Quentin Tarantino’s films might seem like self-contained narratives, but in fact they share a series of (sometimes subtle) connections. Blake Howard, host of Flicks’ podcast The Take, goes searching through the Tarantino-Verse.
In January of 2016, I interviewed one of the most celebrated American filmmakers of the modern era – and the most excellent film geek made good. You might have heard of him; his name is Quentin Tarantino.
I opened my interview with this question: “Is Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson’s character from The Hateful Eight) the slave freed by Django (Jamie Foxx) at the end of Django Unchained?”
Tarantino was quick to shut that theory down, in a polite way. He said the answer was no, but it was an interesting take.
You can hardly blame me for coming up with that theory, given his films have an evolving series of connections. The idea of an auteur constructing a shared universe is certainly shared with QT’s contemporaries, such as Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez.
In Smith’s narrative sandbox, Jay and Silent Bob regularly appear to remind us that we’re watching a Kevin Smith joint. Rodriguez on the other hand serialises a lot of his heroes, with the El Mariachi and Spy Kids franchises having three or more entries.
There’s something to be said about QT’s focus on ‘Taratino-Verse’ connections as his career evolves. So, what are they?
The Vega Brothers
The Vega Brothers is the title of a Tarantino project that the director has teased for years, but sadly won’t see the light of day. It refers to brothers Vic and Vincent Vega. Michael Madsen is Vic Vega or Mr Blonde from Reservoir Dogs, and John Travolta is Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction.
Didn’t know they were related? Well, they are. These brothers are both heavies for hire, who demonstrate terrific dance moves and who meet unceremonious ends in their respective films. The passage of time seems to have made this project an impossibility. But for the longest time, ‘Tarantino heads’ were excited about a Reservoir/Pulp cross-over.
Crazy Craig Coons and Captain Coons
You may remember the scene in Django Unchained in which our heroic duo broaches the subject of morality in the bounty hunter profession. In the scene where Django and Dr King Schultz perch high above a farm to execute a bounty, there’s a pause before he pulls the trigger. Dr Schultz hands him the bounty notice and gets him to read it aloud.
In the notice, it lists not only their bounty but his known associates. One associate is named Crazy Craig Koons. Christopher Walken plays Captain Coons in his unforgettable cameo in Pulp Fiction. Crazy Craig and our good Captain – who wears a watch in his rectum – are said to be a part of the same family.
More meta-textual casting
The family connections don’t stop there. Saul Rubinek’s movie exec. Lee Donowitz (from True Romance) is an ancestor of none other than Eli Roth’s Sgt. Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz (from Inglourious Basterds).
The meta-text of that casting and lineage is more confusing the more you think about it. Tim Roth’s character Oswaldo Mobray is revealed to be English Pete Hicox in the closing stages of The Hateful Eight. This makes him a distant relative of film critic turned spy Lt. Archie Hicox from Inglourious Basterds (played by the incredible Michael Fassbender). Revealing their true identity in the face of certain death runs in the family.
In Kill Bill, Uma Thurman’s Beatrix Kiddo aka The Bride experiences one of her most harrowing trials when she’s buried alive by Bud (Michael Madsen). She’s laid to rest in the grave of one Paula Shultz. In this confined and suffocating space she relives her tutelage from master Pai Mei (Gordon Liu) before fighting her way free. Mrs Schultz is said to be the late wife of Christophe Waltz’s Dr King Schultz from Django Unchained.
Sliding doors: Bama, Herriman and Keaton
There are a couple of moments in Tarantino movies that provide tantalising connections with other films and filmmakers. At the beginning of Reservoir Dogs, Mr White (Harvey Keitel) speaks to Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) about four jobs with “Bama.” Bama refers to none other than Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette) from True Romance. The deeply cinematic and elevated violence of Tony Scott in that classic film was a divine complement to Tarantino’s signature storytelling. Imagining the dotted line connecting those stories and that pairing is terrific.
Aussie Damon Herriman and Michael Keaton share the rarified position as actors who’ve played the same characters across massive American filmmaker crossovers. Herriman plays Charles Manson in Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood and the second series of the David Fincher-produced Netflix behemoth Mindhunter. Michael Keaton plays Ray Nicolette across two of the very best Elmore Leonard adaptions: Jackie Brown and Out of Sight.
On brand: from tasty burgers to unfiltered cigarettes
Finally, the most consistent thread connecting Tarantino films is branding. Fictional fast food outlet Big Kahuna Burger is introduced as the topic for Samuel L. Jackson’s centrepiece monologue as Jules in Pulp Fiction. Big Kahuna returns in a much subtler way in From Dusk Till Dawn (which was based on a screenplay written by QT).
Seth Gecko (George Clooney) returns from observing police with a bag of burgers for his brother Richie (Tarantino) and their (now dead) hostage. The essential connection, though, is Red Apple Cigarettes – created initially to save on the licensing fee of a real brand – and it’s become an ongoing stamp throughout almost every film.