Welcome to The Parting Shots series.
I value every single detail of the movies, from the opening moment, the titles, the introduction of the characters, the introduction of a dilemma, the third act and then, of course, the parting shot. The elements that bookend the movies are always the most fascinating to me. The opening shot tells us what we need to know. How does a movie introduce itself? How is the movie drawing me in? Is the opening shot telling me everything that I need to know? Well, the final shot can have just as big an impact. The final shot, I think, is the one we remember most because that is the image that we leave the theater with.
The point of Parting Shots is to document some of the most effective closing moments in the history of the movies. These are not the best, but they are the most memorable and, for me, the most meaningful. Periodically, right here on this blog, I am going to examine several parting shots, closing moments of movies that made an impact. They are listed in no particular order with no ranking at all.
Part I: The Uncertain Future
It is my belief that a movie should leave us with something to ponder. Despite the crazy inevitability of sequels, prequels and other intrusions, a self-contained film can leave an impact when the screenwriter leaves a film open enough that we can concern ourselves with the fate of the characters after the final shot has faded out. What follows are some examples of those moments, listed alphabetically, these are NOT the best parting shots, but some of the most effective.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
This is probably the most famous, most enigmatic and most discussed closing moment in the history of the cinema. Man has touched the unknown reaches of the universe and arrived at the next plateau of his evolution. Traveling through the star gate, our hero David Bowman finds himself in a place that it neither here nor there. He ages rapidly and then, elderly and bedridden, reaches out to touch the monolith, an odd door-shaped slab that has marked the progress of human evolution ever since we were mindless apes. In the film’s final shot, we see a celestial baby in a womb floating in space, staring back down at the earth. He then turns to regard us in the audience. What is this scene all about? Why does this baby regard us? What is it asking of us? This mysterious ending has us asking many questions on the way out, of man of nature, of science, of evolution, and our questions about our placement in the universe.
The surface of Walt Disney’s Bambi is cute and cuddly, no doubt, but the substance of the film could fill volumes. This is the story of the birth and maturation of a forest creature living under the threat of outside (and unseen) forces that come crashing into the beauty and tranquility of his world. The ending brings full-circle, something that took place earlier in the film. Bambi, having encountered his father, The Great Prince of the Forest, just after his mother’s death, takes on the world alone without his mother’s nurturing. The final scene, in which father and son look over the ruins of a forest that has been nearly decimated by a fire, is brilliantly finalized as The Great Prince steps aside and disappears into the woods. Bambi oversees the remains of this burned out forest and we are left to ponder, with all of man’s destructive intrusions, what will become of him. Not only that, but if we pull back from the movie and examine the time period, it has even more relevance. This movie came out in the summer of 1942, when the world was at war and the fact of our world seemed just as uncertain.
The Graduate (1968)
The point of The Graduate, from the title on down, is the initiation of one insecure young man into the strange and bizarre world of adults. The ending of the film perfectly captures, without dialogue, the rebellion but also the realization of what they have done. Benjamin has just rescued Katherine Ross from being married. The two run away from the church and board a bus filled with scowling old people. They move to the back and laugh about their victory, but as the minutes pass the elation in their faces falls away. There some disappointment, some sense of regret. What have they really accomplished? What was it all really for? Did they escape their parents because of how they feel about each other or as an act of rebellion. The regret on their faces says it all.
Modern Times (1936)
For me, Chaplin’s exit from silent films was fitting, melancholy and oddly hopeful. His Little Tramp, once voted as the most recognized image on the planet, was still a loner but has been forced to enter the rat race, a mechanized world that is bewildering, dehumanizing, heartless and hopeless. The world, it seems, has moved past The Little Tramp. It has become too fast and too chaotic even for his gentle spirit to manage. In Modern Times, The Tramp finds a companion, a gamin with whom he builds a strange ersatz domestic existence made out of dirt-clods and cardboard. In the end, The Tramp and his companion head off down the road together toward an uncertain future. They’re not alone. This was the world of the depression and, very soon, a world war. What lies ahead for them? For The Tramp, we are hopeful because we know he won’t face the future alone.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel “The Silence of the Lambs” ended with Clarice Starling becoming a full-fledged FBI agent and then receiving a telegram from Dr. Hannibal Lecter, now on the lam. The 1991 film adaptation wisely changes that conversation to a phone call. During her graduation party, Starling receives a call from Lecter, who is sitting at an airport in The Bahamas. He asks if the lambs have stopped screaming then assures her that he has no plans to call on her, but that he is “having an old friend for dinner.” We then see that this “friend” is Dr. Chilton, the pompous director the sanitarium that housed Lecter for years. He hangs up the phone, gets up and then disappears into the crowd. This is a deliciously brilliant manner for Lecter to exit the picture (assuming you are able to put the awful Hannibal out of your mind). We know how brilliant and how tactful Lecter is. We know that he won’t be easily caught and we don’t doubt that he will have his “old friend for dinner”.
The Terminator (1984)
Setting aside the entire business of the “franchise” (I hate that term) with the sequels, the dull-as-dishwater TV show, and the god-awful Terminator: Salvation, let us simply focus on this film and this film alone. Most films end on a note that only suggests what we’ve just seen. The Terminator operates both on what Sarah Conner has been through and what she faces in the future. Stopping at a gas station, a Mexican boy informs her that a storm is coming. “I know”, she says and drives off into the desert toward a horizon filled with ominous storm clouds. She is literally the only person in the world who knows what is going to happen. Her only defense: A gun and German Shepard who can sense the machines. Literally, the weight of the world is upon her shoulders and she heads into the mountains, ready to face it.
The Truman Show (1998)
Everyone remembers the denouement of The Truman Show, right? Truman Burbank, who discovers that his entire life was one big reality show, reaches the edge of the gigantic set and steps out into the real world for the very first time. It is a great moment, but what REALLY hits home is what happens next. The whole world cheers Truman’s exodus, the show ends and TV screen turns to snow. Our final shot is two security guards who grab the TV Guide to see what else is on. I applaud this ending which brings the elation of a global television event back down to earth and forces us to confront the idea that most emotional moments in television are only momentary, at least until we find something else to watch.