Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Great Last Scenes: The Ghost Writer
Director: Roman Polanski
Great Because...: It so elegantly pulls the rug out from under the audience. This is the work of a filmmaker at the top of his game, taking a sequence that, for a number of reasons, probably shouldn’t work at all and not only making it click, but making it thrilling.
There are two ghost writers in The Ghost Writer. The first is dead as the story begins while the second is his replacement, sent to finish work on the biography of a former British Prime Minister. The second Ghost (unnamed throughout) finds himself haunted by the first, whose trail he follows, discovering a conspiracy that may have lead to the death of the first ghost writer and may very well lead to the death of the second.
After being manipulated, intimidated and coming fairly close to being killed, the Ghost attends the party for the release of the biography, where the last pieces of the puzzle finally slip into place for him when he sees the wife of the now deceased Prime Minister talking closely with a Professor whom he suspects of being a CIA recruiter. The sight is shocking enough on its own, but then he has an epiphany which reveals that the first Ghost discovered the truth and buried it in the manuscript. The Ghost makes sure that the two conspirators know that he’s finally uncovered the truth and it seems like the film is going to end on a note of triumph... until he steps outside and walks out of frame, followed shortly thereafter by a speeding car. The film ends with the pages of manuscript flying scattered throughout the street, leaving us to assume that the Ghost has now met the fate of his predecessor.
Polanski does an excellent job at ratcheting up the tension, showing the note the Ghost has written to the conspirators being passed up through the crowd, and then giving us just enough time to exhale before delivering the final blow. I think it’s also effective because the most important moment of the final scene (and, perhaps arguably, of the entire film) happens just out of frame so that we’re left to imagine what has happened – has the Ghost been assassinated or has he escaped once again, but lost his grip on the manuscript? It’s a magnificent demonstration of artistry that allows the film to end with a mixture of both light (the Ghost’s raising his champagne flute in victory to the Prime Minister’s wife) and dark (the car chasing after the Ghost) and it pretty much ensures that the audience will have plenty to think about and discuss after it's over. It’s a fantastic, atmospheric end to a film that more than deserves it.