead. Tarantino also explains how Cliff got away. In the novelization, Tarantino says Cliff’s accident 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.”
And there we go. Cliff is indeed a cold-blood murderer. Haunted by guilt, sure, but certainly not a great guy. Maybe Tarantino should have kept the mystery unsolved. Once Upon a Time In Hollywood: A Novel is available right now.
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