When you watch as many movies as I do, sometimes you come across something that just blows your mind. When this happens, it’s best to write it down and pray you never see it again.
What the F*** Was I Watching? : Savages
What the F*** Did I Just See? : The worst cop out since Cop Out
Adapting a novel is sort of a double-edged sword to filmmakers. On the one hand, if it’s a beloved novel, you already have a built-in audience ready to hand over their hard-earned money to watch it. Sometimes though, these fan bases can be rabid if they can sense that the source material is not being treated properly. Most filmmakers attempt to balance their own artistic sensibilities while staying as true to the source material as possible. And then, Oliver Stone makes Savages.
Through a recommendation I read online, I picked up Don Winslow’s Savages and found it an enjoyable, quick read. It was pulpy, cinematic, and it had a style all its own. The fact is, the book could have been lifted almost word for word and placed into a movie with very little effort. It reads like it was written with the film version already in mind. For the most part, it translates; this isn’t a review of the film, so I won’t go into the details of how bland Blake Lively is in the film and how her voice over nearly kills the whole movie. The film does get things right, especially in the rest of the casting, but what it doesn’t get right is the ending.
It’s one thing to change an ending. I get it: Hollywood loves a happy ending, so it’s no surprise to me that Oliver Stone would give us what people assume the movie-going public wants. No, the bigger cop out is that he gives us the original ending and then takes it away from us.
So here’s how the ending plays out (Spoilers, obviously): In the first ending, everyone dies. Sticking true to the “Us against the world” theme from the novel, Ben gets fatally wounded during the final shootout, and Chon and O decide to take their own lives rather than go on without Ben. It fits in with the novel’s focus on the relationship of the three protagonists. It’s a testament to a foreign idea of love that can somehow be polyamorous, yet completely equal. Poetically, it ends on their terms, like Romeo and Juliet… and another Romeo.
The movie and novel pits three people that are in over their heads in a battle between a very violent cartel and in order to succeed, or at least contend, Chon and Ben must resort to stooping to the savagery that the other team chooses to play with and it ultimately leads to their own downfall. With specific mention of Ben, he has a pacifist nature and he breaks his morale code of conduct; after the events of the film and novel unfold, there’s no way he can possibly go back to it.
If we are to look at the three protagonists as Freud would, Ben, Chon, and O all play out the roles of the id, ego, and super-ego. Chon is the id: he is primal from the start, from the way he has sex with O to the way he has been trained to fight. Ben is the super-ego, constantly at odds with the id over the morality of it all, while O, or rather the desire to get O back unharmed, is the mediating, organizing ego that keeps the two parts in balance. Without Ben, the system breaks down; the id takes over, unable to come back from the savage world. In a way, this tri-dependent relationship only worked as three, as each character merely existed as one-third of a whole, making the death of one of them the true death of all of them.
That wasn’t enough for the filmmakers, though. Instead, they give you this ending, take it away, and give you another one. In typical Hollywood fashion, the villain gets caught and the good guys ride off into the sunset. As I said, if this was the one way they chose to end the film, then fine. I’ll look past the fact that it kind of unwound several thematic elements from the source material in order to satisfy the happy ending trope. However, showing us the true ending and letting it play out as if it were real, then taking it all back is like a filmmaker having his cake and eating it, too.
Spoilers to any Twilight fans out there, but this is exactly the same crap that they pulled on fans in Breaking Dawn: Part 2. That movie leads you to believe that it all leads up to one final showdown and the film delivers: there’s a big fight and there are decapitations of hilarious frequency, but then, just as one of these FINALLY has some sort of interesting aspect, they take it away. It never happened. It was simply a vision. The filmmakers just wasted ten minutes of your time. It could be worse, though. They could’ve wasted an entire season of television.