Thursday, 7 February 2013
Eleven Of The Most
Powerful Movie Endings
Okay then people... look at the title of this article. That pretty much implies spoilers are going to be present, right? So you’ve been duly warned I’m going to just be discussing the final moments of these movies here. There’s no excuse for you to come moaning at me about this later on then, okay?
Proceed at your own risk...
11. Seven Samurai (1954)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Four of the seven protagonists lay dead and the surviving three look at their funeral mounds with the fallen warrior’s swords sticking up from them. The youngest of the three does not, as initially planned, go with the other two. He runs off to be with the woman he loves and to live the life of a farmer. Depending on which English translation you watch, Kambei, the leader of the seven, brilliantly played by acting legend Takashi Shimura, says “The farmers have won. Not us.”, signifying his acceptance of the throwaway nature of the ronin and their place as people outcast from society once their purpose is served. You then, perhaps, remember the armour which the farmers have “accumulated” over the years and the implications as to how they came into its possession, and realise the truth alongside these two remaining survivors.
10. Solaris (1972)
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
After his adventures on the space station, we find Kris, the main protagonist, is back on earth at his fathers house in a series of shots designed to recall the opening of the movie. However, when Kris goes inside the house we are soon aware something is very wrong because, like the small detail of not simulating buttons on the various replicas of Kris’ dead wife’s dress, rain starts to fall inside the house... not outside. We pull back miles to find that Kris’ dad’s house and surrounding land is actually replicated on Solaris. Is Kris really there or is this a copy of Kris? Indeed, was the opening of the film also set on Solaris instead of Earth and we just didn’t know (after all, the space flight is not seen and the metaphor of a long car journey is used to imply the emotional bleakness of the trip into space)? Once you start to think about this ending... you start to go down tangents and corridors you didn’t expect to travel. Welcome to... Solaris.
9. Kill List (2011)
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Okay... so this movie ending is powerful not because it takes you by surprise in any way. If you’ve made it through to the end of this sometimes harrowing movie, you will probably have figured out the dual identity of the not so mysterious “hunchback” mentioned in the final chapter title. You probably know the main protagonist is going to end up accidentally killing his wife and little boy so that, in itself, is no big deal. The real power in the ending is not the “what the heck just happened” of the last scene but the “why the heck did it happen” element of it. The sheer “this makes no sense” ingredient of this sequence which makes you want to immediately go back and watch it again to decipher the clues so you can figure out just what is going on all the way through the movie, is what makes it so damned resonant in the mind. Even though, I believe, the little breadcrumbs scattered through the movie are just one big, inscrutable tease to keep you hooked on the unanswerable puzzle element of the movie. A bit mind blowing the first time you watch it.
I reviewed Kill List here.
8. Betty Blue
aka 37°2 le matin (1986)
Directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix
After Betty finally succumbs to her inevitable nervous breakdown, she pokes her own eye out and flips over the edge into madness and catatonia. Her lover finally finds a way to sneak into hospital and put her out of her misery by smothering her with a pillow. When he returns home he finds that Betty’s dream of him becoming a successful writer starts to pay off. While writing his next novel, he glances at his new companion, a cat, and we hear Betty talking to him in his mind, as though she has become the cat. We realise Betty will be inside his head forever.
7. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez
Lots of running around as the surviving two “camera eye” kids run around the strange house, presumably belonging to the Blair Witch. As heroine Heather is jumped/knobbled by “something bad” and the camera drops to the ground, we see the other survivor, Mike, standing away from camera with his face in the corner of the room.... which goes right back to a reference in an interviewee’s report of the Blair Witch legend from right at the start of the movie. Now the film has ended, the slaughter is about to begin. This ending really seems to grab people by the throat and I remember seeing a midnight performance of the film in Barnet when it first came out, and a dazed and puzzled stranger I’d never met before came up to ask me about what the ending all meant because he couldn’t make head nor tail of it. It packs quite a wallop the first time around.
6. The Last Broadcast (1998)
Directed by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler
An absolutely genius of a film, not least because I actually didn’t see the end coming until about 30 seconds before it actually happens. A cameraman is recruited by two local cable access TV personalities to accompany them into a forest in search of the legendary Jersey Devil... but only the new guy returns alive and is assumed to be their killer. A local movie maker starts to make a documentary film integrating the huge amount of footage, some badly deteriorated, the two dead men recorded in the hopes of learning more about what bizarre happenings took place. The film maker talks you through things and at the end of the film, he is talking directly to the audience while a woman is computer cleaning and enhancing footage which is about to, hopefully, reveal what really happened to the two men. Then she, in the background, discovers the key to the mystery... tries to escape but, to no avail. The documentary filmmaker kills her in grizzly fashion, just like it turns out he killed the two men, dumps her body in the forest, and then calmly continues narrating his documentary. This is totally unexpected and, because of the performances, is not something you are going to forget in a hurry.
5. The Shining (1980)
Directed by Stanley Kubrik
At number 5 I’ve picked the first of two Stephen King “adaptations” for this selection. The ends of both those adaptations were pretty much added on by the filmmakers and didn’t end this way in King’s original source material.
In this version of The Shining, after going mad in the Overlook Hotel and terrorising his wife and kid, Jack Torrance is dead and frozen in the “snowed up” snowy snow. All fine and dandy, but then, right at the movies last shot, we focus on a photograph of people at the hotel from way-back-when old timey days (well, maybe it was just the twenties, I forget) while a period song is rendered seriously spooky by its juxtaposition with this chilling shot.
Why is it chilling and powerful?
Because the picture includes Jack Torrance as one of the people in the photograph? What’s going on? Has the house claimed his soul and whacked him into the photo as a keepsake? Or was he always a guest there and always fated to come back to the hotel in various incarnations? Who knows? Probably not Kubrik, I’m guessing, who successfully manages to bugger up your mind here if you think about it too hard... um... I mean, the inherent paradox will be vaguely disturbing as you ponder all its multiple possibilities and variant riffs. Either way... this movie stays with you after because of this beautifully unsettling coda.
4. The Mist (2007)
Directed by Frank Darabont
And coming right at ya, we have the other Stephen King adaptation in this list...
After being terrorised by bizarre monsters all through the novella, the main protagonist and his son drive off into The Mist in search of a possible hopeful haven from their trouble. In Frank Darabont’s movie version though, it’s a gazillion times more bleaker than that. After the main protagonist David, his son Billy and their two companions, find David and Billy’s gorily dead wife/mother who they have been trying ot get back to all movie, the four decide that there’s going to be no help coming from the impossible world-changing terror which has struck. So, they decide to end it all as they still have some rounds left in the hand pistol they brought with them. However, there are only three bullets for the four of them. David volunteers to figure something out after he’s dispatched them all and he kills all three of them, including his own son, one shot apiece. In his grief, he barrels out of the car and keeps firing empty chambers into his own head... in time to see “the cavalry” arrive in the form of the military who have rescued all of the people who were left holed up in the supermarket in which they’d spent most of the film hiding. If he’d just waited another few minutes... all of them would have been saved. The accompanying vocal wailings by Lisa Gerrard on a special film version of the Dead Can Dance track The Host Of Seraphim just emphasises the utter pointlessness and bitter tragedy of this final, haunting sequence.
3. The Wicker Man (1973)
Directed by Robin Hardy
This is actually not one of my favourite movies, although I will give it another look someday in the not so distant future in case I change my mind. Throughout the film, Edward Woodward investigates strange occurrences in a village where, it turns out, everyone is into a pagan-istic, devil worshipping style kind of groove. Woodward’s character is seized by the villagers at the end and dragged to be burned inside a large Wicker Man as the piece de resistance of their annual ritual. As he’s dragged closer to realise the danger, the audience is waiting for the obvious deus ex machina which will free our hero and allow him to punish his persecutors... but instead, he is put inside the Wicker Man and burned alive, screaming for the religious deity who has forsaken him, without intervention. End of movie! Scarifyingly powerful stuff... especially if you’re not expecting it.
2. The Great Silence (1968)
Directed by Sergio Corbucci
Well this really takes the biscuit for completely gloomy endings and was banned in a lot of countries (I think here in the UK too) for a couple of decades until it started getting screenings again. I first saw it screened under the title The Big Silence, as part of Alex Cox’s Moviedrome season on BBC2, back in the day.
The mute, title character of Silence is played by famous French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant as he tries to save the rag tag bunch of so-called “outlaws” in a small community from the evil bounty killer Loco, played by Klaus Kinski. The film is both bleak and beautiful in that it’s a snow bound Spaghetti Western with a wonderful score by Ennio Morricone, but the ending really kicks you in the gut. Silence is wounded and has fallen for the woman who has asked him to avenge her dead husband, unfairly killed by Loco. They now form a romantic bond but Loco and his men have got all the so-called outlaws, who are really the victims, tied up in the saloon in order to coax Silence out of his hiding place. Silence, our hero, goes to save the day... his new girlfriend follows him. As he approaches the saloon and he and Klaus face off for a Leone-style staring match, one of the bad guys shoots Silence through both hands so he can’t fire the snazzy automatic Mauser pistol he’s been using all through the film. After a bit more Morricone backed staring, evil Loco shoots our hero dead. The girlfriend runs into the scene to avenge him, and she is promptly shot dead too. Then, all the tied up victims in the bar are massacred by the bounty killers. The bad guys win all the way on this one and it’s a scene which stays with you a long time after your first viewing.
In recent years an alternate ending which was shot, possibly to appease some countries censors, was found. I don’t think it’s known if this ending was ever used in any territories but it deserves a brief mention because of the sheer preposterousness of what happens in this alternate take in the face of everything else that’s happened in the movie leading towards this scene. In this version, Silence is shot in the hands like before but as Klaus Kinski goes to finish him off, the “funny sheriff” played by the late, great Frank Wolff, rides in out of the blue on a horse to shoot Loco... even though he was quite definitively seen going to his death earlier in the film. Silence then also bursts into life, seemingly unaffected by the hand shooting, jumps into the saloon and kills all the bad guys. All the good guys are saved and Silence’s girlfriend undoes the bandages on his hand to reveal that he is wearing half a knight's metal gauntlett around his hand, presumably as a mini reference to the plate of metal Clint Eastwood wears under his poncho in A Fistful of Dollars, and they all live happily ever after. It goes without saying though, that if the film had been released with this silly ending, the film would not be remembered and kept alive with much the same enthusiasm that genre fans have done over the years.
If you’re not expecting that original ending... it’s a pretty powerful conclusion to a movie.
1. The Third Man (1949)
Directed by Carol Reed
And my number one pick is perhaps less “in your face” than any of my other choices... although it’s more powerful than any of the endings I’ve mentioned so far...
Harry Lime (Orson Welles) is dead and our hero Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), who has been pining over Harry’s ex-girlfriend all the movie, as played by Valli, is waiting for her as she walks down a long street away from Harry’s second funeral of the movie. As she walks towards the camera, with Cotton waiting at the side of the screen, in a long unbroken shot accompanied by Anton Karas’ beautiful zither music, we hope she will forgive Holly for shooting his old friend and her ex-lover dead, and embrace the uncertain future which Holly may be able to offer her. Instead, she completely blanks him and continues walking past both him and then the camera... a sad ending to an absolutely brilliant movie and my pick for the most powerfully moving end sequence of all time. I never knew the old Vienna...