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That controversial ending to "The Favourite"

by Mark Brinkerhoff

Happy post-Oscar nominations week! Despite a fair amount of rubbish (*cough* Bohemian Rhapsody), the Academy has blessed The Favourite with a deservedly (co-)leading 10 nominations. Bravo! Well done. On that note, it’s high time we talk about the film’s—shall we say—polarizing ending. Are you ready? Let’s go… (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)

Those of you who’ve been able—and fortunate enough—to see The Favourite can attest to its gallows humor and high-wire theatrics. From scene to scene, you may find yourself guffawing at the (back)biting wit, scratching your head at director Yorgos Lanthimos’ trademark absurdities, or squirming in your seat while shedding a tear during a heartbreaking reveal. It’s all there for us, and we're here for it. Queen Anne demands it. Yet even I was personally ill-prepared for a closing scene that is as uncomfortably bleak as it is entirely fitting given the myriad scheming, plotting and palace intrigue that precede it. 

Though The Favourite famously was not written by Lanthimos, you wouldn’t know it watching the film’s long, unbroken, almost-dreamlike final shot. In fact, this scene seems handwritten by him. Featuring a crazed Anne (Olivia Colman), mercilessly clutching the hair while pushing on the head of a cowering, wincing Abigail (Emma Stone), the queen’s devious lady-in-waiting who has been forced to massage her gout-ridden feet, the scene plays out like a candle-lit royal nightmare—a be-careful-what-you-wish-for cautionary tale for the upwardly-mobile aristocrats of 18th century English court society. It finally concludes with a deeply uncomfortable fade-out that, somewhat discordant with the rest of the film, nevertheless feels *pure* Lanthimos. 

I’ve heard several people comment that this scene nearly “ruined” the film for them, so extended and disorienting the coda. I get it—it can be an agonizingly brutal sit after such a weird, wild ride through the darkly, dryly funny court of Queen Anne, circa 1708. But, like a painter who signs his (or her) work upon completion, this ending reads like the director’s signature, his unmistakable imprimatur throwing many a viewer for a loop while remaining in keeping with The Favourite’s pitch-black comic tone. It’s a marvel of the discomfiting (for Stone’s character) and discomfort (for the audience).

You can quite easily imagine this as simply the end of a chapter/verse, vs. an actual finale. This isn’t an ending in any conventional way but rather the beginning of the rest of duplicitous Abigail’s life …of de-facto servitude to Anne’s whims, so long as the queen remains among the living—and Abigail stays in the queen’s good graces. God have mercy on her soul?

The Favourite is playing now nationwide. If it's your favourite vote for it on the various Oscar chart polls

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Reader Comments (27)

First time I saw it I found it indulgent and typical Yorgos nonsense. Second time it was off-putting in all the right ways. Abigail is confined to a life of servitude regardless of her societal stature, forever obligated to service the Queen sexually after going through so much to dig herself out of a life spent doing that for others.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered Commentertr

Was I wrong in interpreting the scene as sexual? Earlier in the film the Queen had told Abigail to 'rub her leg' and this led to Abigail servicing the queen. I think that is what was happening in the final sequence - Abigail realising she was basically doomed to prostitute herself despite all of her scheming.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterevangelina

Interesting. The ending is probably the only thing I really like about the film, but I can definitely see why it would be polarizing.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterByrd

I loved "The Favourite." Of the nominees it would get my vote for best picture, but sadly, it may go home empty-handed next month. Best hope is probably costume design.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

I understand if people don't like it, but I don't understand people being shocked or totally surprised. The negative one could say is it's doing too much. It's not nonsense, but potentially full of too many obvious possibilities. I'm not sure. Might simply be down to the need for another viewing.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMe

The ending is why The Favourite isn't one of my favorites of the year. It was weird and depressing. But arguably so was the entire movie.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I vividly remember watching this ending the first time. It was the first night the film played in Chicago and the theater was packed. The ending was so emotionally and visually intense, and the audience who laughed throughout the whole film was dead silent by the time the last rabbits faded away before the credits. Everyone seemed both horrified and transfixed. But given the tone of the film and what I know of Lanthimos' filmography, I still get surprised when I hear that it's divisive.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKristenCraze

The ending was astounding in all the right ways. Abigail getting what was coming to her.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

I was not disoriented or confused at all. I find it a great finale instead. Maybe because I'm European and we are used to this kind of poetical things, like Cold War and At Eternity's Gate unusual rhythm and editing, or good German movies with horrible dialogues (*cough.. *cough.. Die Welle).
As the same way which for Americans is usual to find moving and cry for boring and sappy stories about someone who fell in love with problematic people who die: Love Story, Terms of Endearment or SPOILER A star is born. (I'm just kidding about differences, with love).

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrown Cow Stunning

Considering the endings to all of Lanthimos' other films, I'm more surprised than anyone would expect anything but a disturbing ending to any of his films. He telegraphs what's going to happen early on and then tries to make everyone forget that he told you what would have to happen. It's surprised Pikachu meme material.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

I'm surprised that the comments thus far have only been about Abigail's perspective and not Anne's. I saw the final scene more as Anne, suddenly awakening to Abigail's true nature after observing her casually crushing a rabbit, definitively exerting her own power.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAustin

I don't understand the polarization. It seemed very apt. Though it doens't mesh with the film's overall tone, Abigail getting what she wants still isn't really what she wants. I loved the ending, and I agree with the mechanical sexual overtones of it all.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBen

It's my fave 2018 ending,Abigail's final fate is totally devilish,Lady Sarah would've smiled.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I'm surprised to hear this description of it - what I hated about the ending was the overlay of all the rabbits, which I thought was pretentious in a way the rest of the film wasn't. The actual character interaction made perfect sense to me and felt inevitable, it was the rabbits that felt like arbitrary, opaque symbols.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

I reacted a bit badly towards the ending because it was this realization that the film had switched from being mostly a dramatic comedy to being a straight up tragedy. I'm still not sure if I loved that transition and want to reassess it on further viewing. But it's definitely high art.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

I didn't know the ending was controversial; the ending is what ultimately made the film work for me. It stuck its landing, maybe more than any movie I've seen this year. Of course, I am also a fan of the ending in "Killer Joe" so take this with a grain of salt. (Or a smidge of cake.)

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKJ

The rabbits (we are told) represent all of the Queen's miscarried children. The final scene shows that everyone is unhappy (the Queen is descending but can still lash out, Abigail may have her privilege but she will always be a prostitute and subservient to the Queen). The intersection of rabbits and the two women at the end is meant to show that misery and cruelty only begets more misery? Those rabbits would only multiply if left alone to eat cake and get sick.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCliff Notes

The rabbits were what made it "controversial," I thought. Not the concept of the Queen and her consort being miserable forever (one is doomed to a life of prostitution, the other to a life with someone she knows she cannot trust).That worked.

The rabbits symbolized.. her "children" (followers, servants, people of England?) who will forever be multiplying but not truly be her "children"? Wasn't sure..

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterParanoid Android

I loved the movie and the ending ( for me ) totally fit the rest of the movie. I like that all is not

spelled out for you.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

That ending was perfect. I interpreted it as Abigail realizing where she stands with the Queen and where her life is headed and the Queen realizing the devious person that Abigail is. All three women lose at the end.

This is my favorite movie of 2018. Just magnificent film making.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterhickory

This was on Vulture, and seems as good as any other explanation: "Abigail’s act has taken on a bastardized truth: She’s a pet, caged and helpless. And the queen’s desperate desire for unconditional love, the love of the children she doesn’t have, has led her to cast off the one person who truly cared about her (Sarah). All she’s left with are rabbits."

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

I am one of those for whom the ending nearly ruined the movie. But "nearly" is the operative word here, since it's still my favorite English language 2018 film so far, and my second favorite Lanthimos after the exquisite Dogtooth. However my problem with the ending is not that it's disturbing, controversial or ambiguous, it's just plain obvious. Both actresses do a magnificent job with their faces during the last scene (as well as the entire film) and for us to get that both ladies are misreable and Sarah is the only (possibly semi) winner there's no need for the scene to go on full three minutes. Although I found the rabbits were a nice touch.

My theory with the ending is that Lanthimos, working for the first time with somebody else's script, kinda overplayed his hand. He felt that the screenplay was a bit too light for his body of work and wanted the ending to give a sense of discomfort to the viewer. Apparently he reached his goal too. But I personally would have preferred a less pretentious way to edit that particular ending without changing much. My feeling that this could have been a better tonal choice.

I had so many problems with his "overplaying his hand" with his previous movie, the one with the deer, that I take this one as just a tiny flaw in an otherwise amply satisfying movie.

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterhcu

Count me as among those who like the off-kilter, wildcard ending of The Favourite. I like that it ended rather menacingly and with a bitter bitter aftertaste as a counterpoint to the madcap craziness that came before that. Sure we may differ in the interpretation of the ending but I agree with some of you here because I see it as the ultimate triumph of Lady Sarah. She was shunned and discredited due to palace intrigues and also as outcomes of her machinations, but she ultimately escaped the place that breeds ill-will and power squabblings. In the end, Abigail may have won by taking over the powerful position of Lady Sarah but she will be enslaved, demeaned and made to do things inorder to stay in power. Lady Sarah understood the Queen's irrationality and lived with it, often in peace and in accord. One of the most powerful lines was what Lady Sarah said to Queen Anne behind closed doors, something like "I am the only one who will tell you when you are hideous; if that isn't love...."

January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

I think the ending takes the movie from great to masterpiece kinda. It's very confrontational, but it reminds us that we've been watching not a simple comedy but a tragicomedy the whole time. I think the rabbits are beautifully obvious. We already know they're psychological scars and the scars just keep multiplying.

the movie is even better (including the ending) the second time around.

January 28, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Its the sobering Monday morning after a crazed weekend of scoring drugs, getting royally drunk, sucking up at work parties and doing everything you can to get into someone’s pants. Only to realize youre now 6000$ in debt, you have nowhere to live and the dude you worked so hard to screw has a creepy af fetish.

January 29, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterkris01

Great post/thread. Need to watch this film again (its been 2 months)

January 29, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEoghan McQ

i HATED the rabbits and (i think) the music. dumb stylistic florishes that took you out of the film abruptly.

Plot-wise, the ending was great. She got what was coming to her so I dknt tgink that is the contoversy so much.

January 29, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

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