Monday, November 03, 2008

Staring Into Nothingness


The movie Heat starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro in the lead roles is undoubtedly one of my all time favourites. You cannot escape the momentous presence of these two giants of Western cinema, and the film itself contains so many memorable instances and situations - a masterwork of film directing.

What I would like to briefly comment on is the ending scene however. Emphasizing its hypnotic power is pointless as it is self-evident, but the real brilliance for me is conferred upon the close-up shot of Al Pacino's face as he stares into the unknown, the half-lit airport runway encompassing him and his dying nemesis. Initialliy, he has his mouth slightly open, his breathing still heavy after what has just happened. He stares into the void, the camera focusing on his face and more importantly, his eyes - he is momentarily lost with a confused face expression; and for a few seconds it looks as though his eyes are gradually filling up with tears, but that very same instant, he suddenly closes his mouth, his face slowly and pensively transformed, resulting in a silent, contemplative, equanimous expression, as he visibly withholds his tears, accepting the reality of the situation - it was ultimately his duty and it was the 'right' thing to do.

That precise moment, that exact shot is the most powerful instant of the entire scene, for in that brief close-up on Pacino's face, the mechanism by means of which human emotions function is exposed in all its splendour: all initially seems too overwhelming, too hard to swallow and one's emotional frailty warrants a river of tears, a mental breakdown even; and yet our tenedency to repress our pains, to stay sober, to acknowledge the cold indifference of the outside world - that is the moment where our spiritual being, though on the verge of collapse, in the moment where it is at its weakest, it becomes aware of its own strength and with a calm, collected albeit solemn face, we simply accept reality as it is.

This is precisely what Pacino's character experiences in that final close-up shot - he takes a peek over the precipice where nothingness resides, and indeed he stares into nothingness for a few seconds, not knowing what to do or where to go; and just then, he sees his own reflection in his surroundings, the airport, which he realises is where his social being is, and where his duty lies - a calm, dignified expression swims decisively over his face. He is alive.