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At the end of the movie it was not obvious to me what Alex's ultimate fate was. In particular, I wasn't clear whether he lived or died from his injury. It seemed like he might live, as he was still moving a bit, but everyone around him seemed completely unconcerned with getting him medical attention. I even considered the possibility that he was dead at the time of the ending, and we were just seeing him move, but the people in movie were just seeing him as dead.

Is it made clear at some point? Is it purposely ambiguous? Or was I just missing the obvious?

1
  • I've seen lots of movies with ambiguous endings. They do this on purpose as if their funding suddenly runs dry. They also do this to generate discussions and it's like you decide what happens. He is stabbed. Will he make it? What about the money hidden under the floor boards? Will he get to keep it? Will the police arrest him for those bodies which were disposed off earlier? Don't expect answers here coz even the directors and script writers don't know. Also it leaves the possibility to a sequel. Ha ha!!!!
    – user1686
    Jul 15, 2012 at 4:34

5 Answers 5

8

It is interesting, as I never assumed that Alex was dead, or even thought that this was ambiguous. Only reading this question made me realize the discussion around this point.

Yes it is surprising that the photographer was taking pictures of him whilst he lies there injured, but (following a quick check on youtube) he is clearly moving his head and facial expressions whilst this is going on - and smiling at the thought of the bag full of fake money that Juliet has taken after hammering the knife into him with her shoe. Yes he has lost a lot of blood, but to my mind it is looking like they are awaiting paramedics to arrive.

I think that the Director is not always authoritative when it comes to interpreting a movie - but certainly the director's opinion about the intention of a scene or shot is important to consider - and Danny Boyle has been clear that he intended Alex to survive the movie (Commentary on Special Edition DVD).

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  • cha-ching. "Commentary" = "reliable source" = checkmark.
    – Beska
    Dec 16, 2011 at 13:33
  • What's wrong with ambiguity?
    – matt_black
    Jan 14, 2012 at 1:46
  • 1
    @matt_black - nothing at all - I just don't think there is any in this scene at all
    – iandotkelly
    Jan 14, 2012 at 4:31
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The ending is deliberately ambiguous.

On the one hand, the police do not tend to him at all and the flash photography of the police camera is reminscient of police recording a homicide scene (and a link to the 1952 film noir Sunset Boulevard ending). On the other hand, Alex greets Inspector McCall with a cheery hello.

This fits the ongoing motif throughout the film of appearance versus reality - things are not what they seem. There are numerous examples of this: Hugo has killed a man when he says he hasn't; David's face appears in the opening shot with eyes open and voiceover when in fact he is dead (revealed at end); heaven is where god supposedly resides but in their flat the loft is inhabited by the gothic beast of the paranoid David who is becoming evil; the phone rings with no-one on the line - seems benign but in fact it's the thugs checking that they are home; Cameron appears as a harmless geek but in fact breaks Alex's nose; Juliet seems worth fighting for but in fact she drives the knife deeper and takes the money; the case seems to be full of money but in fact its just newspaper; the forest seems to to be a serene and natural place but in fact it hides a gruesome secret. There are many more.

So why ambiguous? The ambiguity emphasises the theme of money being the root of all evil. The three flatmates choose to dispose of Hugo's body secretly so that they can keep the case of cash. This seems attractive but in fact brings all three to their mutual and self-promulgated destruction. The film is ambiguous so that we are left to decide whether it ended with the good guy winning (Alex eventually emerges as someone who we like because he gallantly attacks David after he has hit Juliet).

Shallow Grave is the most under-recognised contemporary film. John Hodge has written a masterpiece of a screenplay which is as complex and complete as Shakespeare. The film should be listed as film noir and gothic. It has a strong reference to Orson Welles' 1964 film The Trial (based on the novel by Franz Kafka). The use of the macabre baby is also in Trainspotting (1996).

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  • Despite the fact that the other answer is going to remain as accepted (since the directors commentary explicitly answers the original question), I like the analysis here.
    – Beska
    Jul 29, 2013 at 12:26
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It appears to me that Alex knows he is dieing, and smiles because he is getting the last laugh, knowing he is lying on the money which nobody else can find -another good joke! His injury is too serious to survive. Juliet has made sure of that.

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  • I just always thought he was smiling because he knows he's about to get the money. True, he's injured, but the knife is in his shoulder, not his heart. I thought David pinned him with the first knife and was about to kill him when Juliet killed David. If Alex had been meant to die, David would have killed him, Juliet killed David, and ultimately none of them would have gotten the money.
    – user26731
    Oct 11, 2015 at 18:15
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I don't think it is that ambiguous if you examine the clues..

There are three things that happen in the closing scene that suggests he is dead.

  1. What I assume is a police photographer is seen taking multiple photos (with a flash) of a man who we are led to believe is conscious and seriously injured.

  2. While this is happening we can see in the background two paramedics chatting away ignoring the 'seriously injured' (not dead) man in the room.

  3. Finally, the detective comes over and Alex appears to be talking with him but that is not being acknowledged and the reaction of the detective is that of someone observing a dead body.

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I don't think there is any ambiguity at all. Alex is already dead. The movie is being narrated by a dead man. When Alex says "Hello, Inspector" it is his soul speaking from the afterlife, and the Inspector doesn't hear it.

At the end, they put a sheet over his face, and put him in the morgue. There's no doubt that he's dead.

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  • That's not Alex. That's David.
    – Beska
    Jul 5, 2022 at 20:23

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