Final Faces

madeline

lofa

Top: Madeleine (David Lean; 1950)
Bottom: Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean; 1962)

While watching David Lean’s MADELEINE last week I was struck by the film’s powerful final image of Ann Todd’s face. Her sly expression implies her guilt as well as her innocence in a crime she may or may not have committed. It made me recall another final frame at the end of Lean’s LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, which concluded with a somewhat indistinguishable close-up of Peter O’Toole suggesting that the audience will never really know who the enigmatic T.E. Lawrence was. Comparing and contrasting these two images is a fun exercise. Both Madeleine and Lawrence are historical figures based on real people. Their personalities and actions made them difficult to define. Madeleine’s expression and Lawrence’s anonymity both conceal a mystery.

These final faces have power because they’re the last images we see before the credits role and they seem to transform into mirrors that reflect the expression of the audience. They often fascinate as much as they frustrate because they demand that we fully acknowledge our participation as spectators. While watching a film we can become so connected to the characters that we begin to see ourselves through their eyes. We experience their joys, their suffering, their successes and their failures all in the span of a few hours. When a film suddenly ends with a close-up of a character we’ve come to deeply care about or associate with that last glimpse of their face can feel like a sucker punch to the gut. I like to imagine that these final faces reminded us that we’re all part of a larger human drama playing out beyond the confides of a movie theater and when the screen goes dark it makes us feel as if we’re watching the final curtain close on our own lives.

Many final faces can also be threatening or horrifying. They stare back at us like evil doppelgangers and hold up a mirror to our deepest human fears and our worst transgressions. We don’t want to look at them but we can’t look away because they force us to question our own identity and confront the ugly side of our shared humanity.

The best final faces resonate with us long after the credits roll because the actors have managed to leave some part of themselves on screen. Trapped in time and caged in celluloid, these flickering figures have become part our shared experiences, our memories and our dreams.

400blows

breathless

Top: The 400 Blows (François Truffaut; 1959)
Bottom: Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard; 1960)

Director’s François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard both ended their first feature-length films with a close-up. The defiant faces of 14-year-old Jean-Pierre Léaud in THE 400 BLOWS and 21-year-old Jean Seberg in BREATHLESS beautifully convey the rebellious spirit of the French New Wave. They challenge us with their steady gaze and invite us to embrace their youthful courage.

placeinthesun

longgoodfriday

Top: A Place in the Sun (George Stevens; 1951)
Bottom: The Long Good Friday (John MacKenzie; 1980)

A PLACE IN THE SUN and THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY might not appear to share much in common but both films end with close-ups of condemned men. Montgomery Cliff and Bob Hoskins are two very different individuals who have made terrible decisions in their life, which have led them to their grave. In his final moments Clift’s character chooses to focus on pleasant memories, which play over his face in a hazy montage while Hoskin’s character sits in a car gazing into the rear-view mirror looking back at a world that’s about to slip through his fingers.

nocountry

zodiac

Top: No Country for Old Men (Joel & Ethan Coen; 2007)
Bottom: Zodiac (David Fincher; 2007)

At the end of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN Tommy Lee Jones projects the face of a man silently wrestling with a world he no longer understands. He and the audience have just seen and experienced a number of horrible things and his ragged face allows us to grapple with the consequences of these events right along with him. Jimmi Simpson’s frustrated face in the final frame of ZODIAC also projects confusion and resignation. Like Lee’s character, Simpson is playing a man who witnessed unimaginable horror and the experience has damaged him. They communicate our communal sadness and fatigue.

pitpendulum

tenant

Top: The Pit and the Pendulum (Roger Corman; 1961)
Bottom: The Tenant (Roman Polanski; 1976)

The contorted faces of Barbara Steele at the end of THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM and Roman Polanksi at the end of THE TENANT both illustrate the horror of their predicaments even though they’re obscured by bars and bandages. The panic in Steel’s wide eyes and the scream that leaves Polanksi’s gaping mouth unite us in their terror and refuse to let us escape their shared nightmare.

nights

ladolcevita

Top: Nights of Cabiria (Frederico Fellini; 1957)
Bottom: La Dolce Vita (Frederico Fellini; 1960)

Fellini’s NIGHTS OF CABIRIA and LA DOLCE VITA both end with similar close-ups. Giulietta Masina as Cabiria shows us a smiling face drenched in tears that illustrates the wisdom and wistfulness that has come with age and experience. Valeria Ciangottini as Paola reveals the innocence of youth unburdened by memory and longing. These contrasting faces point toward a hopeful future full of possibilities and the promise of contentment.

jessejames

kingsspeech

Top: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik; 2007)
Bottom: The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper; 2010)

The final frames of THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD and THE KING’s SPEECH show us two men destined to remain on the sidelines of history. One is overshadowed by the man he killed. The other is overshadowed by the man he helped. Casey Affleck’s defiant face glances back at the audience and Geoffrey Rush’s resilient face appears at the side of the frame just off center. They ask us to remember that the legend of Jesse James and the monumental speech of King George VI wouldn’t have taken shape without their contributions.

dangerousl

safe

Top: Dangerous Liaisons (Stephen Frears; 1988)
Bottom: Safe (Todd Haynes; 1995)

The faces of two defeated women fill the final frames of DANGEROUS LIAISONS and SAFE. Glenn Close’s noble Marquise and Julianne Moore’s humble housewife have both been isolated from society and face uncertain futures. They express their private pain to the audience with their silence and although it can be difficult to understand the motivations of these two complex characters, we are suddenly united with them in their grief. Their loneliness is something that we can all understand.

bs1

invasionbs

Top: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel; 1956)
Bottom: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman; 1978)

Directors Don Siegel and Philip Kaufman both ended their adaptations of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS with a close-up of the main protagonist but these final faces are very different. Kevin McCarthy’s exhausted face seems to relax and suggests that our extraterrestrial enemies have been defeated while Donald Sutherland’s distressingly alert face has become alien and monstrous. McCarthy allows us to leave the theater frightened but hopeful. Sutherland refuses to let us leave the theater. A camera closes in on his shrieking mouth that has formed a fathomless black hole and we become trapped there. Forced to abandon all hope and succumb to the darkness.

sunsetblvd

whbh

Top: Sunset Boulevard. (Billy Wilder; 1950)
Bottom: White Hunter Black Heart (Clint Eastwood; 1990)

SUNSET BOULEVARD concludes with the face of Gloria Swanson who is playing a delusional actress that has just committed murder and is ready for her close-up. WHITE HUNTER BLACK HEART concludes with the face of Clint Eastwood who is playing a delusional director that has just contributed to someone’s death and is ready to start shooting his next movie. Their faces ask for our understanding but refuse our sympathy and together they embody the beautiful, bruised and broken specter of old Hollywood.

50 Responses Final Faces
Posted By Fred : June 13, 2013 5:36 pm

I really enjoyed this post on an aspect of cinema I’d never considered before. The framing at the end of Lawrence of Arabia is quite in keeping with the film’s themes of this enigmatic person. I think he was best summed up in my favorite line from the film, spoken by the rather unctious Mr. Dryden (played by the great Claude Raines) to Lawrence: “If we’ve been telling lies, you’ve been telling half-lies. A man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. But a man who tells half-lies has forgotten where he put it.”

Posted By Fred : June 13, 2013 5:36 pm

I really enjoyed this post on an aspect of cinema I’d never considered before. The framing at the end of Lawrence of Arabia is quite in keeping with the film’s themes of this enigmatic person. I think he was best summed up in my favorite line from the film, spoken by the rather unctious Mr. Dryden (played by the great Claude Raines) to Lawrence: “If we’ve been telling lies, you’ve been telling half-lies. A man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. But a man who tells half-lies has forgotten where he put it.”

Posted By JackFavell : June 13, 2013 7:01 pm

Great post! All the examples are spot on, but the most haunting to me is the last frame of The 400 Blows. Heartbreaking, and it implicates us as the cruel, non-understanding guardians of children.

Only one small complaint (sorry, I hate to be one of those people), I wish Norma Desmond had been the last photo.

Posted By JackFavell : June 13, 2013 7:01 pm

Great post! All the examples are spot on, but the most haunting to me is the last frame of The 400 Blows. Heartbreaking, and it implicates us as the cruel, non-understanding guardians of children.

Only one small complaint (sorry, I hate to be one of those people), I wish Norma Desmond had been the last photo.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : June 13, 2013 7:16 pm

Fred – I’m glad you enjoyed it and thanks for sharing that wonderful quote. I love how the script as well as the images in Lean’s film work together and force the audience to question everything the know (or think they know) about Lawrence.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : June 13, 2013 7:16 pm

Fred – I’m glad you enjoyed it and thanks for sharing that wonderful quote. I love how the script as well as the images in Lean’s film work together and force the audience to question everything the know (or think they know) about Lawrence.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : June 13, 2013 7:21 pm

JackFaavell – Thank you! As for the order of the images, each set of screen grabs is listed in order of the film’s release date. I did it so I could compare them and I think the end of WHITE HUNTER BLACK HEART was somewhat inspired by SUNSET BLVD. so that’s why Wilder’s film was mentioned first.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : June 13, 2013 7:21 pm

JackFaavell – Thank you! As for the order of the images, each set of screen grabs is listed in order of the film’s release date. I did it so I could compare them and I think the end of WHITE HUNTER BLACK HEART was somewhat inspired by SUNSET BLVD. so that’s why Wilder’s film was mentioned first.

Posted By Doug : June 13, 2013 8:22 pm

Close enough to the final image, depending on which cut of the film you see: Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry in “Brazil”.
Agreed, Kimberly-Glenn Close for “Dangerous Liaisons”-a powerful moment that I assumed would make your list.
My contrib: “Whip It”, where the camera pushes in on Ellen Page’s face, looking to the future as she sits on the roof of the restaurant. Runner up was “Amelie”.

Posted By Doug : June 13, 2013 8:22 pm

Close enough to the final image, depending on which cut of the film you see: Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry in “Brazil”.
Agreed, Kimberly-Glenn Close for “Dangerous Liaisons”-a powerful moment that I assumed would make your list.
My contrib: “Whip It”, where the camera pushes in on Ellen Page’s face, looking to the future as she sits on the roof of the restaurant. Runner up was “Amelie”.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : June 13, 2013 8:40 pm

I love this post. Donald Sutherland’s scream at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of my favorite moments ever. If it’s the first time you’ve ever seen it (and even afterwards), it’s devastating, both emotionally and viscerally. There’s a real horror there that captures the essence of the whole movie in one moment.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : June 13, 2013 8:40 pm

I love this post. Donald Sutherland’s scream at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of my favorite moments ever. If it’s the first time you’ve ever seen it (and even afterwards), it’s devastating, both emotionally and viscerally. There’s a real horror there that captures the essence of the whole movie in one moment.

Posted By Gene : June 13, 2013 8:51 pm

Absolutely love this post. My favorite “face endings” go to Sunset Blvd, La Dolce Vita, The Tenant, Hour of The Wolf, The 400 Blows, and (sort of works) Woody Allen’s Interiors (Faces rather than face, and profiled rather than straight on, but still effective).

Posted By Gene : June 13, 2013 8:51 pm

Absolutely love this post. My favorite “face endings” go to Sunset Blvd, La Dolce Vita, The Tenant, Hour of The Wolf, The 400 Blows, and (sort of works) Woody Allen’s Interiors (Faces rather than face, and profiled rather than straight on, but still effective).

Posted By Gene : June 13, 2013 8:56 pm

Left one out. Cruising. Wasn’t crazy about the film for a variety of reasons but the end is amongst the most disturbing when Pacino looks at the camera through the mirror.

Posted By Gene : June 13, 2013 8:56 pm

Left one out. Cruising. Wasn’t crazy about the film for a variety of reasons but the end is amongst the most disturbing when Pacino looks at the camera through the mirror.

Posted By JackFavell : June 13, 2013 8:58 pm

I totally understand. I love White Hunter Black Heart and I definitely see the connection. It’s just that Norma Desmond is such a powerful character and iconic image that it seems as if she ought to be the last thing we see.

I loved your article, and find it amazing that no one ever wrote about this before. I think the final face shot is such a gutsy move, but it fits the films above perfectly. It’s a kind of stop motion ending that leaves you either suspended, or thinking about the truth of what you just saw.

In all the movies, the forward action or emotion simply can’t go any further. It’s exhausted. We don’t need to know any more. The face shot is a way to highlight the agonizing continuance of life or time – even when the person is lost in the past, or a murderer, or an informer, or a delinquent on the edge of disappearing, or an inmate facing death. Are these people responsible for their actions? Are WE? It makes the connection between the viewer and the viewee very strong, as you said. Are we to judge them? Or are we to feel guilt ourselves? Should we feel fear, or elation? You’ve brought up such an interesting topic here. Thanks.

Posted By JackFavell : June 13, 2013 8:58 pm

I totally understand. I love White Hunter Black Heart and I definitely see the connection. It’s just that Norma Desmond is such a powerful character and iconic image that it seems as if she ought to be the last thing we see.

I loved your article, and find it amazing that no one ever wrote about this before. I think the final face shot is such a gutsy move, but it fits the films above perfectly. It’s a kind of stop motion ending that leaves you either suspended, or thinking about the truth of what you just saw.

In all the movies, the forward action or emotion simply can’t go any further. It’s exhausted. We don’t need to know any more. The face shot is a way to highlight the agonizing continuance of life or time – even when the person is lost in the past, or a murderer, or an informer, or a delinquent on the edge of disappearing, or an inmate facing death. Are these people responsible for their actions? Are WE? It makes the connection between the viewer and the viewee very strong, as you said. Are we to judge them? Or are we to feel guilt ourselves? Should we feel fear, or elation? You’ve brought up such an interesting topic here. Thanks.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : June 13, 2013 9:01 pm

Doug – I love BRAZIL and I’m glad you mentioned it. I haven’t seen that film in ages but now I want to revisit it ASAP. As for Glenn Close in DANGEROUS LIAISONS, I’ve always thought she (as well as John Malkovich) gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in that film and that last frame is a killer.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : June 13, 2013 9:01 pm

Doug – I love BRAZIL and I’m glad you mentioned it. I haven’t seen that film in ages but now I want to revisit it ASAP. As for Glenn Close in DANGEROUS LIAISONS, I’ve always thought she (as well as John Malkovich) gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in that film and that last frame is a killer.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : June 13, 2013 9:06 pm

Greg – Thank you! That last shot of Sutherland is devastating. On a side note, I tried watching the 1978 film alone at night recently and it still managed to scare me so damn bad that I had shut it off. I’m so glad I haven’t lost the capacity to be frightened by a movie and this one will test you!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : June 13, 2013 9:06 pm

Greg – Thank you! That last shot of Sutherland is devastating. On a side note, I tried watching the 1978 film alone at night recently and it still managed to scare me so damn bad that I had shut it off. I’m so glad I haven’t lost the capacity to be frightened by a movie and this one will test you!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : June 13, 2013 9:10 pm

Gene – Thanks so much and I’m glad you shared some more film titles. Some of my other favorites that I didn’t include above are ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, DEEP RED and HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR. It’s a rich topic and you could probably come up with a list of hundreds of movies that end with a “final face.”

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : June 13, 2013 9:10 pm

Gene – Thanks so much and I’m glad you shared some more film titles. Some of my other favorites that I didn’t include above are ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, DEEP RED and HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR. It’s a rich topic and you could probably come up with a list of hundreds of movies that end with a “final face.”

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : June 13, 2013 9:19 pm

JackFavell – Thanks for sharing more of your thoughts. It’s a fascinating topic to contemplate. I really admire films that end with a close-up. As you mentioned, it’s a gutsy move. It has to be a great face though. I have to really love that face and what it’s saying. The faces above all belong to actors I like so that’s probably one of the reasons why they resonate with me.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : June 13, 2013 9:19 pm

JackFavell – Thanks for sharing more of your thoughts. It’s a fascinating topic to contemplate. I really admire films that end with a close-up. As you mentioned, it’s a gutsy move. It has to be a great face though. I have to really love that face and what it’s saying. The faces above all belong to actors I like so that’s probably one of the reasons why they resonate with me.

Posted By Paul Vincent Lawford : June 14, 2013 2:22 am

Tremendous.

Posted By Paul Vincent Lawford : June 14, 2013 2:22 am

Tremendous.

Posted By DevlinCarnate : June 14, 2013 7:19 am

one of my favorites is Mel Gibson in Mad Max,even though it fades into the white lines of the highway ahead of him…combined with the staccato downbeat music you know he’s a haunted man that will never find peace

Posted By DevlinCarnate : June 14, 2013 7:19 am

one of my favorites is Mel Gibson in Mad Max,even though it fades into the white lines of the highway ahead of him…combined with the staccato downbeat music you know he’s a haunted man that will never find peace

Posted By swac44 : June 14, 2013 8:31 am

My brain immediately went to Paul Muni in I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, it still packs a punch now, imagine how people in the 1930s saw it.

Posted By swac44 : June 14, 2013 8:31 am

My brain immediately went to Paul Muni in I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, it still packs a punch now, imagine how people in the 1930s saw it.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : June 14, 2013 2:54 pm

What a wonderful idea! My first thought was “Bob Hoskins, The Long Good Friday!”… and there he was.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : June 14, 2013 2:54 pm

What a wonderful idea! My first thought was “Bob Hoskins, The Long Good Friday!”… and there he was.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : June 14, 2013 8:47 pm

I appreciate all the comments! I had fun compiling this and may do a part 2 if inspiration strikes.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : June 14, 2013 8:47 pm

I appreciate all the comments! I had fun compiling this and may do a part 2 if inspiration strikes.

Posted By tdraicer : June 15, 2013 12:00 am

Wonderful post (and images), that oddly made think of what a wise decision it was that at the end of Casablanca we get the backs of Rick and Louis walking off into the fog, rather than ending on a final shot of their faces.

Posted By tdraicer : June 15, 2013 12:00 am

Wonderful post (and images), that oddly made think of what a wise decision it was that at the end of Casablanca we get the backs of Rick and Louis walking off into the fog, rather than ending on a final shot of their faces.

Posted By Doug : June 15, 2013 5:50 pm

Kimberly, in that first photo of Ann Todd, somehow she looks like she could be Laurence Olivier’s sister. Am I crazy?

Posted By Doug : June 15, 2013 5:50 pm

Kimberly, in that first photo of Ann Todd, somehow she looks like she could be Laurence Olivier’s sister. Am I crazy?

Posted By Heidi : June 17, 2013 12:13 pm

Great post!! I love it! My mind, when reading the thread, went to straight to Anthony Perkins in Psycho. I love the pictures of Body Snatchers. The first one scares the pants off me, but the remake really doesn’t. I don’t know why. But the images are great!

Posted By Heidi : June 17, 2013 12:13 pm

Great post!! I love it! My mind, when reading the thread, went to straight to Anthony Perkins in Psycho. I love the pictures of Body Snatchers. The first one scares the pants off me, but the remake really doesn’t. I don’t know why. But the images are great!

Posted By Commander Adams : June 17, 2013 2:34 pm

No mention of Greta Garbo in QUEEN CHRISTINA?

Posted By Commander Adams : June 17, 2013 2:34 pm

No mention of Greta Garbo in QUEEN CHRISTINA?

Posted By jojo : June 19, 2013 8:13 pm

Safe!

That’s a big one, because as I was watching, I wasn’t sure what I thought of the movie, until that last shot (at which point I decided I loved it)

Posted By jojo : June 19, 2013 8:13 pm

Safe!

That’s a big one, because as I was watching, I wasn’t sure what I thought of the movie, until that last shot (at which point I decided I loved it)

Posted By robbushblog : June 21, 2013 3:41 pm

I am drawing a blank on further examples, but I find the topic very interesting.

Posted By robbushblog : June 21, 2013 3:41 pm

I am drawing a blank on further examples, but I find the topic very interesting.

Posted By Andy Barrett : June 28, 2013 11:32 am

The images of Glenn Close in “Dangerous Liaisons” and Jean-Pierre Leaud in “400 Blows” are devastating, and I feel the same about Julie Christie in Richard Lester’s “Petulia”.

Posted By Andy Barrett : June 28, 2013 11:32 am

The images of Glenn Close in “Dangerous Liaisons” and Jean-Pierre Leaud in “400 Blows” are devastating, and I feel the same about Julie Christie in Richard Lester’s “Petulia”.

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