Casablanca. Dr. Strangelove. Planet of the Apes. Chinatown. Ask most folks what part of these milestone movies really stands out for them and they'll immediately mention the memorable last scene. And rightfully so - those endings aren't only satisfying, they punctuate and pretty much make you reconsider the entire film. In this series, The Pink Smoke examines some lesser-known finales we feel deserve a spot among the greatest final moments in cinema.
paul schrader, 1978
Poor people fighting other poor people is sad. When you add race into the mix it's heartbreaking. And when wealthy/better-off people are the ones pulling the strings to make poor people fight each other, it's just the worst. All of this is shown in the final moments of Blue Collar when former friends (played by Harvey Keitel and Richard Pryor) who were once both on the same side fighting the same battle are turned into enemies after being manipulated by local Detroit teamsters.
DOWN BY LAW
jim jarmusch, 1986
Down By Law is vintage Jarmusch right down to the ambiguous open ending where Jack and Zack go their separate ways at that fork in the road. It's mildly humorous, a little eerie and potentially sad. No matter how "cool" a note on which Jarmusch's films end, things don't always work out for his characters. They either meet their demise in the end like Johnny Depp in Dead Man or Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog, or find themselves lost and/or overwhelmed like Bill Murray at the end of Broken Flowers, Armin Mueller-Stahl at the end of his story in Night on Earth and everyone at the end of Stranger Than Paradise. But things don't always end badly for Jarmusch's characters. Winona Rider rides off happily at the end of her story in Night on Earth, the nameless hitman in Limits of Control completes his final mission without any hiccups, and Pearline gains knowledge from the books Ghost Dog leaves behind before he's killed. Jarmusch puts Zack (Tom Waits) and Jack (John Lurie) at a crossroads (literally), to imply that their futures are up in the air. But it's hard for me to believe things will work out for them down the road
alex cox, 1984
This is a random ballsy bat-shit crazy movie so it deserves a random ballsy bat-shit crazy ending. It's not enough for the movie to end with all the colorful characters hanging out in a parking lot basking in the green tint of the radiation-infected Buick car that everyone's been chasing after for the majority of the film. Alex Cox needed to take it up a notch by flying that Buick car through the Los Angeles city skyline with a wide-eyed Emilio Estevez sitting shotgun.
lynne ramsay, 2002
On a personal tip, I've been here before. There's nothing worse than being dragged to a club with loud, awful music playing. It's even worse when you have shit on your mind. Unlike Morvern Callar, I've never had to deal with the suicide of a loved one, but I have been trapped in crowded places trying to process the fact that I'm going to need an organ transplant or just contemplating where I am in life at the moment. It feels so depressing and isolating. This is why I almost always carry headphones with me just in case I need to escape. And escape is precisely what Morvern does in the final scene which is actually a callback to an earlier moment in the film when we see Morvern drifting through a dance club with her headphones on blasting The Mamas & The Papas in an effort to drown out the annoying techno music.
david lynch, 2006
The end of Inland Empire is the movie equivalent to the closing credits of Saturday Night Live. The only difference is that prior to the SNL curtain call, we saw 90 minutes of sketch comedy, while Inland Empire was a three-hour nightmare. In the closing credit sequence of David Lynch's misunderstood masterpiece, he takes us to what looks like a movie wrap party made up of IE cast members (Laura Dern), past collaborators (Lauren Elena Harring), a lumberjack, a Nina Simone lip-syncing dance troupe and, for some reason, Nastassja Kinski. Basically the kind of party/get-together you'd imagine David Lynch would have at his place in real life. With the exception of Eraserhead, Inland Empire always felt like the movie Lynch was working towards his whole career, so the end almost feels like a celebration of everything he's done. Laura Dern is there not just because she's the star, but because she's Lynch's muse. Besides lending her voice to one of the rabbits in IE, Laura Harring also starred in Mulholland Drive. Perhaps the lumberjack is a callback to Twin Peaks and Nastassja Kinski is there because she's the daughter of the most frequent collaborator of one of Lynch's personal favorite directors, Werner Herzog. There's a million ways to speculate but bottom line, Inland Empire is also a pretty grueling experience and the closing credit sequence acts as a sigh of relief that the nightmare is over.
hal harltey, 1992
Redemption is a common theme in Hal Hartley's work (I think Surviving Desire and The Girl from Monday may be his only features that don't touch on the subject). Simple Men, specifically the last few minutes in which it's implied that Bill has made peace with his estranged father and will turn himself in for the crimes he committed at the beginning of the movie, might represent the best of all his work. And not only do the final moments of Simple Men represent redemption, but it also represents the comfort of a woman (yes I'm being gender specific here). Every time I watch that final scene, I immediately want a hug from my fiancée, mom, grandmother, aunt or some female I'm close to. This scene is also a tip of the hat to the final moments of Bresson's Pickpocket, both films essentially ending with criminals paying for their crimes while being embraced by a nurturing woman.
OLIVIER ASSAYAS, 2002
demonlover came out in 2002 when internet porn was alive and kicking. But you have to remember that reality-based porn sites like Bangbros, Reality Kings, Brazzers and Live Jasmin didn't exist yet (I don't even think porn addiction was taken as serious back then). The end of demonlover speaks volumes to where we're at as a society today. I know the websites I just listed aren't as extreme as Hellfire Club, the fictitious torture porn site in demonlover, but the stuff that goes down in modern porn isn't that far off (and I'm sure there are actual torture sites similar to Hellfire Club out there if you search hard enough). And the desensitized/emotionless demeanor of the young boy in this scene just adds to Assayas' social commentary. If you've seen some of the more popular pornography that's out there these days, is it any mystery that young boys find rape funny and sometimes treat young girls the way they do?
todd haynes, 1995
There's always been conflicting thoughts on who Carol is as a person at the end of [safe]. Some folks think she's still an empty lost soul. Others seem to think she's a better person. I personally think it's a little bit of both. Going from where Carol was at the beginning of the film to where she's at in the end represents major growth in my opinion. I would have never thought the empty California housewife would've stepped out of her comfort zone. No matter what kind of darkly ambiguous music [safe] ends on, Carol's final words (to herself) are "I love myself." That says a lot. However the awkward speech she gives shortly before that scene leads me to believe there's still a lot of emptiness inside of her and you wonder what's really going on deep down.
sylvester stallone, 1982
I feel like this once-iconic imagery is slowly becoming less relevant as time goes on (although it was referenced on an episode of Family Guy a couple of years ago) so I'm doing what I can to keep it alive by including it on this list.
darren aronofsky, 2008
I understand some of the cynicism and negativity people may have towards The Wrestler. It's tough to take a bunch of big oafs in tights that slam each other around and scream into a microphone seriously. But Randy's story is not much different than that of Nick Nolte in North Dallas Forty or Tom Berenger in Major League. Why should The Wrestler get less respect than those films? If the final moments of this movie don't tug at any kind of emotional heart string then you must not have a soul. Yes, I grew up on wrestling so my perspective is a little different, but pro wrestlers provide just as much entertainment as any other athlete, in my opinion. Sure the sport is "fake" or pre-determined, but I guarantee anyone with a cynical attitude or unsympathetic tone towards the life of a pro-wrestler wouldn't make it 3 days at the Power Plant (the old WCW wrestling grooming school), let alone compete with a bottom card wrestler on any kind of an athletic level. Some of your favorite MMA stars would probably get worked by quite a few of those pro-wrestlers some of you consider "fake" (Meng and Bad News Brown to name a couple).
And The Wrestler doesn't just reference or hint at the real lives of various wrestlers who passed away over the years. There's many cinematic references and similarities to other films as well. The story of Randy "The Ram" clearly tips its hat to elements of John Huston's Fat City: the old washed up has-been fighter who puts his life at risk to continue performing the sport he loves, not to mention the life of the main female character/love interest in both films that run parallel to the lives of our main characters on some level. The final moments of The Wrestler, where we see Randy jumping off the top ropes to his death, is reminiscent of Anthony Quinn at the end of Requiem for a Heavyweight, a once big-time superstar faced with no other option but to keep wrestling until he's an "old broken down piece of meat."