A Tale of Two Films with Gutsy Endings

I’ve recently seen both Call My By Your Name and A Quiet Place, which I loved for very different reasons. The real clincher, though, one of the things which sticks out in both films and which I submit is unusual today, is in the final moments.

Final moments in films can be clever and quotable (Gone with the Wind), twisty (Planet of the Apes), bittersweet (Roman Holiday), odd (Safety Not Guaranteed), mysterious (Inception), despairing (The Empire Strikes Back), setting up a sequel/spinoff (every superhero movie), subversive (The Graduate), heart-affirming (Little Women), stirring (Creed), ominous (Notorious), beautiful for their own sake (Ocean’s 11), etc etc.

But most endings of what we consider mainstream films either have a large leadup to the romance / thrilling moment / witty ending line, or are deliberately leaning into some grander, continuing story. (Whether the grander thing is a sequel, a slew of internet thinkpieces, or a ‘happily ever after’ we the audience will go talk about or imagine or write fanfic of, depends on our predilections.) Many endings are also inherently tweakable, whether via edits or reshoots, and often after the studio conducts test screenings to decide what the studio really thinks.

What both Call Me By Your Name and A Quiet Place do is make their ending a Statement. The endings involve a signifiant emotional shift, can be quite polarising, fit with the tone of the piece but have no significant in-film lead-in, and boldly leave no other options for the editing room. They pick a Moment, build their ending around it, and stick it hard. Yes the endings are wildly different, in tone and execution, but what is the same is how at the last possible moment they make the audience sit up, take notice, and then cut out.

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In Call Me By Your Name, it’s the barrelling of the camera. The novel’s last line has the first-person narrator addressing the reader. In the film, the last scene is an incredible four minute scene where Timothée Chalamet as Elio sits by the fire and just . . . feels. It’s intense, it’s stunning, it’s beautiful. Then at the death, his mother calls Elio’s name: Elio looks straight at the audience for a few moments, breaking the wall for the first time, before he gets up to leave.

The film has had no voiceover, no description of inner monologue, no asking the audience a direct question, but suddenly we’re implicated, and the moment brings home how unreliable a narrator Elio may have been, even if he hasn’t been directly narrating to us, he’s been guiding this story, and now he’s acknowledging us as people he’s been acting for and telling to.

At the end of A Quiet Place, [SO MANY SPOILER warnings!] the final scene climaxes in a sequence almost exactly the same length [04:43] where Evelyn and Regan manage to kill one of the monsters. But doing so makes a loud noise, and the CCTV monitors show the remaining two creatures running towards the house. Evelyn looks at Regan, who turns the radio knobs to 11. The last thing we see is maybe a 5 second solo shot on Evelyn as she stares towards the entry the monsters will crash through, before she loudly chambers another round.

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Now, technically, both these films could have managed to work in different endings. Call Me By Your Name could have simply cut away before the fourth wall was broken. A Quiet Place going a wildly different direction would have surely required reshoots, but there’s always looking at the screens and seeing nothing, or a deus ex machina where the government game over the radio, or something of the sort.

But in reality, both endings only work exactly as they are. Elio looks into our eyes, then turns away. Evelyn loudly pumps the gun, and we know one way or the other her silence has come to an end. Then both cut to black. You can’t fake, edit around, cut out, or lessen the power of these moments. In the writing and then execution of the final shots, the filmmakers wholly committed to one course of action, and then bet absolutely everything on the actors being able to sell it.

Sell it they do. Chalamet sells it wholly on acting, and you can feel that’s the sort of take where cast and crew are quiet and humbled to be in the room. Blunt can act, of course, and her body language changing through the course of the film’s final third is masterful, but she’s selling the ending on an entirely different currency: because she has a history as a movie star.

I mean, we have all seen this:

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Blunt is a massive part of sparking a deserved hard-core following of Edge of Tomorrow, which leans on her arms and also into the ‘chick who is underestimated but saves the world’ and Big Fucking Sword things. She completely anchored Sicario, a film which managed both action and Academy award nominations. She is meme-ably mentioned in the same breath as James Bond [full disclosure: I stan for this]. She is a not just a marketable movie star with broad taste, she’s one of the few women who can get top billing as an action star, against anyone including Tom Cruise. That’s a hell of a lot of clout and film capital.

Yet, part of what makes A Quiet Place work is the film doesn’t traffic in her action-hero-ness until the bitter end. It could easily say “you know she’s a badass, also John Krasinski has a big beard, so they are clearly going to be able to fight their way out,” but it doesn’t. The movie puts a fairly normal rural family in an impossible situation and makes them fight with their wits. It also does really interesting things with traditional gender roles, particularly in the context of this sort of genre film [which would take an entirely different essay], and Evelyn has spent most of the film in compromising positions; heavily pregnant, hurt, unable to reach her husband and children at the end.

But when she holds that gun and stares into the darkness, we believe she will be able to conquer because we have already seen her do some superhuman things to protect her four children . . . and because she’s Emily Motherfucking Blunt. It’s an ending which at first takes you by total, jarring surprise, and then the more you think about it, the more it was staring you in the face the whole time, both from within the film’s text and without it.

If either of these actors hadn’t nailed this last split second, the films wouldn’t be nearly as effective. These endings are do-or-die; once shot, they are locked in, you’re committed. That’s got to be a bit terrifying; at least in comparison to most of their commercial competition, both endings are risky as hell. The last impression you’re giving the audience before they go be your word-of-mouth, the last moment you leave the Academy Award voters, is unconventional and shifts the way you may look at the entirety of the film.

In both cases, the gamble doesn’t just work, it elevates the films, and in recontextualising what’s gone before, makes them even more worthy of revisiting. 

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