Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I Thought Of An Ending I Like

Okay, a quick addendum to the recent post on endings: I thought of one I like, and which might actually be my favorite ending of anything ever. It's the ending of a movie: Broken Flowers, the 2005 Jim Jarmusch flick starring Bill Murray. I'm going to describe it now, so if you haven't seen this movie but plan to, proceed with caution.

Bill Murray plays an aging lothario who gets an anonymous letter from a former lover, telling him they have a son together, and the son might be coming to see him. So, to prepare, Murray's character, Don Johnston, goes on a road trip, visiting all his old lovers, trying to figure out which one sent the letter. The road trip makes up the bulk of the movie.

Long story short, he doesn't figure it out, and when he gets back, he meets a kid at the bus station whom he thinks must be the son. He tries to befriend him, but ends up freaking him out: turns out it isn't the son, just a stranger. And in the final scene, as the freaked-out non-son runs off, a car goes by bearing two passengers who are around the same age as the son would be, and who are wearing the same clothes. And Don just watches the car go by in slow motion until it's gone.

The message: from now on, every kid he sees for the rest of his life will briefly seem like his son.

Why's this a perfect ending? For one thing, it's weird and somewhat cryptic, but not obscure. It also doesn't spell anything out: instead it leaves a metaphorical clue. Finally, it doesn't shut down the movie; rather, it opens it up. It gives the character a future. It shows you exactly how far Don's soul-searching has brought him, and shows you (and him) the consequences of what he has (and hasn't) found.

It's brief, simple, and artfully arresting. It makes demands on the imagination, but doesn't lord it over you. It allows the viewer to make the connection, lets you have the epiphany rather than simply showing you someone else having it.

Somehow I have to figure out how to do this in writing.


Derek Haas said...

Well if we're going to talk movie endings, that opens up the topic quite a bit.

A perfect fairly recent ending: ABOUT SCHMIDT by Payne & Taylor. Nicholson reading the letter from Ndugu.

The best of all time? THE GREAT ESCAPE. ; ) Steve McQueen bouncing that ball.

GODFATHER 2 has a pretty great ending too. I could go on all day.

James (Mr. 5redpandas) said...

JR -

I loved Broken Flowers (which makes me the only one among my friends who have seen it). By the way, the soundtrack CD is terrific and worth buying. And Jarmusch uses a fine Holly Golightly record over the opening credits (it's on the CD, as are all of the songs from Murray's "road trip" CD).

One extra note of ambiguity - one of the two kids Bill Murray sees in the car at the end of the film (the one closer to the camera, whom you can see more clearly) is played by Murray's own son, and the resemblance is quite noticeable.

Anonymous said...

Ha!, I didn't know that! I do have four of the CD's from the Ethiopian jazz series that the soundtrack draws from...the Mulatu Astatke stuff is genius...it sounds like it was recorded in a corrugated tin shack. WHich perhaps it was.

Derek believe it or not, I've never seen The Great Escape...

Derek Haas said...

jr: While not the greatest film, it's a personal favorite... so many great stars... Garner, Attenborough, McQueen, Coburn, Bronson, Pleasance... all when they were in their prime.

An ending similar to the one you describe in the Jarmusch film is the one found in CACHE, a french film from 2005. The last shot still has audiences puzzling over the ending.

jon said...

The ending of Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess is perfect. He seems to narrate his own death, but it's done very subtly. I believe the last line is "I hoped there would be no dreams." It is then that I noticed that the number of chapters corresponds to Keneth Toomey's age, and that it takes the reader slightly (a couple of years) into the future. It also has a great first opening sentence, but that is a different story.

Elizabeth McCracken said...

The end of The Magdalene Sisters made me burst out in tears, and I'm not burster-out-in-tears. There's one wordless shot of one of the young women it follows that's about as moving as anything I've ever seen.

Anonymous said...

I must say, I'm kind of jealous, as a narrative artist, of movies. Perhaps I will do a whole post about that tonight.

Drew said...

Hey, John. Where can I track down that Ethiopian jazz series?


Elizabeth McCracken said...

If you mean books--I have very mixed feelings about The Corrections, but remember thinking the last page was astounding and moving and impossible without every one of the many pages that came before.

Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings about the Corrections, too, but I agree about the ending. And I think Franzen's inconsistencies come from his desire to always write a novel he doesn't know how to write. He keeps the ambition high, and I admire that...like I was saying about David Wallace, I preferred his imperfections to a lot of people's perfections.

Drew, here you go:


It's #4 that Broken Flowers draws from.