It is the classic “what if” of cinema. What if he had arrived at the train station five minutes later? What if she hadn’t walked into the street at that very moment? In Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance, Alabama Worley ponders a world in which the bullet that struck her husband had instead found a fatal mark:
…And sometimes Clarence asks me what I would have done if he had died, if that bullet had been two inches more to the left. To this, I always smile, as if I’m not going to satisfy him with a response. But I always do. I tell him of how I would want to die, but that the anguish and the want of death would fade like the stars at dawn, and that things would be much as they are now. Perhaps. Except maybe I wouldn’t have named our son Elvis.
As it happens, Clarence was close to death not only because of the hail of gunfire in that Beverly Ambassador Hotel room, but also because Tarantino had his protagonist in the crosshairs of his quill. In an interview with Maxim, Tarantino and late director Tony Scott discussed their differing views over the proper fate of Clarence:
Tarantino: I tried like hell to convince Tony to let Clarence die, because that’s what I wrote and it wasn’t open for conjecture. I made this big dramatic plea: “You’re losing your balls. You’re trying to make it Hollywood shit. Why are you doing this?” He listened to the whole thing and then convinced me 100 percent that he wasn’t doing it for commercial reasons.
Scott: I just fell in love with these two characters and didn’t want to see them die. I wanted them together.
Tarantino: When I watched the movie, I realized that Tony was right. He always saw it as a fairy tale love story, and in that capacity it works magnificently. But in my world Clarence is dead and Alabama is on her own. If she ever shows up in another one of my scripts, Clarence will still be dead.
Scott ultimately convinced the writer, and Clarence lives to raise his son named Elvis.
True Romance is not the only film to have avoided a more morbid ending. Kevin Smith’s Clerks nearly ended with underachiever Dante Hicks exsanguinating on the floor of the convenience store. Smith was convinced by his mentors to let Dante live, establishing him as one of at least two characters saved by creative change of heart.
Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction will be returning to theaters this December, as one-day commemorative events. For more details and ticket information, click here. The Tarantino XX: 8-Film Collection will be available in stores on November 20th. Pre-order your box set now.