'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' (Milos Forman, 1975)
There's a scene at the end of the film that captures the whole story. This Dionysian figure, McMurphy is throwing a debauched farewell party, which is his final passing blow to the mental hospital before he makes his escape. Another record goes on and he's sloping off to get the window key from the janitor when he's stopped by another inmate, young, stammering Billy, who wants McMurphy to help him set up a date with one of the girls at the party. He does this for Billy and then he goes to the window and he sits there. There's this close-up shot on him waiting, and as it continues to hold it becomes quite unsettling. Initially there's a slight glow that he's winning and then as the shot progresses there's a sinking feeling that the momentum of the escape is grinding to a halt. His face is an astonishing mixture of looking completely empty of thought and deeply contemplative. The shot is very grainy and dark and this makes his face appear frozen. We are being drawn deeper and deeper into this chap at the same time as he's inscrutable. Here's the wonderful ambiguity and ambivalence of McMurphy's character: he's basically in the institution for being a rapist, but he's stopped to accommodate Billy's desire. There's such a sense of humanity here.
'The Shawshank Redemption' (Frank Darabont, 1994)
This is also a bittersweet film, but its end scene compromises the blend. There are three scenes that should really have been just the one. We get to a moment where it's the individual and soul of this one man, Andy, versus the prison. He escapes; the inmates are telling stories about him and it cuts to Andy saying: "but sometimes life gets a bit drab for me. I just miss my friends." That is the end of the story and should be the end of the film: it's perfect. But then his closest friend is surprisingly released. The friend reads a letter from Andy that says, "hope is a good thing, and hope never dies", and he goes to find Andy, saying, "I hope to see my friend again, I hope... For Christ's sake!" The third scene is when the two friends meet again. These last two scenes feel tagged on. If it wasn't such a good film then the whole thing would have come apart because of this ending.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies