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For most of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth is shown in a decent light, from being a good friend to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton, to fighting off the Manson Family members who invade Rick’s home. However, aside from his questionable fight with Bruce Lee, Cliff’s character is called into question over rumors that he deliberately murdered his wife, Billie Booth. While the film never definitively answers whether or not Cliff meant to kill her, the novelization of Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 movie has officially put the mystery to rest.
For those who need a refresher, during Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, there’s a quick flashback scene of Cliff Booth aboard a boat with Billie, who won’t stop criticizing him. Cliff takes the berating without a word and while holding a harpoon gun, the implication being that he fired it at his wife while they were out on the water. Cliff claims it was an accident, but because so few people believe him, he has trouble finding work as a stunt performer. Well, it turns out that Cliff did intentionally fire the harpoon gun, but there’s more to the story.
In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A Novel, which is out now, it’s revealed that once Cliff Booth shot Billie, he “knew it was a bad idea.” The gun tore her body in half, and Cliff tried to keep her together on the boat’s deck, as once he saw her in that terrible state, “ two years of ill will and resentment evaporated in an instant.” Cliff and his wife talk for seven hours and resolve all their differences, but by the time a rescue team comes to them, Billie’s dead. Cliff is heartbroken at what transpired, but his story about it being an accident was plausible enough and couldn’t be disproven, so”it never occurred to him not to try to get away with murder.”
So there we have it, folks. Cliff Booth may be a good person for Rick Dalton to have in his life, and he definitely didn’t approve of what he saw of the Manson Family at Spahn Ranch. But thanks to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A Novel, which Quentin Tarantino himself penned, it is indisputable that Cliff meant to kill Billie. Sure, he was remorseful afterwards, but not enough to turn himself over to the authorities. Hey, at least Brad Pitt can talk freely on the subject now.
As the second-to-last entry in Quentin Tarantino’s film resume, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was met with a lot of positive critical reception and made nearly $375 million worldwide. Brad Pitt ended up winning an Oscar for his Cliff Booth performance, and the movie also took home the Best Production Design Oscar and was nominated in eight other categories. So if you enjoyed watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, consider picking up Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A Novel to see this world fleshed out.
Keep checking back with CinemaBlend for more news items about Quentin Tarantino’s film work, including what his last movie ends up being. Don’t forget to also look through our 2021 release schedule to learn what movies are playing in theaters later this year.