… I might choose these.
1. The Return of the King: The Grey Havens. If this doesn’t make you cry, then you don’t have your priorities straight. The Grey Havens breathes the long defeat: the failure of Frodo, the passing of the elves, and the foreordained deterioration of men. On my deathbed I’d take comfort, even if those white shores and far green country awaiting Frodo would be out of my reach.
2. The Seventh Seal: The Dance of Death. I wish I could find a youtube clip of the entire six-minute ending, but this brief snip will have to do. Ingmar Bergman’s take on the Danse Macabre is that in the end we’re all on the same footing, regardless of our station or moral character. All the film’s characters are equally united in a dance with Death, who leads them away to an unknown fate. The image summons my nihilistic uncertainties about the afterlife to a tee.
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower: “We are infinite.” I choose this one to remember my teen years, back when, for all my coming-of-age frustrations, I thought anything in life was possible. Most teen films are saturated with cliches, but Perks is an inspired drama of teen alienation and this final scene is incredibly moving. David Bowie’s “Heroes” is as futuristic sounding today as it was back in the ’70s, and transforms what could have been melodrama into something profound.
4. United 93: Rushing the cockpit. This is my meditation on terror, and heroic sacrifice found in unlikely places. It’s a desperate fight-back that ends in foreordained tragedy, and the sudden fade to black as the plane hits ground hits way harder than the expected explosion.
5. Sunshine: Payload delivery. The visuals and scoring in this film are stunning and combine with the story to formulate an authentic statement about human hope. Sunshine postulates a future in which the sun is dying, and a crew embarks on a mission to deliver a thermo-nuclear payload that will re-ignite the sun’s fire and save the earth. I can’t find a youtube clip of the entire end scene, but this music video gives a feel for the film on whole, and has bits of the final act in 1:52-3:20.
6. There Will Be Blood: Washed in blood. My meditation on religion as a raging lethal force. This final scene is basically the same scene of Eli baptizing Daniel in his fundamentalist church. Now it is Daniel doing the “baptizing”. Just as Daniel needed Bandy’s land before, Eli needs the money from Bandy’s land now. And just as Daniel did, Eli chooses to suspend his beliefs for the sake of prosperity. He shouts out that he’s a false prophet, just as Daniel had yelled out his confession of sins. And finally, just as Eli slapped Daniel around in church, so Daniel smashes Eli’s head with a bowling pin — until it is dead Eli “washed in blood”. This brutal climax is my judgment throne, interrogating my cold ambitions and hypocrisies.
7. Juno: “Anyone Else but You”. My deathbed lullaby, sung in part by Ellen Page. It’s the endearing end to Juno.
8. Braveheart: The Field of Bannockburn. This might seem a strange choice, and the fact is that I’ve never been a big fan of Braveheart. But the last three minutes give me chills every time — the soaring bagpipe theme, the sword spinning in the air, the charge of the outnumbered Scots — and on a list focused on death it earns a place. The Scots knew they were in for a slaughter, and it was a miracle they won their independence from the English.
9. Wicker Park: Airport reunion. All right, sue me, I’m including a romance. This film didn’t score well with critics, but it’s actually a good remake of a foreign film, innovative in the right ways, and serves as my “chick-flick” choice for the list. This ending is well earned, as Coldplay’s “The Scientist” plays over Matt’s reunion with Lisa, after two years of being unable to find her in plain view, thanks to the machinations of a jealous rival. It’s the kind of scene that makes me reflect on lost opportunities in life, owing to chance and cruel intentions.
10. The Tree of Life: Eternity. The picture-perfect Tree of Life ends on a spiritual apocalypse that can strike to the heart of a hardened atheist: the yearning for reunion in some form of afterlife, a hopeless fantasy we cling to in order to cope with pain and loss.