Emily Bateman ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
Have you ever seen a movie and just sat there for a while thinking, “Wow. That was some powerful stuff.” Movies have the ability to affect us like no other medium, and one way they do that is through the dialogue. Whether it’s that hook at the beginning to keep you interested or the perfect closing line to tie it all together, here is a list of the best opening and closing lines in film.
Best Opening Lines
“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” – Henry Hill (Ray Liotta)
Martin Scorsese’s classic mob movie is everything we could ever want it to be: powerful, riveting, and violent. Like most Scorsese films, Goodfellas was a personal project from the heart, and this quotation exemplifies all the dedication and eagerness of the film’s climactic end.
“Chapter one. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion.” Uh, no. Make that “He romanticized it all out of proportion. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin.” Um, no. Let me start this over. “Chapter one. He was too romantic about Manhattan, as he was about everything else. He thrived on the hustle, bustle of the crowds and the traffic. To him, New York meant beautiful women and street-smart guys who seemed to know all the angles.” Ah, corny. Too corny for a man of my taste. Let me…try and make it more profound. “Chapter one. He adored New York City. To him, it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. The same lack of integrity to cause so many people to take the easy way out…was rapidly turning the town of his dreams.” No, it’s gonna be too preachy. I mean, face it, I wanna sell some books here. “Chapter one. He adored New York City, although to him it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. How hard it was to exist in a society desensitized by drugs, loud music, television, crime, garbage.” Too angry. I don’t wanna be angry. “Chapter one. He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Behind his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat.” I love this. “New York was his town and it always would be.” –Isaac Davis (Woody Allen)
I have been a huge Woody Allen fan for as long as I can remember, and the opening speech in Manhattan still gets me. It has a suave sense of anxiety, and fully sums up every Woody Allen character perfectly. Mix it with absolutely stunning black and white footage of New York and top with a big band George Gershwin soundtrack and you get one of the best opening lines in film history.
“My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood; this is my street; this is my life. I am 42 years old; in less than a year I will be dead. Of course I don’t know that yet, and in a way, I am dead already.” –Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey)
Spoiler alert! What a way to catch the viewer off guard and hook them into the drama instantly. Beginning Sam Mendes’ Oscar-nominated American Beauty with a monotone voice over from Kevin Spacey, immediately intriguing the audience into finding out the deep dark secrets of the nuclear family life in suburban America. And there are plenty.
“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life . . . But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?” -Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor)
This high energy line is the perfect opening for a dynamic film about drug addicted Scots. This speech by Ewan McGregor, when paired with visuals of shoddy empty apartments and a violent game of football (the British kind), effectively sets us up for the crazy ride that is Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting.
“I was 12 going on 13 the first time I saw a dead human being.” –Gordie Lachance (Richard Dreyfuss)
Beginning with a voice over by Richard Dreyfuss, who plays older Gordie Lachance, we are transported back to 1950’s Oregon, where Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Verno backpack through the forest in search of a dead body. If they find it, they get to be on TV! Not only do they find the body, but they also learn a lot about each other and themselves in this classic coming of age drama.
“Do I have an original thought in my head? My bald head. Maybe if I were happier, my hair wouldn’t be falling out. Life is short. I need to make the most of it. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I’m a walking cliché. I really need to go to the doctor and have my leg checked. There’s something wrong. A bump. The dentist called again. I’m way overdue. If I stop putting things off, I would be happier. All I do is sit on my fat ass. If my ass wasn’t fat I would be happier. I wouldn’t have to wear these shirts with the tails out all the time. Like that’s fooling anyone. Fat ass. I should start jogging again. Five miles a day. Really do it this time. Maybe rock climbing. I need to turn my life around. What do I need to do? I need to fall in love. I need to have a girlfriend. I need to read more, improve myself. What if I learned Russian or something? Or took up an instrument? I could speak Chinese. I’d be the screenwriter who speaks Chinese and plays the oboe. That would be cool. I should get my hair cut short. Stop trying to fool myself and everyone else into thinking I have a full head of hair. How pathetic is that? Just be real. Confident. Isn’t that what women are attracted to? Men don’t have to be attractive. But that’s not true. Especially these days. Almost as much pressure on men as there is on women these days. Why should I be made to feel I have to apologize for my existence? Maybe it’s my brain chemistry. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me. Bad chemistry. All my problems and anxiety can be reduced to a chemical imbalance or some kind of misfiring synapses. I need to get help for that. But I’ll still be ugly though. Nothing’s gonna change that.” –Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage)
Kaufman channels a bit of Woody Allen here, with the same kind of stream of consciousness opening. Kaufman wrote the script for Adaptation because he was facing writer’s block with another project. All of Kaufman’s, who in the film is played by Nicolas Cage, thoughts are his own thoughts and anxieties he had while writing at one point or another.
Best Closing Lines
“James Gordon Jr.: Why’s he running, Dad?
Lt. James Gordon: Because we have to chase him.
James Gordon Jr.: He didn’t do anything wrong.
Lt. James Gordon: Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.”
We all remember this powerful ending scene from Christopher Nolan’s famous Batman movie for a reason. As Bruce Wayne takes off in the pitch black of the night on the Batcycle, we hear Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) describe him better than anyone can–While also leaving us on a bit of a cliffhanger for The Dark Knight Rises.
“I’m finished.” –Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis)
In order for this quote to have the poignancy and effect it should, I need to first set up its context. However, I can’t do that without spoiling anything. So basically, I will say that Daniel Day-Lewis deserved his Oscar for There Will Be Blood, and the only way to understand is to see this film.
“After that it got pretty late. And we both had to go, but it was great seeing Annie again. I realized what a terrific person she was and-and how much fun it was just knowing her and I-I thought of that old joke, you know, this-this-this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy. He thinks he’s a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” And the guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships. You know, they’re totally irrational and crazy and absurd and … but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us need the eggs.” –Alvy Singer (Woody Allen)
I know a Woody Allen film was already on this list, but this ending was just so strong it also had to go on the list! Annie and Alvy, now exes, meet up for probably one last time. The uncertainty of their future looms over the final scene—Will they ever see each other ever again? Is there even the smallest chance they’ll get together again? Anyone who has ever experienced love knows how perfectly Woody nails the post-relationship ambiguity.
“[Sean reads a note from Will: “Sean, if the Professor calls about that job, just tell him, sorry, I have to go see about a girl.”]
Sean: Son of a bitch…He stole my line.”
Will is a tough lower-class genius who works as a janitor at MIT. When he gets into a brawl, he is sent to jail and the only way out is to go to therapy. The last line that Will’s psychiatrist, Sean, says in the film was ad-libbed by Robin Williams. It adds just that bit of rough edge to an otherwise completely sweet and satisfying ending. This screenplay won its’ authors, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, an Oscar for Best Screenplay.
“Frodo [voiceover]: My dear Sam. You cannot always be torn in two. You have to be one and whole for many years. You have so much enjoy and to be and to do. Because Sam, your part in the journey goes on.
[Sam goes home to warm embraces from his family]
Sam: Well … I’m back.”
It’s finally over. You’ve journeyed along with Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) through three long movies. You understand their struggles. As a viewer you get to see their ups and their downs. It feels strange saying goodbye, but you have to. Just like Sam. The end to The Lord of the Rings series is lovely. It’s bittersweet, it’s sensitive and it’s perfect.