Almost everyone who watches movies, makes movies, writes about movies, or is simply asked about movies will agree that a movie needs a good beginning. Like a sports team that scores within the first few minutes of a game, a film that gets off to a good start has a vastly improved chance of holding on to some success right through to the ending credits.
But it is also true that the ending of a film can be as – if not more- important than its beginning. Take, for example, 2014’s Birdman. Long anticipated, and soaring on an unstoppable current of award nominations, Birdman was both thematically and cinematically ambitious.
The inescapable tension created by the one-continuous-shot shooting style, the claustrophobia of the theatre’s backstage environment, the frenetic drum soundtrack, the blurring of the lines between reality and fantasy (for both the characters and the audience), and of course the complex and awkward playing out of Riggan’s struggle with his fading relevance and his resulting flights (sorry) of fancy, all combined to create a highly bizarre and faintly sad sort of allegory of the problems of celebrity, and of the battle most of us face between our own self-image and our actual place in the world. It was almost unanimously agreed that Birdman was a fresh, clever, disturbing, and technically brilliant film.
But then we come to Birdman‘s ending. There were so many interpretations of what actually happened between the moment Riggan pulled that trigger and the roll of the credits that Birdman’s final scenes started to resemble an issue of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Does the fact that the shot cut for the first time indicate that he did actually die on stage? Is the scene in the hospital, in which Riggan learns of his re-found fame, a state of Heaven? Are the bandages over his face meant to vaguely resemble a superhero’s mask? Or does Riggan commit suicide from the hospital window? When his daughter runs to the window only to look up at the sky and start to smile, is she finally seeing him as Riggan wanted her to – as a superhero? Or is that final shot just one more amongst many others within a surreal movie in which nothing is really as it seems? (Apologies, by the way, to anyone who watched Birdman, calmly accepted it, and was never bothered by it again – for completely ruining your peace of mind).
In any case, the point is not to come to a conclusion about the ending of Birdman. The point is that, whatever the interpretation, the last ten minutes of this movie played a major part in the lasting impression that the movie was to leave in general. Not a single person who has discussed this movie has discussed it without referring to the ending.