Boyle, Tarantino and the beauty of the ‘could have been’


Alert: major spoilers ahead!

In July, Danny Boyle’s latest film Yesterday hit British cinemas with a simple premise: a world without The Beatles. The film made the most out of the idea of this parallel reality by bringing to the viewers a scene in which the main character, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), gets to meet John Lennon, well and alive and, enjoying a tranquil life by the sea. 

Quentin Tarantino’s newest project, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, also utilises film to propose a different ending to a well-known real-life event. The director twists the heart-breaking Tate Murders of 1969,  by bringing a completely different massacre to the screen. 

These two recent films are completely distinct in their essence, but similarly explore the potential cinema has to portray alternative realities, especially regarding famous pop culture events. The audience is – mostly – aware that what they are being exposed to is not what truly happened, but gladly accept the idea that, for a second, the tragedy of the episode they know is not there anymore. 

The cathartic way in which film can allow people to escape reality has been widely debated since its inception. But not only is film an alternative to the maladies of our own existence, but it is also a tool capable of bending and rewriting historical facts, offering the world a very welcome ‘could have been’. Both John Lennon’s and Sharon Tate’s assassinations shocked the public and produced a feeling of collective mourning that only a few events can trigger. 

What both Boyle and Tarantino portray is the reality that life is nothing but a clever sequence of facts, one after another, continuously transforming the world around us. By changing one of the events of this long, complex chain, the directors gift the audience a few moments of blissful ignorance, where sorrow is replaced by ephemeral joy. The past cannot be altered, but a script can always be rewritten. 

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