When is a film not a film? When it ends

But is this really the case…?

(Warning: contains major spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises, plus some spoilers for Inception and Life of Pi)

I recently watched indie hit Safety Not Guaranteed which went to Sundance film festival and has since received positive reviews and reaction, and which was released over Xmas in the UK. I contemplated reviewing it, the only problem being that I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to say about it… apart from the end. Now this is problematic because most readers won’t have seen it. Instead I’ll focus on films which pose a similar question and are part of the debate, but before I do, a little more on this indie surprise.

Even though it’s bad form to suggest that a film is “x” meets “y”, it is true to say that the two films that Safety Not Guaranteed reminded me of was Defendor – a film from 2009 in which Woody Harrelson plays a ‘real-life superhero’ / guy with too much time on his hands – as well as Take Shelter (where Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain are wonderful together, although we don’t know if the storms he sees are prophetic or a symptom of genetic mental illness), which may seem like an odd mix, although hopefully you can see the link beginning to form.

Essentially these are movies with questions about identity, reality and the idea of a narrative truth (for starters). Part of the appeal, however, is not knowing, and ambiguity is such an attractive quality in a film, particularly given a certain subject matter and a writer or director’s ability to use this quality appropriately. Take Shelter felt mysterious throughout, including the ending (and that’s not a spoiler), but Safety Not Guaranteed is different. As I said, I don’t want to spoil this for any readers who are yet to watch it (hopefully you’ll feel inspired to now do so and subsequently decide upon it for yourself one way or the other) and so I’ll move the discussion on to similar themes in a more accessible venue: The Dark Knight Rises versus Inception.

The last few minutes of these films are certainly major talking points, although we’re going to get there (obvious major spoilers ahead, particularly for TDKR) via Life of Pi. This perhaps sums up the other four films discussed best of all in its explicitly childlike ending which, although not preachy, does appear to take a definitive stance. Part of the appeal of films – whether fiction or documentary – is the decision whether or not it should be entirely factual or biased (openly or otherwise, consciously or otherwise) and whether or not it wants to preach. Just one example here is Bill Maher, as he shows no signs of repenting or holding back his views in his hilarious (in my view) documentary Religulous in which his potentially-offputting-to-some manner highlights his view that religion (and the particulars of it), to him at least, is ludicrous.

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