Savages – Interrogation Series: Week 5

Oliver Stone’s” Savages – Interrogation Series: Week 5″ provides thematic clarity to one of the feature film’s narrative tropes: the double-ending. Because Week 5 dropped onto YouTube after the film’s premiere on July 6, it is also the first set to be viewed from the perspective of hindsight. Consequently, the spectator experiences the interrogations with full knowledge of their placement in the film’s story.

To describe the context, the film’s double-ending must be spoiled. The fake-out ending of Savages consists of a shoot-out that takes the lives of all five of the characters featured in the Interrogation Series. However, Stone flips the script and ends the shoot-out redeux with the five characters getting arrested, rather than dying. The fake ending accounts for the Interrogation Series’ Purgatorial sense of moral reckoning (and Stone’s spiritually expressive rear-projection imagery). Meanwhile, the “real” ending establishes the story time of this Internet exclusive as taking place after the arrest and prior to the film’s epilogue.

Lado (Benicio Del Toro) responds to Stone the interrogator’s leading question–“Greed? Revenge?”–about his motive for killing: “I don’t believe in vengeance, just fate.” This duality–vengeance vs. fate–establishes the moral basis for Stone’s satirical dual finale. The first ending acts out the cycles of vengeance in the film’s drug war–as head of the Mexican drug cartel, Elena (Salma Hayek) expresses her motive for revenge: “I’m going to kill them first…I did what I had to do. My daughter is still alive.” The second ending conveys Stone’s sense of fate meted out in the arrests–after which American drug dealers Chon (Taylor Kitsch), Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Ophelia (Blake Lively) get released because of their federal connections. The legal system–society’s answer to “vengeance”–is corrupt.

The faux ending dramatizes the social corrosiveness of legal corruption and crime-world cycles of violence as menage a trois Liebestod. In interrogating Ben and Chon, Stone goads the two for their “negligence in protecting” their shared girlfriend Ophelia (as images of her violation at the hands of Lado appear in the rear-projected images). Ben answers Stone’s challenges: “I don’t need your help. And she will return in one piece.” Ben, Chon and Ophelia’s star-crossed love puts the larger institutional frameworks (criminal underworld and law enforcement) in critical relief. Chon threatens in his interrogation: “It’s not over.” Thus he expresses the cycle of endless revenge (the criminal alternative to legal justice).

It’s not over. The second ending contains within it a benevolent irony. Although cynically dramatizing the insufficiency of our legal system, it conveys a radical hope. Stone closes out his interrogation of Ophelia by asking: “What are you going to do with the rest of your life?” The ending of the film–in which the American threesome obtain their legal freedom, escaping danger (and the institutions insufficient to their needs)–answers Ophelia’s call: “I just want to start over.” The Interrogation Series makes Ben, Chon and Ophelia’s new life as “savages” that closes the feature film as strangely uplifting as the birthday balloons at the end of Stone’s Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (2010). Rising above sentimentality, Stone attests to cosmic justice.

 

This is the closing post Demetry’s online exclusive Stone Images series. Enjoy all installments on CityArts’ archives.

John Demetry’s The Community of Desire: Selected Critical Writings (2001-2007) is available for purchase from www.lulu.com.