My wife and I watched Lord of the Rings the other day, an act that spurred a debate on great movie deaths. A year or so ago, we came up with a list of dramatic deaths in movies we liked, so I decided to blog about it today.
As I started to put the list down, I realized most of these deaths involve some kind of noble sacrifice. Thus, I have concluded that a noble sacrifice makes for a great movie death.
Leonidas, 300 - Gerard Butler is awesome in this movie, a fictional retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae via Frank Miller's graphic novel 300. Somehow, this movie is both glitzy and gritty at the same time, but the star of the show is Butler's Leonidas. In the end, he refuses to bow before Xerxes, unleashing a final act of defiance that just misses its mark. Leonidas goes down in a blaze of glory (translation: arrows that blot out the sun), a strong character made legendary by sacrificing himself for his people.
Boromir, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - Sean Bean is awesome. This is a verifiable fact. NOT an opinion, people. Boromir's death in The Fellowship of the Ring may be the best movie death in history. Here's Boromir, the flawed warrior who tried to take the One Ring from Frodo, rising to protect Merry and Pippin. He takes an arrow to the chest, and it looks like it's all over.
Not so fast!
Through sheer will, Boromir comes to his feet time and time again, taking a few Uruk-hai with him in the process. The odds are too great for him to survive, and the hobbits are eventually kidnapped. Still, Boromir manages to redeem himself, holding on long enough to part on good terms with Aragorn.
Katsumoto, The Last Samurai - This is a beautiful end. Katsumoto, branded a rebel by a government looking to modernize, dies in battle. Mortally wounded, he wants to end it to the Old Way, and does so with help from his friend and ally, Nathan Algren. The two formerly bitter enemies share a dramatic moment on the battlefield, and as the light leaves Katsumoto's eyes, he utters: "Perfect. They are all...perfect."
Almost better is this exchange during the ending:
Emperor: Tell me how he died.
Nathan Algren: I will tell you how he lived.
Maximus, Gladiator - Of course, the scheming Commodus tries to rig the final fight against the general who became a slave who became a gladiator. As he did in nearly everything, Commodus fails miserably, meeting his own death at the hands of Maximus. But Maximus Decimus Meridius still suffers mortal wounds.
After slaying the emperor, the gladiator makes a few simple requests, saying, "Quintus! Release my men. Senator Gracchus is to be reinstated. There was a dream that was Rome. It shall be realized. These are the wishes of Marcus Aurelius."
Shortly after that, Maximus collapses, finds himself wandering in a wheat field, and reunites with his departed family.
Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars - Darth Vader is "only a master of evil," and Obi-Wan Kenobi warns his former friend, "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."
As the old friends duel, Obi-Wan spots Luke Skywalker. A smile passes over his lips as he cedes the fight to his former apprentice. Obi-Wan is down, but not done. And the galaxy far, far away has a new hope.
Rorschach, Watchmen - Rorschach's dogged pursuit of the truth ends with an unnerving revelation: the World's Smartest Man, Ozymandias, has committed wholesale slaughter in a misguided attempt to save the world.
Misguided? Perhaps, but it's effective. Ozymandias accomplishes exactly what he set out to do, but Rorschach wants to tell people the truth.
"Never compromise, not even in the face of Armageddon," the masked avenger says.
Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan realize they have a problem; if Rorschach talks, the world will never band together. And so Rorschach, reserved to his fate, removes his mask and stares down Dr. Manhattan.
"So what are you waiting for? Do it."
And with that, Rorschach is no more.
At least he left behind a journal.
Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - Spock's end in Wrath of Khan is simply amazing. Two friends get a final moment together, even though a wall separates them. The Vulcan has sacrificed himself to save the crew of the Enterprise, finding a way to win an impossible situation at an unimaginable price.
"Ship out of danger."
"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
"I have been and always shall be your friend."
And so Admiral Kirk loses his best friend, reminding us all that, "of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most...human."