Wednesday, 2 March 2011

“Someone has to die...”

Like in real life, deaths are a given in movies. Even if it’s one of those comedies where the death is extraneous – and off-screen, it’s still there. Some distant relative dies so the hero can inherit some important piece of land, or whatnot. Death scenes are a different thing; it’s sometimes difficult to show the act of death without seeming too heavy-handed. And then, sometimes it’s difficult to make that heavy-handedness work for your film. Most often we think of cinematic deaths in relation to tragic deaths of the main characters. Here’s an Introduction to my course in Cinematic Death; Death 101, if you will.
Spoilers ahead, naturally.
Death 1.1: The Ridiculous
(Key Contributors: Brad Pitt, Ethan and Joel Coen)
(Secondary Parties: George Clooney)
It’s probably wrong to think of death as a funny thing, but that’s essentially what the Coen’s are begging us to do. I will champion the atypical brilliance that is Burn After Reading until my dying day, it comprises one bit of crazy after another and though the death in question refers to the death of the film’s best character there’s no way to ignore the hilarity found in Chad’s death midway through the film.

Death 1.2: The Beautiful
(Key Contributors: Franco Zeffreli, Olivia Hussey, Leonardo Whiting)
People are not particularly beautiful in death, but Shakespeare’s not exactly working on logistics in Romeo & Juliet and neither is Zeffrelli for that matter. Suicide is painful, and unfortunate and tragic – but is there any way to deny the beauty in that shot? Olivia Hussey and Leonardo Whiting are kind of brilliant in that way – best casting in a Shakespearean adaptation.

Death 1.3: The Depressing
(Key Contributors: Anthony Minghella, Kristin Scott Thomas)
(Secondary Parties: Ralph Fiennes, Gabriel Yared)
There a number of deaths in The English Patient, but there’s something especially important about the expiration of Katherine Clifton. It’s probably a puzzle in itself to decide where the actual “death” begins. In a film of highly quotable characters, Katherine probably wins if only because her closing monologue in the cave is so lovely. What makes the death so much more depressing is the reality that it could have been avoided had it not been for something as inane as racism. That scene with Almasay carrying her out of the cave (aided by Yared’s score) is just perfect.

Death 1.4: The Gruesome
(Key Contributors: Matt Damon, Anthony Minghella)
(Secondary Parties): Jack Davenport, Gabriel Yared)
It was pure happenstance having two Minghella films turn up here (though my love for him is true). The odd thing about the death in question here is that it depends on the person dying but the person perpetrating it. Damon is so brilliant as Ripley here and that chilling closing to the film is disturbing, and gruesome not so much because of Peter dying but because Tom is so distraught by it. Of course, Jack Davenport with his self-effacing Peter is important as is Gabriel Yared’s brilliant score (I like to think of the 90s version of Alexandre Desplat).

Death 1.5: The Sanguine
(Key Contributors: Tim Burton, Albert Finney)
(Secondary Parties: Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, Danny DeVito et al)
It’s weird thinking of any death as positive, but that’s just one of the weirdly great things about Big Fish – one of those odd films which manages to be better than its novel. Finney is so excellent here, and his death brings a sort of peace to the film. He’s managed to get his story off his chest and the moment is so much more profound because finally the father and son can stand on common ground and when the entire cast shows up for that moment at the lake at the end it’s just brilliant.
Which of these deaths strike you as most memorable? What would appear on your own list?


MovieNut14 said...

Oh, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Thank you, Matt Damon, for scaring the hell out of me with your performance. And you so should've been nominated for it too.

5plitreel said...

THAT shizle was crazy in Burn After Reading. I was watching it at home and like two seconds before Pitt got his head blown off I had to pause since my brother who was visiting showed up and had to open the door. I've was shocked when I continued, like what the hell happened. I think I missed out on the funny becaus of that : -(

TomS said...

The English Patient was haunting...and Mr. Ripley was shocking and sad...

Wow, I have so much material on this topic, I may ask your permission to cite you and run one of my own.

I think that the most significant death in movie history might just be Janet that obscure little Hitchcock thriller.... it broke so many rules and it influenced movies for decades to come. Still does!

Peter Chan said...

Yeah, I was so awestruck that I didn't know to react to Tom killing Peter in 'Talented Mr. Ripley'. That one really stuck with me.

Jose said...

I say kill 'em all!
I think you forgot to mention "the gay" in your list. This might just be my thesis speaking (damn grad school!) but homosexual characters are among the most killed or dead in Hollywood history.

Anyway, my "fave" was Ripley' feaking awesome. I was terrified he'd go and kill our poor Cate afterwards...

Castor said...

After seen Burn After Reading yet but heard some great things about Brad Pitt's death. Heck, I might just check out the movie just for it! ;)

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

anna lodown dirty shame that didn't get matt a nomination at least.

5plitreel well, it was a shocking death.

tom ooh, go, go, go. i want to start a death revolution (ha ha). that TEP death IS haunting (as is the final death scene, ugh, love that movie.)

OH SNAP, peter i didn't even realise you were back. woohoo. (and yes tom and peter was a disconcerting moment.)

jose isn't cate just perfect as meredith, though?

(how IS your essay going? i have stakes invested in your success at grad school ;)...maybe.)

castor brad pitt is BRILLIANT in this movie. i kid you not, it's comedic gold (as is the entrire cast really - clonney, swinton, malkovich, jenkins, mcdormand.)

Fitz said...

I found most of the deaths to be uncomfortable in Burn After Reading.

rtm said...

Well I'll be the first to say that the Romeo & Juliet one is the most memorable one of all. I mean, in the words of your beloved Kate Winslet herself... "... to die for love? What could be more glorious?" Plus Olivia Hussey & Leonard Whiting put Claire & Leo to shame.