Really the possibilities are endless because those final moments in a film are often quite striking. The Big Chill came to mind almost immediately. “We're not leaving. We're never leaving.” – those are the final words of the film (said by Jeff Goldblum), and taking into consideration the two hours that have gone before we don’t really want to leave either. In fact, the words could be taken into account for any good movie – we never really want to leave it. When Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn part in The Lion in Winter we get the sense that the journey’s not over yet even though the credits roll. Both Eleanor and Henry still have a significant amount of fight left in them. As Eleanor says, “I hope we never die!” I remember the end of Atonement with sadness – not Vanessa’s monologue but the imagined ending of Robbie and Cecilia on the beach. It’s my favourite shot in the film, that ending – and it’s not real.
If there’s something Joe Wright does that’s significant with Atonement’s end it’s the lack of speech. It doesn’t end with a tongue-in-cheek line or a pithy remark. It’s a series of images that makes it good, like the brilliance of Stephen Frears with the ending in Dangerous Liaisons. That final shot of her in the mirror frantically cleaning her face will never NOT be haunting.
In the end, I settle on the inspirational ending. I’m thoroughly fond of On the Waterfront and even though Kazan’s intention seems the slightest bit sugary I still love it. Malloy has testified in court against Johnny Friendly and he heads down to the waterfront to line up with the men. He gets beat up, roughly so, and he gets up – bloody and broken – to stand up with the men. It works for many reasons – Kazan doesn’t shy away from the brutal, Brando is just brilliant and Lee J. Cobb’s dastardly mob boss in the background all combines to make this the final scene that I consider a favourite.
This is all for the MEME.