Tarantino Petty: On Not Forgiving Those Who Piss On Your Dreams (Particularly Your Parents)

While promoting his recent novelization of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino confessed freely to Brian Koppelman on his The Moment podcast that the second his mother belittled his aspirations of becoming a writer, he vowed never to give her a “penny” from the eventual fruits of his labor. 

The revelation/solemn vow popped into his head when Tarantino was getting a verbal lashing for working on screenplays during school hours instead of focusing on the class itself. She was, evidently, giving him “a hard time about [his] scholastic non-ability” and “in the middle of her little tirade, she said, ‘Oh, and by the way, this little ‘writing career’—with the finger quotes and everything—this little ‘writing career’ that you’re doing? That shit is fucking over.” To boil it down further, Tarantino’s matriarch, Connie Zastoupil, was a victim of falling prey to the “normie” trap. Of not seeing the value in encouraging her son to keep going down his artistic rabbit hole instead of trying to rein him and make him “fall in line.” And for what, so he could become something “steady” like an insurance salesman (again, this was still the twentieth century)?

The greatest mistake any parent can make in terms of emotionally damaging their child is to give them the notion that who they are—and who they aim to be—is “wrong” (except for cases when very clear-cut serial killer tendencies are at play). That rather than nurturing these ideals and latent talents, a parent would prefer to hammer their child like a misshapen nail back into the societal (black) hole of “normalcy.” Meaning getting a job with the corporate fat cats who can provide one’s spawn with consistent, even if nebulous work. Because at least a parent can then sleep at night knowing they did their “job,” and that the kid won’t come crawling back looking for a place to stay in their state of poverty. 

Tarantino would add of his mother’s belittlement, “When she said that to me in that sarcastic way, I was in my head and I go: ‘Okay lady, when I become a successful writer, you will never see penny one from my success.'” In Soup Nazi fashion, he continued, “There will be no house for you. There’s no vacation for you, no Elvis Cadillac for mommy. You get nothing. Because you said that.” Barring the misogynistic “lady” usage in this sentence, Tarantino’s grudge has merit. Even if it comes off—especially from him—as being a petty little boy who grew up to hate all women because his mother made one off-handed comment. But it’s true what they say: our words have consequences, and they affect children deeply. Even if the scars of those words don’t manifest until later on, especially in terms of what triggers our insecurities. 

As the podcast continued, Koppelman still tried to persuade Tarantino to “at least” give his matriarch a house. Mr. T remained unmoved. And obviously, because—if his movies are any indication—a man obsessed with writing screenplays centered on revenge is not going to give much of an inch on his ideas of rightness. Would it be the “Christian” thing to do to forgive? To be the “bigger person” and share one’s wealth with the very people who balked at your passions? Sure. But Christianity is a crock, as most should have discovered by now. 

Some, like Koppelman, could argue that Connie only “galvanized” her son with her tough love. That’s certainly any generation prior to the millennial’s approach to parenting (even though baby boomers have frequently been accused of not being hard enough on their millennial progeny). “Tough love” (an oxymoron)—the “don’t coddle them or they won’t be able to accustom themselves to life as an adult” approach. But then you look at someone like Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell, whose parents supported their children’s artistic goals until they flourished enough to turn it into something “monetizable.” The ever-“important” attribute of making an artist seem legitimate instead of just another loser/poseur.

So, in truth, maybe Connie’s hurtful words actually only slowed Tarantino down on his path, and likely gave him even more fucked up ideas about women than men have as it is without starting to hate their mothers. To boot, the parent who does manage to get inside their child’s head long enough to instill these feelings of self-doubt about their art might actually end up curtailing the progress of a potential “great.” Worse still, curbing their desire to pursue art altogether. And this is a story that happens time and time again: the high school kid who gets talked into “taking a different track” than the one they really want for the sake of “choosing the right major” (because we still live in a world so bourgeois as to make us believe that “higher education” is really all that much higher than the shit most of us learned for free in public school). The major that will yield the “best possible” income tax bracket.

And, in this way, the parent can feel “self-assured” that they’ll get a more ironclad “return on their investment” than the one the Spears family made and apparently hasn’t felt they’ve gotten enough back on even still. Leeches, of course, never will. Thus, perhaps Tarantino has, by Connie’s logic, done a favor for his mother in returning the “tough love” she gave him. After all, he wouldn’t want to turn her into a Jamie/Lynne Spears-esque leech by being too generous toward her with his fame and wealth. What’s more, her plan to whip him into shape seemed only to backfire anyway, as Tarantino dropped out of high school when he was fifteen, finding what he could learn as an usher in an adult movie theater in Torrance to be of more value for his own career purposes. 

Parents don’t seem to realize it (because, like Will Smith said, “Parents just don’t understand”), but the more time you allow your kids to cultivate their art (à la pretty much every famous person ever), the more likely they’ll be to actually make something out of it in adulthood—since that’s what really matters to all involved, including society. Hence, when a kid feels like they’re wasting their time at school learning things that don’t appeal or apply to them, the reality is: they’re probably right. And maybe it’s worth it to take the “gamble” and let them focus on the subject they’re actually passionate about instead of berating them for not seeing the value in the Fibonacci sequence. Even if they never do make money off what they’re interested in, it would seem of more worth to a parent to not be the first instance of soul-crushing in their kid’s life. There will be plenty of others to do that later.

What strikes one most about this newly-minted “Tarantino level of petty” is that it actually comes across as a crusade to get future parents to comprehend the damage they do when they piss on the dreams of an artistic spirit, which is why he concluded to Koppelman, “There are consequences for your words as you deal with your children. Remember there are consequences for your sarcastic tone about what’s meaningful to them.” It’s a moral that feels as though it could be plucked directly from one of his potential scripts. Maybe the one starring Copperhead’s grown-up child in Kill Bill: Vol. 3. Or, who knows, maybe the real-life drama eventually starring his own son.

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