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🎬 #26 How To End a Film.
If you nail the ending of even a relatively ok film - it can transform the overall experience of everything you’ve just seen. It can elevate everything that’s happened beyond what it once was in your mind. This is also a handy definition for a great twist. As Nolan once said - a good twist, ‘makes everything you’ve just seen better, not worse.’ This week we’re going to take a look at two films that absolutely land the ending and make everything you’ve seen, better.
And I promise I won’t spoil the endings either.
Happy choosing, happy viewing
FILM ONE: STALKER
1979 Dir Andrei Tarkovsky
I love stories that attempt to reach for something bigger - even if they fail. The concept of Stalker is one of my favourites in all of science fiction. A Stalker is a guide who leads people through The Zone, a mysterious place tightly guarded by the military, to a room which supposedly grants wishes to those who enter it. A tight, mysterious premise that sets up what essentially amounts to a quest film. The two men lead by the Stalker are equally mysterious - their intentions or what their wishes will be when they get into the room are only revealed once they get there.
Of course this premise would be handled very differently in another filmmaker’s hands. Tarkovsky builds the atmosphere of the time and place that are also an unknown. Using his signature poetry, midshots and close-ups of nature - this is a study of human’s place in it. This is a languid, beautiful vista of a space and a journey that is as enticing as it is mysterious. Stalker came out the same year as Ridley Scott’s Alien and both films share that used industrial future aesthetic.
Famously, Tarkovsky shot or partly shot the film multiple times for various reasons - one of which was the result of the film negative being partly destroyed and another was for errors in treating the filmstock. Though some people speculate that he just wanted to try it over and over again to get the vision he had in his mind onto celluloid. Sadly it’s also speculated that this film literally killed him. The industrial wastelands he constantly steeped himself in potentially a cause of the disease that ended his life.
There is a patina to this environment that only Tarkovsky can muster. Even if you can’t logically follow the actions or motivations within the story, you fall deep into the worlds that he’s created. And Stalker is no different. Once you’re in The Zone it’s hard to escape its pull. It lures you in with a promise that is more than fulfilled by the ending, even if you’re not entirely sure what’s going on. In one shot, the mystery of the story, the place, the characters isn’t clarified its only deepened. The enigmatic-ness of the moment seals the entire premise and leaves you wanting to know more. The entire experience of watching the film is worth it, if only to gawk in awe at that final moment.
TL;DR why should I spend 2 hr 43 mins of my precious life watching this? Take a journey into The Zone, into the mind of one of the most unique filmmakers of the 20th century, and indulge in that final, powerful image.
*Available for a small rental fee on Google Play, YouTube, Amazon, Apple, Sky Store and Curzon. Also if you’re in London it’s playing at the Prince Charles cinema this weekend. The best place to see it is on the big screen.
Fact: The film was a touch point for Alex Garland’s Annihilation.
FILM TWO: SOUND OF MY VOICE
2011 Dir Zal Batmanglij
I enjoyed this film but felt at times that its premise was more interesting than its execution and then came the ending. It made all the doubts in my mind disappear and delivers on the central debate set-up in the film. That debate is around whether or not a cult leader who claims to be from the future, is actually from the future. An intriguing premise and one that puts the story in motion, as two documentary filmmakers attempt to infiltrate the cult that follows her and find out if it’s all lies or not.
The film toys with the differing perspectives and beliefs of the characters within it - the story tetering between disbelief and all out fanaticism. The conflict comes from the different intentions that are exposed between the filmmaking partnership as the story unravels. Like Stalker there is a huge theme of faith, of belief in something that feels impossible.
There is also a blankness to the settings within the film that make it feel unearthly. In this void anything seems like it might be true. As a viewer we flit, as the the characters do, between going along with the story, almost wanting it to be true and thinking it’s all lies. Then the ending comes and satisfies beyond what we had expected and leaves the film way more successful than perhaps it started out.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 27 mins of my precious life watching this? Become a cult member and debate whether or not your leader is telling the truth and wonder at the vastness implied by such a ‘small’ film.
*Available for a small rental fee on Google Play, YouTube, Amazon, Apple, Sky Store.
Fact: The writer of the film also plays the cult leader, Maggie.
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