Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Death List Part 4

Continuation of the Death List series:

"You know, Books; I'm not an especially brave man. But, if I were you and had lived my entire life the way you have, I don't think that the death I just described to you is not the one I would choose." ~ Dr. E.W. Hostetler (The Shootist)
It is a sobering point of fact that everyone dies (and I'm not very crazy about highlighting that actuality, neither) -- I guess you could reference the Lost finale if you want to get any solace out of it. We all have a start date (which most of us are aware of) and an end date (the something we are blissfully ignorant about). Even if we could, many of us wouldn't particularly want to learn anything specific about that latter rendezvous with the Reaper, in any case. But certainly, just about everyone would want it pushed back to the furthermost point in the future, that's for sure. I guess there is something to said about the core beliefs of Buddhism, with all apologies to my Catholic mother and wife.

On the big (or small) screen, we have all seen moments in movies when the protagonist gets to chose that specific end date because the story demands it. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, there are times when self sacrifice is the only way to solve a particularly tough problem for the hero. A greater good is to be gained, and other lives to be saved, byway of the principal character's martyrdom. Nonetheless, there are other instances when the situation laid out before the man or woman of the hour where there isn't much to attained, at all. The protagonist is not given a chance for his death to mean more beyond her/his own situation. At those times, it's more personal. The hero is going to die in the piece... and nothing is going to prevent that. Even so, for a small set of films the character does get to impact the circumstances of their own demise and leave their own distinct mark on the final outcome. Here then, in no particular order, is my Going Out on Your Own Terms list.

[Spoiler Alert: keys plot points are revealed below]

  • The Shootist - J.B. Book: instead of dying a slow, painful death to cancer, Book schedules his final date with those who'd try and make a gunfighting name for themselves (or revenge themselves against him). The invitation to take their best shot was never better used. You could not have written a better exit for the character, nor for John Wayne for that matter.
  • The Thing - R.J. MacReady: in a story that epitomizes paranoia and mistrust, and after practically leveling the American Antarctic research station in an effort to kill the creature that can absorb and assume the identity any living being, MacReady realizes the futility of all that. Fittingly, he shares his final moments (and drink) with the last of his cohorts.
  • Ride The High Country - Steve Judd: aging ex-lawman Judd (mortally wounded by story's end) chooses to die alone after he and old friend Westrum fight off the wrathful miners in pursuit of them. The last shot in the film happens to be one of the iconic images in the western film genre.
  • Thelma and Louis - like who else am I going to put here?: is there a more affecting act of friendship than when these two hold hands and drive off together rather than being arrested and imprisoned? Perhaps... but this one will certainly do for now.
  • Vanishing Point - Kowalski: the car delivery driver, after driving across four states like a bat out of hell, decides that his freedom (given his life to that point) is worth more to him than getting caught by a corrupt establishment. Hence, the looming pair of bulldozers used to block the road of his speeding Dodge Challenger are only an existential obstacle.
  • Fists of Fury (titled The Chinese Connection in U.S.) - Chen Zhen: after being arrested for killing those responsible for the nefarious death of his martial arts master, Chen makes his last defiant act a flying charge against the occupying army soldiers (as they shoot our hero). The ending in this film is one of the more underrated examples of the freeze frame in cinema history, IMO.
  • Leaving Las Vegas - Ben Sanderson: with Ben being an alcoholic (and with that fact having removed everything dear to him), he decides to drink himself to death in the one city that seems tailor-made for making that exit even more fitting. "Wow."
  • Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia - Bennie: for whatever reasons Bennie took on the job of finding the man who impregnated a powerful family's daughter out of wedlock, our hero finally settles on completing the task in memory of the woman he loves (and for causing her death, taking out as many of those responsible for starting the whole bloody affair in the first place).
  • All That Jazz - Joe Gideon: while dying in his hospital bed (after years of habitual self-abuse, overwork, and sex with all sorts of women), Joe masterfully directs and choreographs his last moments of life in his head. He'll leave no stone or emotion unturned, as well as adding all sorts of fantastical musical and dance numbers along the way, as he goes out the door for his final date in his courtship with the Angel of Death.
  • Blade Runner - Roy Batty: as his pre-programmed existence ebbs, the leader of the small contingent of rebelling replicants decides life is too precious to waste, even that of his enemies. His last act is to mercifully save Deckard's life, and prove that he was more than just a construct.

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  1. Good call on VANISHING POINT and BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA -- two my personal faves. Another one is BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID. Even though, technically they don't show them buying it, one assumes that the outlaws go out in a blaze of glory. I guess THE WILD BUNCH might also fit the bill as well. William Holden and Co., at the end, must know that they aren't going to make it out alive but decide that they are going to take as many people with them!

  2. Good call on The Wild Bunch. I certainly would agree that Pike and Co. had to know they weren't making it out alive as they went to reclaim their friend. I always reckoned Butch and Sundance thought they get out of that last situation, though. Still, it is a blaze of glory that they exit with. You always bring up some great additions, J.D. Thanks for this.

  3. I've always been fond of Cody Jarrett's farewell in WHITE HEAT: "Made it, Ma. Top of the world!" KABOOM!

  4. <span>That</span> is one great exit, Naomi. Thanks for adding to this.