Fault me on my Latin if you must, what I’m going to talk about here is movie endings. I even found a nice pretentious Henry Wadsworth Longfellow quote for the purpose, and that’s in good ol’ English, so if it’s grammatically incorrect take it up with him:
“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”
The other night I had the superlative pleasure of viewing Hobo with a Shotgun. I won’t be reviewing it here, as I’m sure others of the panel of experts have their plans to do just that, but when I say one of the best parts of the film was the ending, I am not being backhanded and snarky. The story lasted exactly as long as it needed to last, and no more.
In thinking about it, I have come to realize that almost all of my favorite movies share this quality. The end credits can arrive with a bang, or a whimper, but they arrive exactly when they are meant to. If I’ve particularly enjoyed a film that I’m seeing for the first time, and I reach that point where both intellectually and instinctively I feel it’s time to go to black, I will be silently praying for the director to have felt the same. If they don’t meet my expectations, then it’s a rare case that I still induct what I’ve seen in to my personal all time greats list.
- Jaws, my absolute favorite movie. The shark dies, Hooper resurfaces and Quint’s fate is related with an exchange of two words, then the survivors are shown paddling back to land on a makeshift raft (and if you pay close attention to the credits, you’ll actually see them making landfall). John Williams’s score throughout this sequence also stays gentle, lyrical, and uplifting, finally letting you relax in perfect catharsis after a runtime of tension and terror.
- Speaking of John Williams, the original, unmodified Star Wars trilogy, plus Raiders of the Lost Ark, are triumphs not only in how they end but in their perfect musical segues to the heroic crash of the credits sequence. Even in the case of Empire Strikes Back and Raiders, where the stories end on darker “notes”, things are deftly manipulated so that the shift is natural rather than jarring. Empire needs that final scene in the medical frigate to show the thread of hope that still exists, with the declaration to find Han, and the pullback to show the rebels still have a rather sizeable fleet. Raiders has one of the most brilliant endcaps ever where the Lost Ark is hidden away by the U.S. Government, in perhaps one of the only instances I can remember that the U.S. Government in a film made a damn good decision. Indy can call them “bureaucratic fools” all he wants, but we just got through a whole movie with a recurring, rather gory theme of “The Ark is not to be Fucked With”. Best to just symbolically rebury it.
- Se7en is a movie that ends in a tragic way for its protagonists. The soul-crushed Mills is hauled away in a police car, his life a ruin, and there’s nothing more really to say… except for Somerset’s quote of Hemingway that shows his intended perseverence in the face of even the level of horror and madness he (and we) have been subjected to: “‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.”
- Unforgiven could have ended with William Munny shooting Little Bill, or with his ride into the darkness and thunder after promising deadly retribution on Big Whiskey should they stray from his commandments. But it doesn’t, because Unforgiven is a movie about the people and the mundane details behind the legends. So instead, it quietly tells you that William Munny returned to his farm, but later moved on, possibly to prosper in dry goods, and caps off by ending as it began with a discussion of the unsolved mystery behind the love of a man and a woman, a woman who “had married a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition.” Fade to black. Or perhaps, more appropriately, a darkened gray.
- And last but not least for this blog: Ghostbusters. A few last, choice one-liners are uttered, Peck is justly covered in a shower of marshmallow goo, Peter and Dana are together, then Zeddemore just yells “I LOVE THIS TOWN!” and it’s party time in the streets of New York as everyone rocks out to the theme song.
If you want to share any of your own favorite cinematic examples in the comments, feel free. The fine art of ending. I wish I had achieved it for this blog…