Saturday, January 30, 2010

Finishing Move (a guest post by Hugh Langley of Reel)

Hugh Langley is the author of Reel, another blog about movies, and you can also find him on twitter.

It has recently come to my attention that I perhaps put too much emphasis on a film’s ending, the very end, and I know it’s something I really shouldn’t do. I acknowledge that the ending isn’t necessarily the tipping point of a film, but it’s those last few moments I always take away with me. That’s not to say that everything that preceded it is forgotten of course. On the contrary, a film is, after all, the sum of its parts. But the tail end of a movie can often speak the loudest. Does it wrap the package up and deliver a happy reconciled conclusion, or leave it open for a bit of viewer discretion and guess-work? Does it even have an “ending” in the conventional sense at all? Or, more importantly, does it give the audience what they want

It’s pretty difficult to please everyone, so here’s five of my favourite all time movie endings that I think come the closest. Needless to say: contains spoilers.

The Empire Strikes Back

The final half hour of the film which would set the precedent for the “Dark second act” forever had such a large shovelling of sci-fi action, romance, family drama, you needed a few moments to take in everything that just happened. The romantic narrative has finally unfolded itself, our hero informed that his nemesis is in fact his estranged father, Han Solo has been fossilised inside a carbonate wall and taken to be sold to the Hutt with Lando and Chewie in pursuit, oh, and Luke now has a cool robotic hand. Things are looking up for the Star Wars crew. And what’s that George, roll credits? Excuse the pun, but this was definitely Lucas’s tour de force.

No Country For Old Men

The Coens’ exploration of the zeitgeist through one of the greatest cat and mouse chases to grace cinema delivers as much sentimentality as tension. Sheriff Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), realising his hopeless efforts to catch Bardem’s cold-blooded bounty hunter only turned the situation into more of a ghost chase, has finally accepted that being trapped in a comfortable nostalgia has made him redundant to modernity. In the film’s final, peaceful moments he sits opposite his wife, recalling a dream of younger days with his father, riding through the mountains on horseback, reflecting his innate reliance on the constant, and the tension which has played throughout. Bell speaks the film’s final and poignant line “and then I woke up” with a mutual exchange of glances followed by a piercing silence leading us into an eerily quiet credit sequence. It’s both moving and thought-provoking and reminds us of the real linchpin of McCarthy’s tale. You’d also be truly deaf to miss the ringing echoes of Fargo.


How does one actualise a crescendo which has been building for longer than two hours, which has involved a dozen peoples’ lives becoming more and more entangled, and been building our expectations to phenomenal levels? Simple. You make it rain frogs, causing the course of everything to change. But that’s not quite it. That would be too easy, right? In a final scene, Jim the lovely, bumbling cop visits Claudia to tell her how he wants to make everything work, his voice muffled and unclear as the camera focuses on Claudia, gradually panning in closer before she looks up and smiles at us. Suddenly, without knowing how, it all makes sense, and Aimee Mann’s “Save me” is a fitting soundtrack to one of the most exhausting finales. I don’t think anyone saw all that coming.

The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense will always be able to boast that, at the time, it had one of the boldest, well-realised twists in cinema history.  For not since the likes of the aforementioned Star Wars sequel nor Planet of the Apes has a revelation delivered such a powerful “No waaaay!”. Yes, Bruce Willis was a ghost all along. That’s why he was wearing the same damn clothes the entire time. In the final few minutes of Shyamalan’s finest moment, Dr Crowe (Willis), now aware of the truth, is able to finally let go of his wife and move peacefully into the afterlife. As he says goodbye, we gaze upon a short clip of their wedding video before it fades into white, giving us a moment to absorb Shyamalan’s most inventive twist, one which had been aggravatingly staring us in the face the entire time, and a film device he would later become notorious for. It’s heart-achingly sad, but ties everything together perfectly.

The Wrestler

2009’s knock-out Oscar favourite was as harrowingly unnerving as it was moving thanks to Rourke’s iconic performance as Randy Robinson in possibly the most hollow portrayal of a man who has lost touch with everything, including his estranged daughter. The dichotomy of the ring with the bleak reality of Randy’s life gives justice to his passion, but his world has only become all the more inconsolable for it. After strict precautions given by his doctor, Randy’s only love in life becomes threatened by his health, but determined to not let go in the knowledge that the ring is the only place he is loved by anyone, he persists to go through with the final gripping Ayatollah showdown. During the fight Randy starts to feel the strain of angina, but relentlessly continues, climbing the ropes to perform his signature “Ram Jam” headbutt. As he prepares to do so he acknowledges the crowd, tears in his eyes, before we’re treated to an Ayatollah-eye view of Randy’s slow motion leap of doubt. Then cut to black and cue Springsteen singing “Have you ever seen a one-trick pony?” from his contribution track “The Wrestler”. Did Randy die? Probably. But any angst with the lack of resolve is reconciled as soon as we realise it doesn’t matter what happened. Randy would always die a wrestler; it’s the only true family he ever had.

Any glaring omissions? It’s by no means an extensive list, but for me these are five absolute gems. Some Like It Hot, Fight Club, The Graduate are to name but a few other favourites. And what about the real shockers? Night of the Living Dead, The Mist? These films took pride in giving the middle finger to any sense of conventionality. Or maybe I just have a fetish for deviating endings. For example, The Sopranos’ finale still resides as one of my favourite television moments of all time, yet it caused a generation of fans to condemn the writers. 2009’s A Serious Man had one of the most abrupt film endings I can recall, yet I also thought it was both fitting and necessarily effective to the experience. But hey, endings aren’t everything, right?

Hugh Langley is the author of Reel, another blog about movies, and you can also find him on twitter.


Jem Havok said...

The Wrestler was an amazing ending! I recently watched "inside the actors studio with Mickey Rourke" he said he hoped Randy had died because wrestling was his only family! I highly recommend watching that episode of the actors studio it was one of the most character intrusive interviews anyone could endure! There is more to Mickey Rourke than a few decades of movies! seriously amazing person!

Jen said...

I'll check out that episode. Thanks!