The Imagilliam of Dr Pending

One day Terry Gilliam was sitting at an edit desk. Who knows how long he’s been sat there. His new masterpiece is almost ready. After hours and hours of crafting and re-crafting this magnificent fairytale to perfection, it’s almost ready.  The editor sat next to him rubs his eyes and takes a look to see if he can find one last drop of coffee in his trusty Toby Jug. Nope. Nevermind. He turns to Gilliam and says, “Okay. So Terry, how are we going to end this?”

Terry looks back at him with a kind of suprise. You don’t know? He shrugs his shoulders, and lets out a gust of air from his lungs. “Mmm….I dunno. Just stop it there.”

The editor pauses for a moment, a little confused. “What… you mean…”

“Just stop it there,” reprises the director, “it’s fine.”

“You mean … here? You want to end with this scene?”

“No, just right there. Just stop it there. That’ll do.”

The editor stops. He hesitates, then finds the words; “Erm … Terry, that’s … not really an ending.” He waits as though anticipating an answer to a question. “It’s not an ending, it’s just … well … stopped.”

“Yes. That’s fine.”

*     *     *

I love Terry Gilliam’s films. He is one of those unique visionaries that have this great ability to imagine strange and wonderful new worlds and put them on the screen. Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Time Bandits remain among my personal favourites of all time. But there is one other thing that seems to be common in all his films, it is the non-ending. Critic Robert McKee calls it the non-plot, or as most I would say, the absence of a closed ending.

That said, we cannot assume that this necessarily a mistake, rather than a choice. Indeed, the final dialogue of the movie reads as follows:

Boy: “Will there be a happy ending?”

Percy: “We cannot guarantee that.”


Alas, poor Yorick; I knew him, Horatio

Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet (1997)

This famous scene from Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is perhaps one of my favourite scenes in Shakespeare. Hamlet, who having decided to avenge his father’s murder, still is yet to follow through with his plan though he has long since known who his father’s killer is. His undecisiveness is his tragic flaw and downfall.

In this scene he happens on a humble gravemaker who has dug up the skull of the old King’s jester, Yorick, who has been dead for twenty-three years. We then discover that Yorick was also Hamlet’s minder as a boy, whom he was obviously very fond of. I love this scene, because for a moment we glimse a clue as to perhaps why Hamlet is so reluctant to take the plunge and fulfil his father’s burden to him.

Yorick’s skull is in a sense a metaphor for Hamlet’s loss of innocence. Perhaps the reason Hamlet is so reluctant to do his duty as son to a murdered king, is that he never really let go of being a boy prince, having no responsibility all his life as his father was compitent enough to run the kingdom without him.

Watch this scene on YouTube, click here.

A Great Performance

Morgan Freeman as \'Red\' in \"The Shawshank Redemption\"

I’ve been pondering recently what I consider to be the greatest film of all time, the greatest screenplay, the greatest performace, etc. On my personal shortlist of the three above categories one film kept coming up: The Shawshank Redemption. I am yet to meet anyone who has seen this film who considered it to be a less than a superb film.

The screenplay for this film is itself a work of art. I would even argue that the script by itself upstages Stephen King’s novella, but being a screenwriter, I do acknowledge that I am partial to a brilliantly written screenplay and this one is by far the best I’ve ever read.

Morgan Freeman’s performance is one of my personal top ten performances I’ve seen on the screen. An ingenious collaboration between himself and Frank Darabont, the director. Casting a black actor as Red was an ingenious move by Darabont, even though in the novel and the screenplay, the impression is given that Red is more likely to be white, though it never says so. One of the themes discussed in the novella is that to the guards in those days, a con was worse than a negro, therefore to have a black actor in Red’s shoes is a very powerful device.

I think that a great performance by an actor is confirmed when the audience is made to forget they are watching an actor, and most of all, when ten years later you are still unable to imagine anyone else playing that part.

Video: Red’s Rehabilitation in The Shawshank Redemption (1993).