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Reincarnation, luck and apathy: the most enigmatic cinema endings explained

Mariano Garcia remembers the film endings that you will never forget, and elucidates the dirty secrets behind each one of them

There’s something special about a movie that ends on an enigmatic note, but sometimes you’re left wanting more. Some of the most famous films in history have left us with a mysterious ending but what did they really mean?


1. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980) – the hotel that reincarnates workers!

Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, famously ends this movie out in the snow and we see a photo from 1921 with Jack in the hotel’s ballroom. Since the action is set decades after this, viewers are left wondering what this image means. One of the problems is that the big screen adaption varied widely from Stephen King’s 1977 book, so we can’t find any clues in there.

The answers come from director Stanley Kubrick, who suggests that the Overlook Hotel has a way of reincarnating previous workers. In the same way, the caretaker’s confirmation that he’s always been the caretaker is because he’s the reincarnation of the person who used to carry out this role. This explanation doesn’t satisfy everyone though, which is why so many have created their own theories. The Overlook Hotel’s exterior is actually the Timberline Lodge in Oregon. However, the interior shots are based on other hotels in the US.


2. Casino (Martin Scorsese, 1995) – how did Sam survive?

Robert De Niro plays successful casino boss Sam “Ace” Rothstein in this 1995 movie by Martin Scorsese. It starts with Sam’s car exploding but at the end of the movie, it’s revealed that he survived the blast. The reason for this is simple luck, as his Cadillac is a model that has a metal plate below the driver’s seat. The mob let him go back to his old life after this but despite his skill with numbers and business sense, it was just luck that he got out alive while associates like Nicky (Joe Pesci) didn’t.

While this film tracks the rise of Las Vegas’ casinos from the 1960s through to the 1980s, far older casinos are dotted across the planet. This look at some of the oldest casinos on the planet includes the Casino de Venezia which opened for business in the 17th century. It also includes the Casino de Monte-Carlo where movies like Goldeneye and Ocean’s Twelve have been filmed.


3. Casablanca (Michael Cutiz, 1943) – and a Change of Heart!

Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, saying “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” is one of the best-known film endings ever. Before this, Rick had persuaded Ingrid Bergman’s character, Ilsa Lund, to leave without him. The area that confuses a lot of viewers is why French officer Captain Renault, played by Claude Rains, suddenly changes his opinion and is now on Rick’s side.

This is because the German official Major Heinrich Strasser is now out of the way, and Renault can reveal himself as a Resistance sympathizer. Overall, the pair have been apathetic to the plight of others due to their own personal issues, but by the end they’ve realized that they can make a difference by working together.

By better understanding these movie endings, we can appreciate the quality of the writing and the acting that made them subtle enough to confuse movie-goers for decades.

The ending of Casablanca is also pictured at the top of this article.

By Mariano Garcia - 27-06-2023

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