1978’s The End is a childhood favorite of mine. I saw it when I was around nine years old, and while I don’t think I appreciated all its commentary on the human condition at that time, I did recognize it was something special.
In the film, Burt Reynolds plays Wendell, and he has just discovered he has about a year to live. If this were a normal movie, Wendell would do all those things on his bucket list before the sun goes down on his life (skydive, eat at a fancy restaurant, kick a field goal at a famous football field, and so on). Instead, he figures he shouldn’t wait around for the end to come to him. No, he thinks he should kill himself, thus ending his life on his own terms. He does try to tie up some loose ends, and when this fails he swallows a bunch of pills to usher in the great beyond. Unfortunately, he also fails in his suicide attempt and ends up in a mental hospital where he meets a fellow patient (the excellent Dom DeLuise) who agrees to help him end his life. At the film’s conclusion Wendell decides he wants to live (in a funny screw-with-viewers scene), but his partner-in-suicide decides to continue their little plan.
In case I haven’t been clear, this is a comedy.
Reynolds directed this movie, and what he did was walk a fine line between tasteless and sublime. Suicide is not a subject most people would find funny, but it is hilarious here, making this a very brave film. Reynolds, in tackling this issue, could have tanked his career with this one. Instead, he showed that not only is he is a mature actor, but also a competent director.
My memories of this are probably tainted by time (I doubt I would think highly of the slapstick elements now), but as a young boy it taught me that there is comedy to be mined from seemingly taboo subjects and in how people react when confronted with them. Sadly, this film is virtually forgotten even amongst Burt Reynolds fans (there are some still out there), and it deserves more than being relegated to the dustbin of cinematic history.
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