Sunday, April 3, 2011

Shall We Conclude? Cinema's Great Last Scenes and Endings

I got some film writers to choose one of their favorite final scenes (or endings) to write a short piece on. The results came in different varieties: paragraphs succinct in their passion, or long-winding compositions with much to say. I let them stand as they came to me, and thus I think a more interesting feature resulted than I originally intended. I have provided each writer's website and Twitter feed so that you can check out more of their work. This is a pretty lo-fi feature, and I hope you enjoy.

IMPORTANT: this list is not meant to be a conclusive list of the best endings ever, despite what I was going for in the beginning. This is a list of endings people felt like writing about. Thus, if there is a movie that we didn't write about, it does not mean that it is not one of the greatest endings of all-time. In other words, we picked SOME of the great endings of all time. I thought I explained that above, but I perceive that there have been people who misunderstood and thought we were going for a complete blanket list. On the other hand, I realize the title may suggest otherwise. I dunno, but it sounds better than Some of Cinema's Great Last Scenes and Endings, eh? Either way, take heed of these words.

Dedicated to the late American Polymath, whose "panels of experts" provided the inspiration for the layout of this feature, and Time Out New York, whose "50 best" lists provided another impetus. Their newest is here.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” by Michael Mirasol (, @flipcritic)

It begins with an elderly man on what appears to be his deathbed. His surroundings convey a bareness of clinical classicism, while his eyes betray a presence in the room. He reaches out in frailty towards a towering black monolith, perfect in its form, its authority, and its indifference. And as we stand in awe of its imposing equanimity, we come to discover that the elder is now an infant, but of a very different sort. Encased in a sac of light, aglow as a halo, undisturbed, unperturbed, and aware. Two perfect beings now inhabit the room. And from the once human perspective, we zoom into the monolith, with Zarathustra starting to speak.

Is the monolith an alien intelligence, satisfied with our progress, content to trigger our next evolutionary step? Is the monolith death, who has come to usher man to a new kind of existence? Is the room what humanity knows, and the monolith the unknown? As we ponder these very human concerns, we can't help but feel humbled by their use in Stanley Kubrick's incredible interpretation and amalgamation. All within just the first half of this final scene (perhaps the greatest of all final scenes), which ends with even more power and haunting indelibility.

We are back in the infinity of space, the moon in sight, panning slowly to Earth. As our home comes to full view, another glowing celestial seems to be nearing beside it. It is the starchild, gazing at it, gazing at us. And as Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra" booms its climax, we ponder once more. What thoughts lie behind those baby blue eyes? The answer lies in the music; the prophet has come to speak to mankind.

“Cinema Paradiso” by Donald G. Carder (, @theangrymick)

I like to think of the cinema as a hallowed place - a holy temple where indelible imagery is implanted on the minds and memories of an audience held captive by the persistence of vision made possible by the flickering mechanics of lamp and shutter. Like all the best religions, the cinema offers up exemplary moments that can be inextricably linked to one’s personal experience, presenting the perfect moment at the perfect time to bring definition and enlightenment to souls struggling with this journey we like to call “life.” All you need to do is watch, and be willing to learn.

When I first saw Guiseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso, I came out the theater convinced that I had found a champion that not only shared my faith in the power of film, but the majesty of humanity itself. Tornatore’s story, about a man returning to his village for the funeral of his childhood friend and mentor Alberto, hit just about every emotional note with an accuracy that pierced my very soul. His was a voice speaking directly to me, using the language of light and shadow to conveying a message of love and hope so personal and so timely as to prove literally life changing.

Tornatore’s gift, or, blessing, if you will, is his ability to present the lives of his characters in such a way as to mirror the memories of the audience - pulling them so deeply into the story that they become a part of it, proxies to the experience. It is a masterful stroke of cinematic transference - the perfect marriage of memory to moment, watcher to watched - that uses sentiment to present a picture of an imaginary life that touches the real.

At the end of the film, as Toto sits alone in a screening room, weeping tears of grief and gratitude as a lifetime of stolen kisses unspools before his enraptured eyes, we, the audience, are transported back through cinematic time on the wings of our shared memories of what has come before. With the same shock of recognition that brings Toto to tears, we realize that Tornatore has bound his characters so completely to our own lives that we see what Toto sees, we feel what Toto feels.

This is the sacrament of cinema. This is why we watch. Tornatore’s film not only honours the history of its characters, but the art of film itself. With each recollection, he invites us to share in his profound love for the form, and a heartfelt appreciation for the gifts it can bear.

“City Lights” by Edward Copeland (, @edcopeland)

Throughout the course of film history, many movies have managed to produce great endings, but it's rare to find one worth labeling a "perfect" ending. What's even more remarkable in the case of City Lights is that Charlie Chaplin did it in a silent film made in 1931, well after sound films had firmly become the norm of the industry. Playing the Little Tramp for the second-to-last time, the tramp becomes enamored of a poor blind girl who makes a meager living for her and her grandmother by selling flowers on street corners. Through a series of coincidences, the blind girl comes to believe the tramp is a rich tycoon and dreams of escaping her bleak existence. The tramp, thanks to an unexpected friendship with a tycoon (who only remembers him when he's sober), comes up with enough money for the blind girl to get and operation to regain her sight while he goes off to prison. A few months later, after the tramp is released, he encounters the now sighted girl who has her own flower shop. Her and a co-worker laugh at this vagabond who seems taken with her and as the tramp drops his own flower and tries to sneak away, the girl rushes out to give him a fresh flower and some change. When she touches his hand to give him the change, she recognizes from the feel that the man who did so much for her wasn't a rich man at all but a man worse off than her, living on the streets. "It was you?" she mouths. He nods yes and notes that she can see now and she confirms and then Chaplin the director closes in on the tramp's shy smile. It's the greatest use of a close-up in the history of movies, arguably what the close-up was invented for in the first place, and one of the best endings in film history.

“Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men” by Gaël Schmidt-Cléach (, @gschmidtcleach)

The Coen brothers’ Fargo opens with a drive through a snowstorm and an argument between crooks, and for a while it seems that it’s going to be about the badly thought-out kidnapping orchestrated by desperate and not-so-bright car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) so that he can swindle his father-in-law out of $1 million. But as soon as Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) enters the picture, some thirty minutes into the film, it becomes her story, and it remains so until the very end. A lesser movie would end with Marge arresting the psychopathic Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) as he’s stuffing his accomplice’s body into a wood chipper, or with a half-naked Lundegaard trying to escape from the police by climbing out his hotel window and getting dragged back in weeping, kicking and screaming. But Marge’s story cannot end with her driving off in her police car, muttering “I just don’t understand it” as Grimsrud stares at her blankly from the back seat. Marge’s story has to end right where it started, in her Brainerd home, with her husband Norm (John Carroll Lynch).

As Marge and Norm lie in bed watching TV, they don’t discuss the triple murder and kidnapping case Marge has just solved. They didn’t when a telephone call in the middle of the night summoned Marge to the crime scene, nor did they when Norm brought Marge lunch at the police station; why would they now? What they do discuss is Norm’s painting of a wild duck, which has just been selected to be featured on a three-cent stamp, and Marge’s pregnancy, which is soon coming to an end. In other words, nothing that has anything to do with the film’s main events. After an hour and a half of lies, hilarious displays of stupidity, and wanton acts of violence, Fargo’s coda (because this is really what it is) seems to take place in another world altogether. One that is perhaps a little boring, with its extended discussions about postage stamps, but one that at least makes more sense than the one Lundegaard and his co-conspirators live in (I don’t want to belabor the point, but Marge’s husband is called Norm for a reason). “Heck, Norm, you know, we’re doin’ pretty good,” Marge says as she snuggles in closer to her husband. This could have been a desperate attempt at self-deception, but it’s not. Marge may not understand why people like Lundegaard or Grimsrud would do what they did “for a little bit of money,” but as far as she’s concerned, it’s a good thing she doesn’t.

No Country for Old Men, another Coen masterpiece and perhaps the perfect companion piece to Fargo, ends in a superficially similar way, with newly-retired Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) sharing a domestic moment (here, breakfast) with his wife Loretta (Tess Harding). The scene is similarly removed from the main events of the film, and doesn’t reference them in any way, creating the same coda effect the ending to Fargo does. Yet the two scenes couldn’t be more different in tone. While the Gundersons celebrate Norm’s small but very real artistic success (and, indirectly, Marge’s professional success), Sheriff Bell finds that he is at a loss what to do with himself now that he is retired, just as he was at a loss what to do to stop Anton Chigurh’s (Javier Bardem) rampage through south Texas (“I feel overmatched,” he says to justify his quitting). Marge finds strength and comfort in Norm; the last scene of Fargo is one sustained medium shot of the two of them snuggling together in bed. Bell’s wife, though she tries, cannot provide the same level of comfort to her distraught husband; they sit at different ends of the breakfast table, and the Coens’ use of shot reverse shot only accentuates the distance between them (after three over the shoulder shots of Bell early in the scene, which show Loretta’s ultimately unsuccessful efforts to connect with him, the Coens exclusively use close-up shots of Bell’s and Loretta’s faces).

Bell, like Marge, doesn’t understand why someone like Chigurh would do what he does. Unlike Marge, he finds no comfort in that thought. The world no longer makes sense to Sheriff Bell, whose only solace is in dreams of his father, now twenty years dead. He pictures him carrying fire in a horn, like some mythological hero, and waiting for him somewhere up the road. An illusion Bell cannot sustain. “Then I woke up,” he says, and the film ends with a prolonged close-up of his face as he seems on the verge of breaking down, both emotionally and physically (Tommy Lee Jones has never seemed as old as in that one shot). There’s no such melancholy in Fargo, no such sense of nostalgia for a lost world. The Gundersons are very much looking forward to the future; the last words of the film are “two more months” (referring of course to their child’s upcoming birth), said first by Norm, then repeated by Marge. The ending to Fargo, so subdued yet so powerful, nicely counterbalances Bell’s (and No Country for Old Men’s) nihilism. And if you ask me, Marge Gunderson makes for a pretty good carrier of the fire.

“The Ghost Writer” by Nictate (, @nictate)

To best describe the ending of Roman Polanski’s origami-tidy thriller The Ghost Writer, I need to start at the beginning. Early in the film we meet an author played by a bemused yet earnest Ewan McGregor (named in the credits only as The Ghost). Over a meal, he and his agent discuss a possible new gig. The project? Completing the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister since the previous ghost writer met an untimely end.

“Now, you realize I know nothing about politics?” challenges The Ghost, to which his agent counters: “You voted for him, didn’t you?” This seemingly innocuous, expository exchange gets to the heart of what Polanski’s exploring here: sociopolitical guilt by complicity.

Story similarities to Tony Blair’s checkered days as Bush’s whipping boy are barely veiled, but Polanski desires more than a cathartic, cinematic conviction of the Coalition. He seems to want us to take stock of our own responsibilities as citizens. Is there such a thing as an innocent bystander anymore?

Quickly losing his own bystander status in the film, The Ghost becomes dangerously enmeshed in solving a mystery uncovered during his book research. Making thrilling use of Hitchcockian touches, Polanski threads us through a needle of intrigue leading to the final, fateful stitch: a publisher’s party celebrating the release of the memoirs.

In the midst of the champagne toasting, The Ghost has an epiphany and hides himself away in a side room with the original ghost writer’s manuscript. A fevered discovery is made as he slides a felt-tip marker under the first word of each chapter, forming a sentence that reveals the Prime Minister’s wife, Ruth, played by a terse and terrific Olivia Williams, was a CIA agent during her marriage. Scribbling his damning discovery on a sheet of paper, The Ghost folds the page neatly, writes Ruth’s name on the front and returns to the party.

The next sequence is breathtaking in its jarringly analogue elegance. As Ruth stands onstage giving a tribute to her husband before the gathered crowd, The Ghost hands his note over to a guest on the perimeter of the throng. The guest peers down at the addressee’s name and then hands the note to the person in front of him to move it along to Ruth. Guest by guest, the note drifts across the party like a butterfly alighting on one hand after another, all at a heart-in-the-throat molasses pace. The camera drifts alongside, tracing the paper’s path in close-cropped claustrophobia, almost rubbing elbows with the crowd.

Fluorescent light from above fuzzes the close-quartered edges of the revelers’ fine wool and silk garments and turns half-drunk glasses of alcohol into lustrous swinging lanterns of crimson and amber. This masterfully choreographed assembly-line sequence serves as a strikingly eloquent metaphor for the way complicity touches so many.

As Ruth finishes her speech to warm applause, the missive reaches her hand. Balancing a microphone while unfolding the paper, she smiles tightly. The camera coils below her, dramatically canted, as if preparing to strike. Reading the message, her world-weary face contracts in grey anger. She looks up and spots The Ghost, who raises his glass to her in a sarcastic, wordless toast before slipping away.

As he hurries into the street with the manuscript evidence clutched to his chest, it is twilight. The sky is a trembling, dim blue and the asphalt is wet from London rain, distorting the golden beams from the streetlights. The Ghost shuffles nervously, trying to hail a cab. It skims by him and after a moment’s hesitation in the middle of the lane, he continues across the street and out of frame.

From further down the road, a car approaches, accelerates and barrels out of the same corner of the frame. A muffled impact is heard, then the screech of brakes. People in the street react ever so slowly, as if dumbfounded. Now fluttering into frame from the corner of impact comes a single sheet of manuscript paper, immediately connecting us to the ugly truth that The Ghost has been crushed by the car. Cops and bystanders hurry out of frame to the accident scene, but the camera remains stubbornly fixed. Another manuscript sheet, and then another, spiral into frame until a torrent of pages twist in the wind away from us like a tipped-over tornado. It’s as if we’re seeing the life’s blood draining from the victim’s body in paper form. The sense of futility is smothering. Even if we are brave enough to take action against complicity, is our resistance against the misuse of power ultimately hopeless?

Some found the ending of The Ghost Writer to be an F.U. to the audience: Polanski rubbing his cynicism in our faces. Quite the contrary. There’s a sorrow that leaks through the film like watercolors. The Ghost Writer may have a slick surface, but Polanski’s heart is bleeding underneath in empathetic grief, as the splash of red in the gut of almost every shot seems to represent.

As with the ending of his revered classic, Chinatown, Polanski leaves us on a darkened city street facing the death of a pawn at the hands of the powerful. “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown,” is still Polanski’s sentiment in The Ghost Writer, only now he’s expanded the scope of his frustration as if to say: “Forget it, Jake. The whole world’s Chinatown.”

“Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in)” by Sarah Ward (, @moviebuff15)

For this list of great and memorable movie endings, I nominate the intriguing and ambiguous conclusion of Låt den rätte komma in, or Let the Right One In. The plot: a slight, bullied twelve-year-old boy, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is the child of incompetent parents and the victim of sadistic classmates. He fantasizes about bloody revenge and simply tries to survive, angry yet naïve.

He meets a strange girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson) one night outside their apartment. She is like him, solemn, lonely. “How old are you?” he asks. “Twelve.” She says. “Only- I’ve been twelve for a very long time.” To make a long story short, Eli survives on blood, and she encourages Oskar to stand up to his victimizers. After hitting the main perpetrator self-defensively in the head with a stick, the kid’s friends pretend to be impressed and trick Oskar into coming to the swimming pool.

As one of the boys marches to techno music and Oskar childishly grins and treads in the water, the boy who was galumphed in the head’s older brother comes and gives him a proposition- stay under water for three minutes, or lose an eye. The teenager is much bigger than him, and has a knife. Oskar is grabbed by the hair and pulled under.

We see a great underwater shot of Oskar struggling in the pool, not seeing as severed body parts fall into the water. The teenager’s grip on Oskar loosens, then let’s go completely, and as all but one kid lies dismembered and bloody, Oskar breaks the surface and smile at his friend.

The final scene is harder to read. Oskar has left his old life and parents behind. He is on a train looking through the window, and taps out morse code (he and Eli’s form of communication) on a trunk, where Eli hides. Where they’re going, I don’t know. But they’ll go together.

It has been suggested that Eli was leading him along the whole time, looking for a replacement for her aging pedophile minion Hakan. Call me an idealist, but I don’t believe it. There are even theories Oskar died in the swimming pool, or turned into a vampire, or a fate equally strange. Whether or not he goes over the edge under Eli’s influence, it was people, not her kind, that stole his innocence. And no one will pick on him ever again.

“Lost in Translation” by Greg Salvatore (, @litdreamer)

About a year before I went to Japan, I saw the movie Lost in Translation. I had wanted to see it in the theater, but kept waiting and waiting until my chances ran out. Seeing it on DVD for the first time, I wish I hadn't waited, but was glad that I saw it at all

In the future, people may remember this film for including Bill Murray's best performance, or for making Scarlett Johansson a star, but I'll remember it for introducing me, more than the anime series I was watching at the time, to that mysterious land called Japan. Indeed, the first time I crossed the street in front of Shibuya Station in Tokyo and walked on the stepping “stones” in the pond at the Heian Shrine in Kyoto, I thought of how cool it was that my foot was touching the same places that Johansson's feet had touched.

The story is a simple one: two lonely souls with marriage problems meet in Japan. He is a washed up actor there to do a whiskey commercial; she has followed her husband there on a photo shoot. The man is much older than the woman, but Bob Harris (Murray) and Charlotte (Johansson) are connected by their circumstances. As foreigners suffering from identity crises, they find comfort in each other, and then love. When Charlotte says, “Let's never come here again because it would never be as much fun,” she is reiterating the great truth that it's not where you go or what you do, but who you do it with, that matters.

The opening scene is rather strange, as we get a shot of Charlotte (though we don't know who it is yet) lying sideways on her bed in her hotel, wearing see-through pink panties, a blue shirt, and a t-shirt. Cut so that her feet and the upper half of her body are missing, all we can focus on is the movement of her butt and legs. From there, we hear a jet landing and an announcement welcoming travelers to Narita Airport. We then get our first shot of Bob Harris, in which he wakes up in a limo and looks out the window. While he is in focus, what is outside his window is not. We continue to follow his ride to the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo. He is given gifts upon arrival and takes the elevator, where he is surrounded by Japanese businessmen, to his room. Unable to sleep, and with nothing on TV, he heads to the bar area, but soon heads back to his room after being spotted by some fans. Still not able to sleep, he receives a fax from his wife asking him which cabinets he wants installed in his study. The time is 4:20 am.

Now we meet Charlotte, who is also unable to sleep. Like our first shot of Bob, she is shown alone and looking out of a window (though we hear the snores of her husband). Unlike Bob, the scene outside of the window is in focus before she comes into focus. Also, while we first saw Bob sleeping and then waking up, in her first scene she is awake and unable to fall asleep.

Bob and Charlotte first meet the next day on a elevator, but their paths continue on different trajectories until a third meeting, when Charlotte sits next to Bob at the bar, both of them still suffering from insomnia.

While they continue to have their separate adventures (Bob with the “Johnny Carson of Japan,” Charlotte with a trip to Kyoto), it's their moments together that they (and we) most look forward to (though I find Charlotte's solo trip to Kyoto one of the highlights of the film, and a lesson in how to tell a story through music and imagery alone). These moments include their first night out, at a nightclub in Tokyo, which leads to the famous karaoke scene where Bob sings More Than This (watch how Murray and Johansson look at each other during this song) and another great scene, in the latter half of the film, in which they talk to each other, in bed, about life, marriage, kids, and meaning. Which reminds me, this is one of the few romantic movies I can think of where the two love interests sleep together, but don't have sex. Coppola is right to have Bob cheat on his wife with someone else, for he cares too much about Charlotte, and Charlotte too much about him, for them to ruin it with sex. Sex would cheapen what they mean to each other.

In addition to this relationship, what Coppola gets so right is the mood of Japan, especially as perceived by foreigners. Even baffling scenes like the one in which Charlotte, Bob, and her friend Charlie (Fumihiro Hayashi) are chased out of the club feels right for people (like myself) who spent a significant amount of time in Japan or, in this case, Tokyo. One factor in this is her excellent choice of music, which combines with the imagery and camerawork of each scene to suggest the mood. Some examples including the awe-inducing music that accompanies Bob's ride into Shinjuku at the beginning of the film, where all the buildings are lit up in an equally awe-inducing display, or the melancholy music that plays when Charlotte sits on her windowsill, looking out over the vast expanse of Tokyo: buildings in a foreign landscape. Or the simple music that plays when she visits Kyoto, which reminds me of raindrops and the passage of time. At the same time, Coppola also knows when there should be no music, such as in the scene where Charlotte is smoking in the hallway outside Charlie's apartment and Bob joins her, taking a drag on her cigarette before passing it back to her. The sounds from karaoke muted in the background, she rests her head on his shoulder and takes a drag from that same cigarette (in this scene, I always notice how her fingers open and close around that cigarette). How much is conveyed in these simple gestures, without either person saying a word, and how much the addition of music would have destroyed it.

Another great aspect of this film is that it's funny if you don't know Japanese or Japanese customs, and funnier if you do (concerning Kelly, Anna Faris's airhead of a Hollywood starlet, I'm also sure that it's funnier the more you know about Hollywood celebrities. Her press conference in which she mentions how she and Keanu Reeves have so much in common – like how they both live in L.A., own two dogs, and like Mexican food – makes me smile every time). When I first saw Lost in Translation, I had no idea what any of the characters were saying in Japanese, nor that Japanese people confuse 'r' with 'l' sounds because—in Japanese—it's the same sound. Now that I can understand most of the Japanese being spoken, scenes like the one in which the Suntory whiskey director gives Bob lots of instructions, which his translator summarizes as “look in camera,” are even more hilarious, since I can understand both the director's frustration in not getting his message across, and Bob's confusion about what message he's supposed to be getting.

And that is the sign of a great film: to be so true to what it is trying to convey that it becomes a greater film the deeper one digs. Another sign is a great script. Coppola richly deserved the Oscar she won for Best Original Screenplay, and while I can fault her inability to create more empathetic characters in Lydia (Bob's wife) and John (Charlotte's husband, played by Giovanni Ribisi), they are not the focus of the film: Bob, Charlotte, Japan (specifically Tokyo), and the relationship between the three are. Also, making their spouses too likeable might have shifted focus away from Bob and Charlotte's relationship, and needlessly complicated the story.

Lost in Translation also benefits from having one of the great cinematic endings. It gives audiences what they want, without being false to the reality that its characters live in. And what is it that Bob whispers to Charlotte? If we knew, it wouldn't be as good of a moment. It's great because we must imagine what he said to her, and what we imagine he said will always be better than what he actually said.

Though Sofia Coppola always makes good movies (she also directed The Virgin Suicides, the underrated Marie Antoinette, and the slightly overrated Somewhere), this is her best work, and one of the greatest films of the past ten years. When I first saw it, it made me fall in love with Japan. When I watch it now, it makes me miss it.

“Magnolia” by Erik Anderson (, @awardsprophets)

By the time we get to the end of Paul Thomas Anderson’s audacious and talky 188-minute masterpiece, Magnolia, we’ve seen cryptic religious scripture allusions, characters simultaneously break into an Aimee Mann song and frogs literally raining from the sky; all in a film world of 24 hours. This epic mosaic of interconnected people in the San Fernando Valley culminates though in a gorgeous, quiet, single take of cokehead troublemaker Claudia (the brilliant Melora Walters) sitting in bed while kind-hearted and beleaguered cop Jim (John C. Reilly) talks to her. We can’t hear anything he’s saying and we don’t need to; it’s all on her face. It goes from panicked child to relief at knowing that someone cares for her.

Ultimately though, my favorite final scene is even more a favorite final shot. When Claudia turns directly to camera and cracks the tiniest of smiles, as if it takes a series of mechanics to slightly turn the corners of her mouth, we feel…relief. After all of the cacophony, the crazy, the frogs, we, through Claudia, are given a vestige of hope. Hope that something as simple as love (yet so seemingly intangible) can make our lives better.

“Michael Clayton” by Seongyeong Cho (, @kaist455)

There are many movies with great final scenes, so it is not easy for me to say which one is the best. But I can say that Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton, which I recently watched again, is one of the best. After the captivating opening sequence powered by the intense monologue by Tom Wilkinson, who plays Clayton’s unstable colleague Arthur Edens, we see how Clayton(George Clooney) comes to the crucial moment in his life. We come to know that he has lots of problems besides his exhausted soul after so many years of working as “the janitor” of his law firm. He has gambling addiction. He is financially broke. His private business is collapsed with the huge debts thanks to his irresponsible brother. His position in the firm is unstable due to upcoming merger. And his boss and others still demand his service.

The movie starts as a thriller, but it ultimately works as a gray morality play about the characters and their choices. In his latest job, Clayton finds himself between Edens, who suddenly decides to work against his client, a major corporation company named U/North, and will do anything to disclose its corruption, and Karen Crowder(Tilda Swinton), fiendish but neurotic chief legal counselor of U/North who will also do anything for covering it up. As a jaded realist, Clayton knows what he has to do as the expert fixer. He initially does what others expect him to do as much as he can. But his tarnished conscience keeps coming back to him, even after when he decides to follow the others. Eventually, he has enough after the incident that happens to him in the opening. He decides to cross the line, like Edens did.

After the final confrontation scene, Clayton gets out of the building and takes a cab. A cab driver asks him, “So what are we doing?” He replies, “Give me fifty dollars worth. Just drive”. The movie closes with Clayton in the backseat while Robert Elswit’s camera calmly focuses on his face for around two minutes. He does not speak, but his facial expression, still entangled with complicated feelings, tells us that Clayton’s internal struggle is far from being over. He has finally done the right thing, but there will be another problems waiting for him in the future because of that. Accompanied with James Newton Howard’s somber score, he feels relived at last but he also feels worried. Now, what will happen to him? - He really needs more time to think than fifty dollars worth.

“Taxi Driver” by Wael Khairy (, @waelkhairy88)

It’s been thirty-five years since Taxi Driver shocked the world with its brutal honest and terrifying portrayal of a loner desperate to fit into a decaying rotten society. Since its release, Taxi Driver has risen to highest status of cinema, an all-time masterpiece. One simply can’t argue against a near perfect film. The argument that follows any viewing of Taxi Driver isn’t a questioning of its quality but rather a discussion on what the final moments actually mean.

On the surface, the disturbing final scenes showing the media glorifying a sociopath as a hero are the film’s ultimate revelation. We live in a corrupt society where the lowest of human beings can rise to the highest of standards, not because of mental issues but because the exposure of a society’s unsettling reality forces one down this pathway. Because no matter how safe and secure you think your neighborhood is, there’s no such thing as a perfect world. If a taxi driver who has gone on a killing rampage can be set free and be labeled a hero, then what does that say about human nature, media, principles and civilization as a whole? This gut wrenching slap in the face of a finale has its counter argument and film fans have been debating the true meaning of Taxi Driver’s ending for decades. The heated discussion won’t end anytime soon.

The dispute amongst film fans is whether the ending actually took place or is part of a wish-fulfilling Travis Bickle fantasy. Some believe the iconic shot of Bickle pointing his bloody finger to the side of his head contain everything one needs to know about the ending. For one Travis acts out a suicide, slowly pretending that he’s shooting himself, before finally resting his head suggesting his definitive demise. Symbolically this image may indicate that by pointing to his head, Scorsese through Bickle is cinematically telling the audience that all that follows is indeed as he literally points out -all in his head. Therefore it’s all a final imaginary flash into what Bickle would consider a satisfying ending to his miserable life. Fans usually use the fact that the film is filled with symbolic shots as evidence. In addition to that, one can’t argue that realistically speaking the ending seemed realistically improbable.

Cinematically, Scorsese teases with dream like camera angles such as the floating head of Betsy in the rear view mirror or the famous ceiling shot when the camera simply drifts away from the crime scene. This may imply that we’re no longer seeing the world through Bickle’s eyes but we’re rather experiencing an out of body occurrence of a departing man’s satisfactory concluding dream. While this take makes a lot of sense. There’s one final split of a second that demolishes the whole “it’s all in his head” analysis. After dropping off Betsy, a neck-scarred Bickle resumes his night cruise when suddenly something catches his eye in the rear-view mirror. Bernard Herman’s score peaks with high note, Bickle snaps, and adjusts the mirror to get a better look when the end credits start flashing. In many ways, this is Scorsese’s final twist ending. Travis Bickle has found something else to occupy his mind. Something caught his attention and the psycho is about to embark on a new mission. If that is the case, then Bickle did survive the shoot-out and isn’t even slightly cured of his sickness. Either way, there’s no definitive meaning to the ending of Taxi Driver. All we can do is wonder debate and look for more clues to support an essentially flawed perspective. The dispute and arguments are what kept this film fresh and interesting to this day. One thing is for sure, the final scenes of Taxi Driver have ensured its timelessness through artistic ambiguity.

“Tokyo Sonata” by Nick Duval (, @flickpmonster)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata incorporates some truly original elements that make it entirely its own movie and a sentimental favorite (if not quite a masterpiece), but perhaps its most skillful gambit comes when it turns a potentially cliché scenario into a completely spectacular closer. After a father has lost his high-income job, his friend has committed suicide, his wife has been kidnapped, and one of his sons has joined the military, much would have to be done to remedy things. But what happens in the end does on a certain level: his youngest child, a kid who has a bad rep in school, showcases his innate, developed-on-the-sly piano skills in a recital, playing “Claire de Lune” by Debussy. You can feel yourself groaning when you read this, but the execution of the scene is so good that it feels totally earned.

First off, the scene relies on the reaction of the father, played Teriyuki Kagawa, who is quite good in this film. His face is key to the film’s emotional current, and here it adds a good deal of resonance, when he starts to soften and tear up. To add to that, the classical piece played, one of both serenity and drama, serves as a metaphor for the whole film (and thus was used in the movie’s trailer). Also in terms of evocation, the curtains in the scene recall the beginning of the film, another small moment of elegance.

The cinematography is in the scene is sterling. From the moment the kid sits down at the piano till the end, it is told entirely in stationary shots and mid-to-long takes. The de-stylization of the camera as well as the editing lets the action take center stage (as it should), letting you invest more in what’s happening.

Framing plays a huge part in this scene. Since the song and reactions are occupying your attention, the artful moves made by Kurosawa and his DP Akiko Ashizawa are practically subliminal. They shoot the piano at first from mid-range, but then progressively get closer and closer each time after cutting back from the people in the crowd. Then, they shoot again from mid-range, showing that many people have gathered to the right side of the piano, where only a couple of people were before. After this, they toss in another couple of close shots, including one looking through the opened top, before pulling back to show an immense curve of people watching. It is a composition to remind one of both the scene where the birds come together near the school in Hitchcock’s The Birds and the homage in the second part of Steven Soderbergh’s Che, though in this instance, the gathering takes place mostly off-screen. This is the final shot of the scene and the film, clocking in at a little under 2 minutes, and it extends to show the family come to pick up the son (the father giving his kid the praise he deserves) and take him home. The moment when the heads of the entire crowd turn to watch the prodigy leave the building sends a chill up my spine every time I see it.

The brilliantly measured isolation of the scene, though, is probably its most important and ideologically powerful attribute. This structural choice goes to show that whatever happens next, no matter how screwed the family is, for a few minutes they were above it all. As a family member, as an artist, as a human being, this rings true to me. This is a must-see for anyone who thinks that art means nothing, cause they’ve got another thing coming.


Adelaide Dupont said...

Are the @s Twitter accounts, or something at the film website?

I usually have made up my mind about the impact of the film before the ending.

Having said that, I have seen No country for old men; The Ghost Writer [only this year on DVD] and 2001: a space oddeysey. Yes, 2001 did knock me out in that way. So sparse, so good.

Mystic River would probably be my great film ending, if I think about it. And Revolutionary Road.

Nick Duval said...

Yup, the @s are twitter accounts.

Revolutionary Road in my opinion plays better as the ending of a novel rather than the ending of a movie, since Kathy Bates is considered a "hilarious" loudmouth in the film and the last moment thus has much less impact than when you read it. The Kate Winslet stuff, though, is solid either way.

Greg said...

As I posted on Gael's website, I hope you do this again. Or something similar.

It was a lot of fun. :-)

Nick Duval said...

I'm glad to hear! I'll definitely do something like this again. I'm happy that it was fun to write, because it was awesome to assemble.