savages was savaged when it came out. a lot of people thought it was oliver stone going back to his earlier style of natural born killers or scarface. but stone is being more dreamy in wild than ever. even u-turn’s psychotic nightmarish backdrop felt like a movie’s harsh acid trip compared to the lush, creepy plot stone attempts in savages.
the stone is falling on us. stone has never been one to make a movie that has little to say, but savages seems like an exercise in exploitation that only plays with the war on drugs to weave a fantasy story. at least that’s how it seems until the ending sequences of savages, where the stone completely deviates from the book.
a fast upload. Savages is told from the perspective of a disembodied narrator, or, who may or may not be dead. She is the girlfriend of Ben and Chon, two marijuana growers who produce super strong weed that they sell to legal marijuana dealers in California as well as illegal distribution outlets. Ella’s marijuana business is under the surveillance of a Mexican drug lord, Elena Sanchez, who kidnaps O to manipulate Ben and Chon into her business. With the reluctant help of corrupt FBI agent Dennis, they kidnap Elena’s daughter, steal one of her deliveries, and frame all of her agents for the crimes.
The story of the double kidnapping leads to a climactic exchange, told twice. The first version is a weird john woo style shootout where almost everyone dies. Chon injects Ben, O, and himself with a suicide drug, Elena is shot by a henchman, and no one lives happily ever after. this is revealed as a fantasy of o. The actual ending has the exchange threatening to turn into a shootout before being thwarted by Dennis rushing in to arrest Elena. In doing so, Dennis is doing a drug bust at the same time as heralding the end of one of Mexico’s major drug networks. ben, chon, and o are used as witnesses before they are hidden on some distant beach where they could be dead or alive, but o never confirms.
stone then closes the film with a frame saying “the end”, perhaps one of the most cynical touches of this film.
The first reading of the use of the ending is that stone simply states at the outset that this is all fiction; it is a fantasy that does not exist and should not be taken seriously. With this reading, Savages exists in a fairy tale world where creepy is the ideal. it’s an easy and valid read, especially since it’s a fantasy movie about the drug business. but I think there is an advantage to using the ending.
at the end of savages, dennis presents himself as the winner of the war on drugs in public. the good-natured marijuana growers are granted amnesty and sent to a distant island to protect them. it’s not as simple as that. dennis was in bed with elena’s main henchman, side. Side had been making moves to get out from under Elena, and make the switch to another Mexican capo, el azul. When Dennis breaks up Elena’s drug ring, he sets up the show for Azul’s drug ring to take over, and he can be a part of it. the end of the drug network is actually the configuration of the following. the use of “the end” is used cynically because stone has already established the continuation of the drug ring.
on the contrary, or hints that she may be dead. she spends the coda talking about how she, ben, and chon are on a beach living like beautiful savages and may emerge somewhere later. she doesn’t give a location, and the way her final monologue reads, she could just as easily have been killed by the government as she was sent to live on an idyllic beach on some remote island. As she talks about one day returning to civilization, her use of Stone’s ending hints that they were probably killed, as her story doesn’t actually continue.
People have read the ending of Savages as love conquers all, but I think Stone’s use of the ending is laced with much more acid than a simple surface reading would give. The fantasy on the idyllic island is given a completely different look than the oversaturated, creepy color palette Stone uses for the rest of the film. the ending sequence has a 16mm diaphanous feel, which could be the difference between ideal and reality, or the difference between death and life. the idyllic beach could be heaven instead of an actual location on earth for all we know. what we do know is that it is the end of this story.