“Dear God, I do not ask for health or wealth. People ask you so often that you can’t have any left. Give me, God, what else you have. Give me what no-one else asks for. Amen.”
I realize I left this series somewhat hanging. Death can be like that, sometimes — no closure. As mentioned, cinema not only fills your eyes with moving, startling images, but those that seize your mind and emotions via stories only movies can tell so uniquely. Loss of life, and whatever lies on the other side, even if it is inevitable for all of us, can be fickle. Especially so when it comes to film and the characters residing there.
Those personas some writer(s) patched the story around, or the supporting soul they used to fill it in, not to mention the actor who breathed life into the character while the cameras were rolling. They make connections with the audience. Those we recognize or register because we seem to already know them. Family, friends, or that damn stranger who for some reason, performed a kindness you’re now indebted to.
Human beings do this every day so it’s no surprise when we do this while watching movies. Then the Grim Reaper comes along to snuff them out. Sometimes, out of the blue, or in a place, a battlefield or shootout, where you’d expect it, but really hoped the bullet or mayhem would just skip over what’s-her-face. Death, or the writer slash director, will have none of it. Hence, the heartbreak intended to rend the viewer’s spirit.
Thank you very much, Hollywood…may I have another?
So with that, I thought I’d add my 2¢ and put together another of my “death lists.” This time pertaining to the heartaching demise of a movie character that meant something to me in the goddamn motion picture that took ’em out. And, yes I have more than a few to lament over, even after all these years later. So, in no particular order all of these wrenching celluloid moments elicit the evocative in me…every single time.
Spoiler Warning – key aspects of the films listed will be revealed.
The late-Tony Scott remade the 1987 French-Italian action thriller that was based on the 1980 novel Man on Fire by A. J. Quinnell.
- John Creasy – Man on Fire: Okay, he’s a former CIA operative/assassin, a burn-out haunted by his past, self-medicating through alcohol and regret. Given up on life, resuscitated by a nine-year-old girl he’s sworn to protect, who then goes on a killing binge on those who’ve kidnapped her. Still, he can’t die…he just can’t!
- Maggie Fitzgerald – Million Dollar Baby: She not only proves to be the boxer her reluctant trainer, Frankie Dunn, always dreamed of having under his wing, but a friend who fills the great void he’s had in his life. And by the end, I’m devastated as ever in a movie theater after Maggie and Frankie’s last scene together. I still have the disc in my library collection, unopened. Still can’t bring myself to re-watch it.
- Hooch – Turner & Hooch: Seen many a Tom Hanks movie, most of them pleasantly enough. Then I finally took this in via rental one fair day. A warm “buddy flick”, with a French Mastiff canine filling in for comedic and bonding effect. Didn’t someone tell the writer or director not to do the one thing that will mark this early (pre-Oscar) Hanks-effort and ruin the movie for the dog-lovers in the audience?
- Jack Twist – Brokeback Mountain: Yes, we once reviewed this Ang Lee film a short while back in our Duo Post series. I forget who I’m quoting here, but it explains it succinctly: “In an ending that will shatter your heart, Ennis is left to mourn his lover. The most heart-wrenching thing about this is that just previously, they had gotten into a fight, screaming hateful words at each other, completely unaware that that would be their final encounter.”
- Léon – The Professional: What is it with young girls and skilled assassins (capable of killing mounds of folk) building a bond in movies?!? Okay, it is a tad creepy at times when Mathilda forms an unusual relationship with our killer, becoming his protégée so that she can learn his trade to avenge her family’s murder by a corrupt DEA agent. I just wish his justly deserved demise wasn’t at the cost of Léon’s.
- Samantha the Dog – I Am Legend: Another film we’ve reviewed that injected a scenario whereby the audience became completely entrusted with the canine. As I mentioned, “Substitute Samantha the dog as the lead actress and you have the most intriguing couple of the entire movie. And Will was hard-pressed to garner more acting praise than her. Once Sam dies, in a wrenching scene, a good deal of the story’s heart goes with her. Believe me.”
- Ellie – Up: There are characters that take an entire movie for you to grow attached to, and others that will do it in no time flat. Pretty much the best five minutes of warmth and building a persona on screen with care, ever. Pixar crafted a lifetime in a few paltry minutes of animation with weight and consequence that haunts the rest of the film’s runtime like nobody’s business.
- Terminator – T2 Judgment Day: Drives me a crazy to admit a supreme egoist like James Cameron can get to me. Having created one of the all-time best movie nemesis, a cyborg sent from the future and programmed to kill a young Sarah Connor, to then upend my pulling for its destruction and ultimately care for the thing (even as it sacrifices itself), means what? Cameron’s evil, that’s what.
- Yeller – Old Yeller: Okay, I’ll stop with the dogs here, right after I relate one of my earliest experiences with the movie studio that seems to specialize in childhood trauma. Would eventually catch this on TV in the early ’60s…sitting through it all by myself. Just another boy-and-his-dog tale, only this time with a real kick in the gut to top it off: “Yes, Mama. But he was my dog. I’ll do it.” Just add Disney to the same list as Cameron.
- Severus Snape: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2: Remember when I said some take an entire movie to care for a character? Well, this one took seven…count’em, seven…books, and eight film adaptations to do it. From a hiss-inducing, coldly sarcastic, and sniping potions master to the one character I truly came to care for in the movie franchise, and I just didn’t see it coming. Damn it!
- Shoshanna Dreyfus – Inglourious Basterds: In a war film, you must expect death in all its usual forms. Quentin Tarantino did it one better with an unexpected heartbreaking setup. The last family survivor of Nazi slaughter, she finds herself a Parisian cinema owner with the entire German high command in her venue. Her plan of vengeance works, yet she doesn’t get to see it but for one star-crossed soldier.
- Mufasa – The Lion King: Those psychopathic parent-murdering folks over at Disney decided that they weren’t entirely satisfied simply targeting the movie hero’s mother all these years. No, they had to do in the James Earl Jones-voiced father (by another well-voiced character, at that) to begin evening the score with child nightmares. I tell ‘ya, these people are sick.
- Rue – The Hunger Games: My daughter, who has read near every YA novel out there, wanted me to take her to see the very first movie in the franchise. Granted, I thought it a Battle Royale ripoff when I first heard of it, but I have trouble not giving in to her. I swear the girl set me up when it came to this character (watching to see if I’d cry). Didn’t help that my daughter physically favors her.
- Uncas – The Last of the Mohicans (1992): Granted, Michael Mann based his film adaptation of the James Fenimore Cooper novel more as a remake of the 1936 film, but the unspoken spirit of this work lay with Uncas, the son of Chingachgook (the “Last of the Mohicans”). Emblematic of the indigenous people’s fate; on the climatic cliff side, care of Magua, his knife and tomahawk.
- Big Daddy – Kick Ass: Sure, the former cop hell-bent on taking out those criminals who framed him and messed up his family life has issues. Enough to train his young daughter as a killing machine in his efforts to clean up
Gothamthe city, but who’s perfect? The live streaming of Big Daddy and Kick-Ass demise upended by Hit Girl, who couldn’t save him; their final talk together just tearjerking.
Dizzy Flores – Starship Troopers: Sometimes, just the wrong character bites the dust. Isabel “Dizzy” Flores, one of Johnny Rico’s high school classmates…the one our hero ignored because of his inane crush on Carmen (y’know, the OO7 nuclear physicist) before he finally saw the light. Of course, this had to happen right after consummating her love with Johnny. Figures.
Dobby – The Deathly Hallows Part 1: If Snape’s is the poignant death in Part 2, this is it for the film’s precedent. The house-elf once owned by the Malfoy family, and set free at the end of The Chamber of Secrets, rescues Potter and friends from Malfoy Manor, only to be on the receiving end of the hated Bellatrix Lestrange’s knife thrown through the closing apparition as the group escapes.
Pvt. Vasquez – Aliens: Though cocky, and good at lighting up the enemy, Vasquez’ journey and importance going back to LV-426 can’t be minimized. Like Ellen Ripley, she’s self-sufficient and who you’d want in a fight with a xenomorph(s). So when she goes back to help her weak lieutenant as they escape through the vents, only to be overwhelmed, taking a few of them with them, it’s gut-wrenching.
- Sally – Blow Out: While there’s a perfect irony in this tale of a young woman set up to die in a presidential conspiracy, one that’s been inadvertently uncovered and precluded by movie sound technician Jack Terry, the audience becomes attracted to her as he does. Bitterly and ultimately, he cannot prevent her death that successfully closes the cover-up, even as he records her death scream.
Sgt. Ben Peterson – Them!: More childhood trauma with this. The most heroic character of the great ’50s monster movie is the State Police Sergeant. He discovers a little girl wandering the desert and the deaths near Alamogordo, New Mexico that it leads all the way to the sewers of Los Angeles to find the nest of gigantic ants. Dying as he rescues two more kids, why couldn’t the ants have taken that FBI dweeb instead?
Sheriff Baker – Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid: Pat Garrett meets up with Sheriff Baker, hoping he can provide information on Billy’s whereabouts. He, Baker and his wife go to arrest some of Billy’s old gang. In a gunfight, the gang members are killed, but Baker is mortally wounded. His wife comforts the dying lawman as he waits to die by a river. Only in the film for a meager few minutes, but his death hits home.
- Girl in the Red Coat – Schindler’s List: “Perhaps the most moving image in Steven Spielberg’s epic “Schindler’s List” is the little girl in the red coat, one of only four color images in the three-hour black and white film. Our attention is drawn to the little blonde tot, overlooked by the German troops, who wanders alone amid the horror and panic.” ~ The Girl in Red – Oskar Schindler.
- Theo Faron – Children of Men: I fully realize dystopian science fiction isn’t meant to be uplifting. Upon my second screening of Alfonso Cuarón’s masterwork for our Duo Post review, began to change my mind. Still, when the civil servant Theo helps a pregnant refugee escape the chaos of an infertile world, battling the odds and his humanity, my hopes lay with the man. Would find out it’s just not meant to be.
- Bambi’s Mother – Bambi: Finally, let’s finish this list off with what began Disney’s long line of mother shortages. Yeah, yeah, these tales are about growing up…accepting responsibility. Boy howdy, do I know firsthand that nothing does that better than becoming motherless at a young age. So when good old Walt had the thought to relive his deep emotional pain through his art, we get dead deer and a broken heart.
The entire series can be found here.