Favorite movie endings

During my convalescence this past winter I watched a lot of movies. I’ve gotten busy making YouTube playlists of my favorite music and movies. I started one playlist privately just to collect some of my favorite concluding scenes from movies, and I threw in a few scenes from old movies that marked the Intermission break.

At first this was just a random collection, but I started moving the clips around for whatever reasons, or for no conscious reason at all, like some of us of a certain age enjoyed doing with mixtapes. Anyway, the juxtapositions of these clips got me thinking about these movies just as much as the clips did in themselves. These being my favorite clips, it’s been forever since I had any truly new thoughts about them, but try putting together a list like this, and putting them in any order of your choosing, and you’ll see yourself how new thoughts pop up.

The following are just my own reflections on these movies, in relation to one another as they sit on my playlist. It’s not intended to say to anyone what the “true” connections between these clips are, because when it comes to movies, or music, or novels, it really does come down to your own way of reading, hearing, and watching.

I chose “E.T.” as the opening clip because it’s always been one of my favorite scenes from any movie.  What I love best in it are a thousand things, but what I want to note here is how the characters all end up looking heavenward.  And they end up with their necks craned not for any selfish reasons, not even for great reasons (natural wonder and curiosity), but for the very best of reasons, their eyes drawn there in love.  They can’t help but look until they can’t anymore.

In short, they feel wonder, not just in the mystical “wow” sense, but in the most basic sense that we wonder:  “What just happened?  Where did he go?  What else is out there?  Will he return?  Why was he here?  Will he miss us?”

E.T. himself has often been compared to Dorothy Gale, in his yearning to get home.  He’s also compared to Christ, in particular for his healing powers, his resurrection and his final ascension. When he leaves, the eyes that follow him find a rainbow in the heavens.  And if that is not Biblical – if, to boot, it is not the ultimate sign that whatever is above us bears us no violent intentions – then I don’t know what is.

(After each image below, I leave a few notes speaking of two movies, the one above and the one to follow.)

“E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982), dir. Steven Spielberg

  • Two sad partings, both with a sense of immense distance; we watch Viola receding toward the horizon until she is no longer trackable
  • Will does not turn his gaze heavenward, but he is clearly changed forever by Viola; she is changed, too, and ready for “a new life beginning on a stranger shore”

“Shakespeare In Love” (1998), dir. John Madden

  • From Shakespeare to that great lover of life and literature, Professor Keating

“Dead Poets Society” (1989), dir. Peter Weir

  • Todd Anderson knows what those departed souls on the barricade mean when they sing, “Who will be strong and stand with me?”

“Les Misérables” (2012), dir. Tom Hooper

  • two iconic 19th century novels
  • one clip is about putting down the sword, the other is dramatically dripped in violence; but even the latter has elements of love:  Cora’s grief for her sister; Uncas trying to reach Alice, and she, unable to live, joining him in death; most emphatically, Chingachgook’s love for his lost son; and Duncan’s self-sacrifice

“The Last of the Mohicans” (1992), dir. Michael Mann

  • From Chingachgook’s revenge we go to “Hamlet,” which is ostensibly about taking revenge for the loss of a father, though of course it ends up being about much more, including the high price Hamlet must pay before accomplishing his task

“Hamlet” (1996), dir. Kenneth Branagh

  • “Lion King” has oft-mentioned parallels with Hamlet; on this list, Simba gets the kind of reward that the prince of Denmark deserved but could not get

“The Lion King” (1994)

  • In both of these films there is an image of birth: a newborn lion cub and a human fetus; in both there is a kind of “circle of life” idea, expressed simply in “Lion King” but with vaster and more mysterious implications in “2001”; in the latter we see an astronaut who, rapidly aging, is sent back to Earth to begin life again (as one interpretation goes), but we are seeing something more about life – how it forms, what it is, what it might be – than what normally appears before our sight on earth

“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), dir. Stanley Kubrick

  • Impossible to make a literal connection between these two films.  But both evoke the scale of the universe and the very nature of things, though in vastly different ways.  One may see in the fetus of “2001” the idea of a Savior born on Earth, though that would be one idea among many.  “Ben-Hur” is more plainly hopeful, and it arrives in the epic zone not with images of the physical universe but through intimate questions like how we heal from physical afflictions? how we forgive? and what exactly happened on that cross?

“Ben-Hur” (1959), dir. William Wyler

  • Here we get a movie’s eye-glimpse of what happened on that cross, and what happened in the tomb on the third day after the healing of Judah Ben-Hur, his mother and his sister

“The Passion of the Christ” (2004), dir. Mel Gibson

  • From Jesus to a great modern spiritual leader, forcibly separated from his home
  • When he looks through the telescope at his old home (Tibet), it feels both like an intimate longing, and like he’s looking at something far larger than one country
  • And it feels like this: I have not forgotten, and I will return

“Kundun” (1998), dir. Martin Scorsese

  • Now let’s telescope out from earth, as far as we can go – or until we reach a game of marbles

“Men in Black” (1997), dir. Barry Sonnenfeld

  • Truman Burbank escapes from his own marble, and from the higher beings who are merely toying with him

“The Truman Show” (1998), dir. Peter Weir

  • Can’t you imagine that Truman, after escaping, went to look for Lauren Garland, and that she went looking for him, and found him right on the movie set?

“Rocky” (1976), dir. John G. Avildsen

  • Rocky and Adrian embrace, unlike the lovers below, in a scene of choreographed chaos rather than cheer

“Much Ado About Nothing” (1993), dir. Kenneth Branagh

  • From one William Shakespeare joint to another.  This is how Shakespeare’s romantic comedies typically ended, and movies love it.

“Twelfth Night: Or What You will” (1996), dir. Trevor Nunn

  • Sticking with the Bard’s template, we end again with betrothed bliss, courtesy of Jane Austen.  The video below adds captions that are on-point and funny enough to make you spill your coffee.

“Sense and Sensibility” (2008), screenplay by Andrew Davies for British television

  • The same scene from another movie

“Sense and Sensibility” (1995), dir. Ang Lee

  • Another Jane Austen joint, but this time ending in the wedding itself, and in a lyrical vision of what a sacrament it is

“Emma.” (2020), dir. Autumn de Wilde

Would it be going too far to propose Emma Woodhouse as the only Jane Austen heroine who might be comfortable in a Quentin Tarantino movie?  I mean, living in 19th century England she is basically a spoiled empress in a sewing circle, but who knows what she would be if she lived in our time and did not marry someone like Knightley, who so clearly has a positive influence on her.  If she married, say, someone like Frank Churchill, or his modern equivalent.

I can’t see her as the girl in the clip below, Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer).  But Mia Wallace, that’s another story.

One way in which any Jane Austen heroine would thrive in “Pulp Fiction” is in the dialogue. 

And maybe you can’t quite see Jane Austen heroines as assassins like The Bride.  But why not, exactly?  We already have Lizzie Bennet as a martial-arts trained zombie in “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”.

Incidentally, what I love most about the “Emma.” clip is when Emma closes her eyes as she is about to take her wedding vows.  You know that this is not an easy step for her.  Her immature self has to die here; surely her independent spirit is fearful, too, and not without reason.  But she closes her eyes and we know she’s taking the plunge, and we wish her well.

“Pulp Fiction” (1994), dir. Quentin Tarantino

  • From Tarantino’s criminal mayhem to Hitchcock’s equally unnerving pulp fiction, with a tragic ending

“Vertigo” (1958), dir. Alfred Hitchcock

  • Judy Barton, Thelma Dickinson, Louise Sawyer, all gone

“Thelma and Louise” (1991), dir. Ridley Scott

  • “Thelma and Louise” drew many comparisons to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” especially in their similar endings: we see our heroes only up until the moment before death, as we wish to remember them

“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969), dir. George Roy Hill

  • Sometimes in movies, bullets are discharged mercilessly into our favorite characters, and sometimes we have to endure watching it

“King Kong” (1933), dir. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack

  • No explanation needed, but I love the musical crescendo that begins each clip, as Kong ascends to the very top of the Empire State Building
  • Black-and-white Kong climbed into a trap by ascending the Empire State Building, but he didn’t see any airplanes until he reached the top; Jackson’s Kong is fired upon while still climbing, so his defiant ascent to the tip of the tower is not just an improvised escape from bullets but a delicious defiance; this Kong knows what his enemy can throw at him, and still he gets right into place, roaring that he’s ready; and we feel his angry confidence, even if we know better

“King Kong” (2005), dir. Peter Jackson

  • Gotta go back to New York, of course!  And King Kong has stood atop three of the structures shown in this clip.

“Gangs of New York” (2002), dir. Martin Scorsese

  • Two movies in which people are drenched in violence and speak of disappearing from history
  • “Dances With Wolves” is the first in a short series of clips all dealing to one degree or another with the violence of racial discrimination (though we shouldn’t forget the anti-Irish violence in “Gangs of New York”)

“Dances With Wolves” (1990), dir. Kevin Costner

  • In “Dunkirk”, racism is not a theme but we never forget the racism that produced Nazism; Churchill speaks in “Dunkirk” of the New World coming to the rescue of the Old, and these are genuinely stirring words, but in mid-20th century Europe as in the old American West, only a remnant of the targeted peoples survived

“Dunkirk” (2017), dir. Christopher Nolan

  • Humanity at its worst is still relentlessly worth watching; that’s the astonishing achievement of “Downfall”

“Downfall” (2004), dir. Oliver Hirschbiegel

  • The conclusion of “Amistad” gives us a positive moment from the century that saw chattel slavery recede worldwide, just a moment in the enduring history of racism

“Amistad” (1997), dir. Steven Spielberg

  • Racism exemplified in the 20th century, in South Africa;
  • and a list, scrolled before the ending credits, that’s unforgettable

“Cry Freedom” (1987), dir. Richard Attenborough

  • The song used for the ending credits to “Cry Freedom”, by George Fenton and Jonas Gwangwa; give this one a listen

  • The clip below is called “The Ongoing Fight for Equality”, and it is aptly named, featuring a montage that jumps from the early 1970s to the Trump administration

“BlacKkKlansman” (2018), dir. Spike Lee

  • From one Spike Lee joint to another

“25th Hour” (2002), dir. Spike Lee

  • Each of these movies gives the main character an extended dream-like glimpse into an alternative life; both clips are about living a life of love for family and community, but tragically in 25th Hour that good life is a mere dream whereas in “It’s A Wonderful Life” that life is real and has been lived; George Bailey is threatened with jail but gets a reprieve; Monty Brogan will go to jail, must go; and Monty’s father, describing the dream vision as if it were real, says to his son ironically that he will be happy in this new life that “came so close to never happening”

“It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946), dir. Frank Capra

  • George Bailey and Richard Kimble (both exceptionally good-hearted men) are given reprieves from jail; George is showered in love while Richard has lost everything, including a beloved wife; Richard wins, at the end, only an unsentimental but crucial show of human service from the very man who’d been trying to capture him; for both George and Richard the human service comes unexpectedly, from people unlooked for; George surely thought of his friends, as Richard says, “I thought you didn’t care”

“The Fugitive” (1993), dir. Andrew Davis

  • Richard Kimble is about as battered and bruised as Daniel LaRusso; both have to get up repeatedly to win vindication
  • LaRusso has to endure a win-at-all-costs cheater; Kimble is forced to expose a cheat in the pharmaceuticals industry, Dr. Charles Nichols, who is responsible for the murder of Kimble’s wife and for the near-execution of Kimble himself
  • Johnny Lawrence, defeated at the end, extends words of friendship to Danny (it’s really Johnny’s sensei who’s the bad guy here), and there is nothing like that in “The Fugitive”, though Lieutenant Gerard does extend an unlooked-for reconciliation, and brief words of friendliness, to Kimble

“The Karate Kid” (1984), dir. John G. Avildsen

  • You want another happy ending?  You say you want this one to have Ewoks?  Easily done.

“Return of the Jedi” (1983), dir. Richard Marquand

  • We’ve seen a few remakes already, let’s see another by George Lucas

  • from the Force ghosts we go to the ethereal and equally beautiful sketches of the characters in “Lord of the Rings”

“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003), dir. Peter Jackson

  • We stick with Tolkien and Jackson

“The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies” (2014), dir. Peter Jackson

  • From one fire-breathing dragon to another

“Godzilla vs. Kong” (2021), dir. Adam Wingard

  • Godzilla goes by the title of King of the Monsters; Kong is his own King; and now we go back to the real-life king of the beasties

“The Lion King” (1994)

  • kings just like to to roar, if they can, so let’s see what Tyrannosaurus Rex’s roar may have sounded like (Disney, by the way, gave us their roaring king just a year after Spielberg did his thing with Rexy)

“Jurassic Park” (1993), dir. Steven Spielberg

  • Spielberg directed both movies, and there are many obvious parallels, too numerous to list completely.
  • We may see jaws crushing victims in both scenes, but the clips nevertheless feel completely different; when a vicious, CGI-velociraptor learns who’s boss in his world, it’s immense fun to watch, but what happens on Quint’s little boat, the Orca, is horrifying and tragic; maybe my opinion would be something else, if I were a velociraptor
  • In “Jaws,” it’s a pure contest of strength between men and other species; Spielberg begins to question this in “Jurassic Park”, though at heart JP is still a monster movie characterized by a lot of running and screaming, and a body count just as high as that in “Jaws”

“Jaws” (1975), dir. Steven Spielberg

  • We remember Brody taking aim with his harpoon gun as we see one Rebel soldier taking close aim at Vader and commanding his squad to “open fire”; but in the latter it’s a futile effort; these men are hunted and slaughtered down to the last, and the predator is practically invincible

“Rogue One” (2016), dir. Gareth Edwards

  • from the Death Star to our own weapons of planetary destruction
  • from Leia we go to Kennedy’s similar notes of hope
  • the ultimate sacrifice made by the Rogue One team has no real counterpart in “Thirteen Days,” but there is a moving tribute by Kennedy to Major Rudolf Anderson, who became the only U.S. fatality by enemy fire during the Cuban Missile Crisis when he was shot down over Cuba in his U-2 reconnaissance aircraft

“Thirteen Days” (2000), dir. Roger Donaldson

  • the world reprieved from self-destruction in 1962 goes on to a fictional but hopeful first encounter with beings from another world

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977), dir. Steven Spielberg

  • two clips bathed in hopeful tones about humanity and its heights; about possibilities, and unharmful striving

“Chariots of Fire” (1981), dir. Hugh Hudson

  • From Vangelis we go to a similar and far older composition, Richard Wagner’s “Vorspiel”, from the music drama “Das Rheinbold” (part of “The Ring of the Nibelungen”)

“The New World” (2005), dir. Terrence Malick

  • two clips in which a father speaks about his deceased wife to their son; and in both, the father and son take a ship (offscreen) across the Atlantic
  • the mother, Pocahontas, closes her eyes, as the movie foreshadows her death; Newland Archer closes his eyes as he remembers his former love
  • innocence is a theme in the first clip – innocence in the main protagonist (Pocahontas), and innocence in the New World; the other movie is about an Age of Innocence but in a much more complicated and perhaps ironic sense
  • nostalgia and memory are also themes; in both endings we see a figure as she was in the past, and this vision is given as our final impression of her

“The Age of Innocence” (1993), dir. Martin Scorsese

  • At this point I had only one movie conclusion left to include in my playlist and I put it in this spot randomly, so there’s no transition, just a small coincidence: Newland Archer says to himself that he’s only 57 years old, and that happens to be the age of the gentleman in the next clip

“A Man For All Seasons” (1966), dir. Fred Zinnemann

This clip from “A Man For All Seasons” is the last of the movie-endings.  Everything below is a movie cliffhanger/intermission.

  • Thomas More speaks of Christ, surely a man for all seasons in the sense used here, of a person of unshakeable principle, guided by God alone even unto death
  • More speaks of Christ “whilst he lived and was personally present here on Earth”

“Jesus of Nazareth” (1977 miniseries), directed by Franco Zeffirelli for American television

  • 1,800 years after Christ raises Lazarus, men are still assembling armies to kill one another.  But the clip below, if not one of the greatest depictions of brotherly friendship, is a moment of work by better angels.

“North and South, Book I” (1985 miniseries ), created by David L. Wolper for American television

  • From the eve of the American Civil War we go two years forward to its deadliest and most famous battle, and a moment of near-disaster for the Union Army on a little round hill

“Gettysburg” (1993), dir. Ronald F. Maxwell

  • A little later, after the destruction of Atlanta, the end of the war seems no closer for Scarlett O’Hara, and she has something to say about it

“Gone With the Wind” (1939), dir. Victor Fleming

  • Kenneth Branagh’s intermission sequence in “Hamlet” was compared by at least one critic to Scarlett O’Hara’s scene, perhaps most obviously because the camera slowly draws back in both while dramatic music plays to a crescendo that ends in the movie’s intermission;
  • and in both scenes, we’ve got the central character taking a violent vow of sorts; Scarlett determines that she will kill if she must do so (and she does, in the second half of the movie); and Hamlet has been charged with killing, though he is very different from Scarlett and avoids killing for as long as he possibly can, with tragic consequences

“Hamlet” (1996), dir. Kenneth Branagh

  • From Hamlet’s “dull revenge” we go to Ahab’s monomaniacal mission, almost never slowed down by hesitation

“Moby Dick” (2011 miniseries), produced by Tele München Gruppe for American television

  • Ahab seeks revenge on the whale who “dismasted” him, making him less than human, as Ahab sees it, by taking off his leg; now we see the original injury done to Captain Picard who will, in a later Star Trek movie (“First Contact”), seek revenge on his former captors, expressly channeling Ahab and invoking Melville’s novel by name

“The Best of Both Worlds, Part I” (1990), the cliffhanger that ended the third television season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

  • From interspecies conflict we go to another clip in space, but one of pure work, hope, progress

“Spider” (1998), directed by Graham Yost as episode 5 of HBO’s 12-part television docudrama, “From the Earth To the Moon”

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