Sometimes, a final scene says all it needs to with little or no music. Other times, its greatness is lifted even higher with a perfectly placed song. This edition of The Seven is dedicated to those. This is probably a given, but since we’re talking about closing scenes, there will be spoilers. Also, don’t expect to see A) songs that appear elsewhere in the film (Sorry Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) or B) songs from musicals, simply because I have to draw the line somewhere.
7. The Shining
Song: “Midnight, the Stars and You” by Ray Noble and his orchestra
A lot of the horror in The Shining comes of the isolation of just three people living in the enormous Overlook Hotel, with only their thoughts and the ghosts that may or may not (but come on, probably do) exist. Honestly, this final scene is perhaps the creepiest scene in the whole film, not just because Jack is shown to be in the 1921 photograph, but the way it’s shot. It’s more than just a standard zoom-in of the photo—the camera bounces up and down as if someone is walking towards the wall. No living person remains in the hotel, yet someone is approaching the photograph. Meanwhile, this 1930s number comes into the foreground and plays over the closing credits.
The contrast between the jaunty nature of the song and the horror we’ve just viewed for two-and-a-half hours is jarring. The acoustics of the recording just make the scene even more chilling, and it’s of note that there is still more once the song ends. If you watch until the end of the credits, there is talking and chatter after the song. We are now at the Overlook July 4th Ball, perhaps like Jack now is… there are a lot of interpretations of the ending. Either way, though, this song is creepy.
6. Fight Club
Song: “Where is My Mind?” by The Pixies
What exactly is the ending of Fight Club? Happy? Tragic? Romantic? It’s kind of all three. The unnamed narrator (Edward Norton) has finally killed his split personality Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and is watching with Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) as the city begins to fall down around him. The loud guitars of The Pixies come in with the most appropriately titled song—”Where is My Mind?”
The answer to the Pixies titular question seems to be a positive one though. Finally, the narrator’s mind is somewhat clear, telling Marla, “You met me at a very strange time in my life.” Without this line, I could understand the ending suggesting that he has gone completely mad or is even dying, but its clarity suggests otherwise. Director David Fincher even called Fight Club a coming-of-age story, comparing it to The Graduate of all things. Well, if Fight Club is 1999’s The Graduate, I suppose the folk rock sounds of Simon and Garfunkel have been updated to the alternative rock of the Pixies, and there’s no better way either film could have ended.
5. Breaking Bad
Song: “Baby Blue” by Badfinger
From his cancer diagnosis and turn to evil in the first hour of Breaking Bad, most viewers were expecting Walter White to die in the finale. It was more a question of how than if. Taken out by his own devices (literally) and gradually dying of wounds, Walt admires his lab equipment one last time. It’s a poignant scene already, but “Baby Blue” by Badfinger just knocks it out of the park.
There are other songs that would have worked well, like Marty Robbins’ “El Paso,” which plays at the beginning and is referenced in the episode title “Felina,” or Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” However, the opening lyric of “Guess I got what I deserved” sums up Walter White better than any Dylan lyric could. The baby blue is of course the blue crystal meth he has been manufacturing for two years. Ironically, he is with his love, his lab, admiring it like a lover he has been reunited with one last time.
4. Donnie Darko
Song: “Mad World” by Gary Jules
One of the most enigmatic films of the 21st century, people will probably never stop debating what Donnie Darko is actually about. That aside, I think we can all agree that the film’s final scene is depressing, haunting, and even a little beautiful.
The only cover on the list, “Mad World” was originally a Tears for Fears song, and that version is fine but dated. Gary Jules’ version is stripped-down and slowed-down, giving a dreamlike feel to the Donnie Darko‘s final moments. The original song felt like a slip into insanity, but this one feels like a dirge. Is the line “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had” a key to unlocking the film’s meaning? Perhaps, but it definitely will stick with you long after the movie has ended.
3. The Matador
Song: “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers
Most people probably aren’t even aware that The Matador exists, but it is a really enjoyable comedy. Relying on some incredible buddy chemistry between Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear, it’s both hilarious and, by the end, surprisingly heartwarming. When the movie is a dark comedy about a hit man, you probably aren’t expecting a touching ending, but there is one, and it is one incredible scene.
As Brosnan’s Julian finally moves on retirement (that’s not hit man code… he’s actually retiring), he watches as Danny (Kinnear) and Carolyn (Hope Davis) put flowers at their son’s grave. “All These Things That I’ve Done” is such a beautiful song, and it amplifies the already emotional scene. Like the singer in the song, Julian is forgetting the past and looking into the future. He lays a Greece brochure on their car, looks at himself in the side view mirror, finally somewhat content with who he is, and walks away.
2. The Sopranos
Song: “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey
Alright, so you probably knew this one was coming. I’m not going into interpretations of the final scene here—I of course have my own, but that’s a different article for a different time. I’ll leave it at this being one of the tensest scenes in the history of entertainment.
Is “Don’t Stop Believin” overused? Of course, but really only since this aired. It was in movies and TV before, but this really boosted its popularity. It’s a song about perseverance and the American Dream, a theme The Sopranos constantly dealt with. Beyond that, “Don’t Stop Believin” is a song that is constantly building, starting with some clear piano chords and eventually increasing to the huge chorus. The scene seems to be building to something, a final shot (perhaps a final gunshot) that will give us some closure, but then we get the exact opposite—silence and a black screen right after the lyrics “Don’t stop.”
Fans weren’t too thrilled in 2007 when it aired, but it has since gained a reputation as one of the finest series finales of all time. Regardless of your interpretation, you have to admit it’s a purely Sopranos way to go out, and you will never hear “Don’t Stop Believin” without thinking of this scene.
Well, we’ve talked about the sad, the heartwarming, and the downright horrifying, but there’s one kind of final song we haven’t touched on yet—the hilarious. “We’ll Meet Again” at the end of Dr. Strangelove is a close contender, and “Prisoners of Love” from the original The Producers is underrated, but at the end of the day, there was only one choice.
1. Life of Brian
Song: “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” by Eric Idle
Monty Python needed a solid ending for Life of Brian, although nearly anything would have been better than the one in Holy Grail. Life of Brian is not a parody of the life of Jesus, but it does still end in crucifixion, which is pretty hard to make funny. So what do we get? A parody of Disney songs about the inevitability of death.
It is one of Python’s greatest moments, and Idle’s lyrics will make you laugh over and over. I’ve always enjoyed how happily he sings “Always look on the bright side of death/Just before you draw your terminal breath.” You can just imagine the Roman soldiers off screen, furious at how lightly these guys are taking their own executions.
The message of not taking anything in life, even death, too seriously has really had an impact in the years since, particularly on Britons. When asked what song Brits would like to have played at their funeral, “Bright Side of Life” came in third. Appropriately, the song was played at Graham Chapman’s funeral as well. It’s one you can turn on any place any time and you’ll smile, but its place at the end of Life of Brian is untouchable. Facing the curtain with a bow indeed.