Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Le Samurai: Ending
The climax/ending of Jean Pierre Melville's iconic 1967 gangster flick Le Samurai remains one of the great moments in movie history: Jeff Costello (Alain Delon), realizes he's like his beloved bird that he keeps in his apartment: trapped in a cage surrounded by murky grey walls. Only instead of a cage, he's surrounded by underground criminals who realize he's a problem, and a chief officer who goes to unrealistic measures to bring him down. And the grey walls are replaced by grey morality, where codes of honor (regardless of whether they existed, they were a major part of the films that influenced Le Samurai) are supplanted by the notion that the only thing that matters is keeping the status quo, order at the expense of honor.
Thus, a film that's remarkable for how little feeling it packs into its narrative concludes with one of the most deeply emotional shots in cinema: that of an empty gun, taken from the hand of a dead man who accepted his fate not just to outsmart a system he despised, but to suggest he really was the final samurai, the one who held the idea of who he was over convenience, pleasure, and well-being.
The greatness of the movie is partially due to how restrained the rest of the picture is in relation to its impactful end. in this passage from Ebert's Great Movies essay on the film, he writes: "The movie teaches us how action is the enemy of suspense--how action releases tension instead of building it. Better to wait for a whole movie for something to happen (assuming we really care whether it happens) than to sit through a film where things we don't care about are happening constantly."
I'd extrapolate within the context I've mentioned except that Ebert said it perfectly, and if you've seen the film, you know exactly what he's getting at, and how it relates to the film's outstanding finish.