News broke earlier this week that writer and director Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds, Pulp Fiction) is circling his next project – this time he will take on the real life story of the Manson murders.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Tarantino is starting work on his next film that will tackle the Manson murders.
The article reports that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lawrence have been approached to join the project that would begin shooting next year.
On the surface, the story of the Manson murders is a seemingly good fit for Tarantino, a director who has displayed a clear penchant for violence throughout his career.
The infamous Manson murders took place in Southern California in the August of 1969, committed by members of Charles Manson’s cult known as the Manson Family. The group killed several individuals, including actress Sharon Tate who was eight months pregnant at the time.
The murders themselves were extremely violent. The victims were tied up, tortured, and killed using knives and guns. When the police discovered the crime scene, they found that the killers had written on the walls in the victim’s blood – phrases like “death to pigs” smeared throughout the home.
If it sounds sensational, it’s because it was; it was a crime that garnered national and international attention and the subsequent trial lasted more than a year. The death of Sharon Tate, a rising but notable star in Hollywood, was shocking enough. That her death was at the hands of a cult led by a failed folk-singer added fuel to an already raging fire.
The sheer violence of the Manson murders combined with the added cult element no doubt makes it ripe for adaptation. It’s also not particularly surprising that Quentin Tarantino would be interested in leading the adaptation. However, this would be Tarantino’s first film to be based on real events.
Despite the seemingly perfect match between Tarantino and the Manson murders, there is cause for concern that he may not be the right choice after all. The Manson murders are much more than the byproduct of cult violence.
In fact, reducing the scope and scale of the murders to simply deranged violence perpetrated by a cult would strip away essential context from the murders that made them a cultural phenomenon.
If done well, a film on the events of the Manson murders would depict far more than the murders themselves. Charles Manson, the leader of the Manson Family, hoped that the violent killings of rich Hollywood folk would incite a race war in the United States.
He sought to use the murders, ones that he convinced his followers to commit, as a way of heightening racial tensions and deriving greater power and influence for himself.
The murders did have a profound impact on popular culture, but not in the way Manson anticipated.
They occurred at a time of great national turmoil; the war in Vietnam was getting worse and increasingly unpopular, the ongoing struggle for civil rights characterized the nation’s political atmosphere, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy all contributed to a chaotic atmosphere throughout the country.
The Manson murders functioned as an intersection for the social and political issues of the time and the trial that followed brought these issues into sharp focus.
Given Tarantino’s own filmography, he seems a poor choice to tell a story that is so deeply ingrained in the cultural history of the time. It’s a story that requires both sensitivity and balance, neither of which Tarantino has exhibited much of in his films.
His most recent projects have demonstrated the director’s fondness for violence, even when it comes at the sacrifice of the story itself. Time and time again, Tarantino has demonstrated a rather inelegant, graceless manner of storytelling that employs his vulgar sensibilities with no boundaries.
This is the complete opposite of what a story like the Manson murders requires to be done well; this is a story so steeped in a kind of nuance that Tarantino just doesn’t have.
Moreover, none of Tarantino’s former projects are adaptations of real events. Given the complex or even convoluted nature of the Manson murders and the surrounding events, it seems unlikely that Tarantino is equipped to manage such a project.
His last film, The Hateful Eight, told a remarkably insular story over the course of more than three hours and still left things feeling clunky and unfinished.
At it’s best, a story about the Manson murders would play similarly to David Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac, a film that depicted more than just the violent murders by a serial killer.
Zodiac managed to portray the atmospheric change and cultural impact of the murders while simultaneously shaping a narrative about affect of tabloids and news media on the public’s behavior.
Given Tarantino’s track record, he does not appear to be the best candidate to take this story on. This is a story of significance that demands more than hyper-stylized violence and vulgarity.
Only time will tell how Tarantino’s vision will come together, but for now there is much to be concerned about.