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Famous Last Words

Movie Buffs Pick Their Favorite Endings

[Spoilers are in bold]

All sorts of endings are for me a source of high anxiety. So I would like to meet death with the composure of Bette Davis in the final moments of Dark Victory. It would be good to have a little warning— five minutes of blindness, say, before the brain tumor strikes its fatal blow— as, with glamorous humility, I pack my husband's suitcase, send him off, plant some flowers, and retire to feel my life dissolving in one huge glorious fade-out. — LESLIE CAMHI

Favorite ending: Salo, in which two fascist soldiers have just witnessed unspeakable horror and torture when they look at each other and suddenly start slow-dancing. Pasolini's masterpiece. — JOHN WATERS (Pecker)

At the close of Peeping Tom, Michael Powell's disturbing ode to scopophilia and filmmaking, Mark Lewis (Karl Boehm), the homicidal man with the movie camera, turns his camera on the cops, filming their arrival. The climax becomes a brilliant job of double mise-en-scène: Powell's mise-en-scène of Mark's mise-en-scène of his own suicide. He clips the camera and tripod to the wall, impales himself, and films his own death. Mark's Kodak surveys the corpse. His extraordinary funeral rites include: the police sirens, the explosion of flashbulbs, the tangle of screams and sobs of his guinea-pig childhood recorded on tape, and, above all, the voice of Mark-as-a-child (played by one of Powell's own sons) telling his father (played by Powell): "Good night, Daddy, hold my hand." The ending is the most moving scene in this powerful film, but whether Peeping Tom is giving us crime as mise-en-scène or mise-en-scène as crime is something for each individual voyeur in the audience to ponder. — ELLIOTT STEIN

Vertigo:for whom the bell tolls
James Kaston
Vertigo:for whom the bell tolls

Videodrome:A totally abstract and totally emotional ending, mysterious and obvious at the same time, and so incredibly brave. This was not about moviemaking; it was about politics, true radical politics.

— OLIVIER ASSAYAS (Late August, Early September, 1999)

In The Lady Eve, con artist Barbara Stanwyck selects bumbling rich guy Henry Fonda as the perfect mark, but falls in love with him instead. He discovers the scam, flees, and she plots his comeuppance. Ill-disguised, with a phony English accent, she seduces him a second time; absurdly, he doesn't know it's her. "I hardly recognized him, either," she says sadly. "It's because we don't love each other any more." When they find each other a third time, they recognize each other at last, with no disguises, offscreen, in the dark. — JUSTINE ELIAS

Movie endings are always sad for me, a forced reintroduction to the outside even when they work and please as "film." I like movies that end with the promise of a worthwhile sequel or films whose momentum ends in a kind of stasis; think Tarkovsky's Solaris. The movie ending that comes clearest to mind just now doesn't technically exist, being the end of an unfinished, advance print of Blade. The cgi-jocks weren't done with the effects, so the film ended with Wesley Snipes and Stephen Dorff taking their final, climactic-conflict poses just before the words "To Be Continued" slammed onto the screen. I liked how they actually ended Blade, but I keep coming back to that other moment, the way it suggested a movie that never stopped, a movie perfect in its incompleteness and therefore never able to disappoint.

— GARY DAUPHIN

The Searchers: The ending implies that John Wayne's character is always rejected from home and will always be exiled. Very powerful! The Eclipse:A sequence of empty shots at the end of the film revisits many of the locations seen earlier; suddenly, one realizes this film is not about Monica Vitti or Alain Delon, but about the place they live in. — WONG KAR-WAI (Happy Together, Fallen Angels)

At the end of Keaton's Sherlock Jr. , Buster, in a movie projection booth with the girl he loves, glances at the movie screen for tips on lovemaking. The hero passionately kisses the leading lady. Buster gives his girl a quick peck on the cheek. The movie hero produces an engagement ring. Buster timidly follows suit. The movie dissolves to find the hero bouncing a pair of twins on his knee. A bewildered, blank-faced Buster scratches his head. The End. — BRUCE GOLDSTEIN (Director of Repertory Programming, Film Forum)

Whether it sneaks up on you or smacks you in the face, a great movie ending resonates in a way that suggests it is the only resolution there could ever be for the events that preceded it, and yet is never so obviously decisive as to actually feel like closure. Think of Julianne Moore's hesitant, heartbreaking declarations of self-love in Safe, or any number of Mike Leigh grace notes, or Pierrot le Fou's unforgettable explosion/camera-pan/last-line sucker punch ("Eternity? . . . No, it's just the sea . . . and the sun"). The first movie ending that struck me as a great movie ending remains an iconic crystallization of film noir's glorious toughness: Alida Valli's to-camera snub of hopeless, deluded Joseph Cotten in The Third Man. Leaving the Vienna cemetery for the second time in the film, she walks straight past him without a word. Stranded in the periphery of the frame, he watches her just long enough to see that she isn't about to turn back, then lights a cigarette, tossing away the match in disgust. And not a moment too soon, that damn zither music finally stops. — DENNIS LIM

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