Jon S. Baird and the importance of the final scene

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At first glance, there are not many similarities between the last two features directed by Scottish filmmaker Jon S. Baird. Whilst 2013’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Filth thrives on its ability to turn one’s stomach, 2018’s biopic Stan and Ollie is a sweet ode to the iconic duo Laurel and Hardy.

Their one – and strongest – similarity is the beauty of their final scenes. Baird skillfully approaches the concept of finality in two drastically different but equally effective ways. The final moments of Filth see Bruce “Robbo” Robertson about to end his life. Seconds before he lets go of his body towards hanging from the ceiling, he spots a glimpse of a new future in the shape of the silhouette of a woman whose deceased husband he tried to save. Her shadow, accompanied by her infant son, disappears from the semi-transparent doors as we all see Bruce’s neck snap, suddenly ending his twisted, painful existence. The lesson here could not be any clearer: there are no happy endings and love is a bittersweet illusion, not salvation.

The final scene of Stan and Ollie follows its two main characters, Laurel and Hardy, dancing in front of a sold-out theatre. The spotlights shining bright throughout what was their final performance together, a literal beacon of light guiding them home to the centre of the stage. The loud standing ovation of the crowd provides the duo the grand finale they not only desired but deserved after years of decline. It’s a touching farewell.

Baird may not have a characteristic visual style, but he knows how to turn the materials he is given into solid cinematic narratives with rich endings. Both of Baird’s films meet their end at the most precise moment, beautifully closing their main characters’ arc. To know when to place a final cut is a precious filmmaking skill, and one Baird has to spare.

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