Whimpers and Bangs: The Endings of William Friedkin

How the revered director bucked tradition with his unique conclusions.

How the revered director bucked tradition with his unique conclusions.

Movies, traditionally, resolve themselves. The story ends happily, or at least contentedly, with most all the various threads tied up and all the important characters come to some conclusive arc. It’s only in the last quarter-century or so that mainstream movies have started frequently employing ambiguous endings, a sea change largely based on the injection of independent directors into the major studios.

But long before Christopher Nolan dropped Memento or David Lynch was a household name, director William Friedkin – The Exorcist, The French Connection, Sorcerer et al – was bucking tradition and ending his films in novel and unexpected ways.

SPOILERS: The Exorcist ends with our hero, Father Karras, damning himself with the demon’s spirit and jumping to his death from a window; The French Connection concludes with the main villain, Charnier, eluding Popeye, and in fact we learn from closing credits he was never apprehended; and Sorcerer wraps up with a bang, though not the one we’ve been expecting.

Point is, Friedkin’s endings are among the director’s most distinctive trademarks, and in the following video from MUBI, they’re explored in erudite depth to see how they play against their narratives, each other, and the medium at large. This is one of those topics you know about but don’t realize you know about until someone comes along and shines a light on it, and the work below is guaranteed to enhance your appreciation of a man who revolutionized the horror, thriller, and crime genres in the same decade.


H. Perry Horton: Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist