WATCHING FILMS TO THE END

Many viewers leave the theater or turn off the DVD or Blu-ray disc when the end titles of the film begin. But films ain't over 'til they're over.  Consider the last shot of Nicohlas Roeg's Walkabout (1971), which occurs after the end title sequence ends.

 

This shot  comes after the end title sequence ends with this shot:

And the title sequence begins just after a voice-over reading of A.E. Houseman's "Poem 40" from his A Shropshire Lad, and the epilogue ends as the camera tilts up and rests on the image of the girls and boy's school uniforms:

This shot remains constant as the credits roll.

  "Rien ne va plus" means "no more bets." Moreover, the lines "Rien ne va plus" and Walkabout 's first line of dialogue "Faites vos jeux, messieurs et madames, s'ils vous plaît" ("Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen") are both connected to roulette and both lines may be heard in many classic Hollywood films with routlette scenes set in foreign countries and that often do not subtitle non-English dialogue (see, for two examples, Josef von Sternberg's The Shanghai Gesture [1941] and Michael Curtiz's Casblanca [1942]; the same French actor plays the master of the roulette wheel in both films) as well as many James Bond films. There is also a third line "les jeux sont faits" (the bets are set), often said between the other two French sentences in these films.

Since the mid-1990s, end titles have become increasingly elaborate, often including extra scenes and bloopers, and these are now commonplace, even standard.  Yet Walkabout would have really stood out in supplying a final sentence in a final shot at a time when almost no one stayed until the film reel stopped.  Walkabout would have stood out when released even more starkly by supplying version of "The End" in French and that is not the customary French word for ending a film, namely, "Fin."  The idiomatic equivalent in English of the French reverses the meaning an important word in the French sentence. The first word "rien," with "r" in lower case instead of capitalized as "R," means "nothing." If we think of the "rien ne va plus" unrelated to betting and instead relate it to the film's ending, we might translate "rien ne va plus" as "That's it" or "That's all, folks." Transliterated and in this context, in other words, it's a French version of saying "The End": the French "rien ne va plus" is "Nothing more to go." Thus, Walkabout does not end with "The End" as films customarily did (Hollywood, Germany, France, Italy, etc.) until the early 1960s and quietly and literally seems torefer to itself as a reel of film: nothing left on the reel to show. (Films like Two Lane Blacktop, Easy Rider, and Vanishing Point blew up the ending entirely.)

Why is any of this important? Because Walkabout invites / enables / demands that one to read / listen to it from the vantage point of the last shot, located "outside" of the film. A number of questions arise: What does the ending and beginning of the film have to do with gambling? And why is one line of French spoken in voice-over and the other written out? Why is "rien" not capitalized? Why does Roeg effectively quote French words heard by Anglophone audiences as foreign in Hollywood films? Consider as well these observations: the last word of dialogue in Walkabout is "nothing."  And the French sentence is accompanied by the same kind of noise (radio static) that began the film and echoes the French words narrated in voice-over that make up Walkabout 's first line of dialogue "Faites vos jeux, messieurs et madames, s'ils vous plaît" ("Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen."). So the last line may be read or deciphered not "only as no more bets" but as "all bets are off."

In any case, a strong interpretation of Walkabout would need to account for the last shot, not only in and of itself (in terms of what the French sentence says and that it it says what it says in French as well as the static on the soundtrack), but in terms of what it recalls from earlier moments of the film (like the pages turning so quickly that one cannot read them during the storybook sequence; see below), its placement outside the paratext beyond the end, and hence its relative invisibility and inaudibility. In other words, a strong interpretation would have the highly unusual ways in which Roeg ends his film: Roeg ends his film several times, beginning the theme music with the shot of Jenny as she says " "O, nothing" after being recalled from her flashback / memory, then cutting to the wall, first, in grey, then in red, that we saw twice at the beginning of the film, then giving an epilogue with Houseman, then rolling the titles, and then leaving the final shot with the repetition of the French and the radio static. One would have to take into account of the meaning of (dis)missing something (out back) as "nothing" in the film as well as being unable to translate a foreign language (literally) and the foreign language (metaphorically) of Hollywood cinema. The film demands (and rewards) an extraordinarily close and oblique reading / listening.

Films that begin with "The End": The opening title sequence of Final Destination ends with "The End"; Dillinger begins as a film in a film (footage is taken from Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once), and the words "The End" appear on the screen as the lights go up. The film ends just outside a movie theater as well. The end of a Buck Rogers episode plays just before THX 138 (dir. George Lucas, 1971) begins. The trailer for Terminator Salvation (2009) ends with the words: "the end begins."