A Detailed Thought About the Ending


The Chinatown meets The Graduate (I’m joking) ending, which seems out of nowhere (to non-classics majors) actually makes perfect sense. I believe Godard kills her because she took away Paul’s bullets. As a woman and human being, she has every right to leave Paul for Prokosch. But in taking the bullets, she prevents him from being able to make a choice about whether to kill Prokosch or perhaps even her. This would be sensible in modern life, but is a no-go in a tragedy. She betrays her own line, “It’s your choice, not mine.” She talks the talk, but then doesn’t actually walk the walk. It’d be like if Odysseus arrived back in Ithaca and Penelope…


Could this have anything to do with the reason why Francesca, the translator, is so helpful in finding and giving the gun back to him? Does she want to facilitate his revenge? Does she have a stake in Paul killing either Prokosch or Camille? I actually don’t think she cares (any more than Prokosch). I think she’s just trying to maintain the tragedy—to give it a chance to unfold as any good Greek would have it. And then remember how Francesca closes the gate? Like closing the cage and locking in the combatants in the coliseum. It happened. Watch the film.


Also, think about your own reaction, as an audience. You too want to see Paul at least have to decide either to kill Prokosch or Camille. Don’t you? And Godard, smartly, denies us that. This is why Spike Jonze had to give us Meryl Streep some forty years later snorting green drugs and getting naked—as a get even. I asked my friend why Francesca gave him the gun. She said, “You think you can read that much into it?” I think I said something like, “Sure, why not?” I wish I had said something like:


What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?—
If design govern in a thing so small.


Quoting an essay I read:


            “Pascal Aubier told me point-blank: “Godard was on Camille’s side.” In that sense, Contempt can be seen as a form of self-criticism: a male artist analyzing the vanities and self-deceptions of the male ego. (And perhaps, too, an apology: what cinematographer Coutard meant when he called the film Godard’s “Love letter to his wife,” Anna Karina.)


            Still, it can’t be denied that in the end Camille does betray Paul with the viley virile Jerry Prokosch. It has been Prokosch’s thesis all along that Homer’s Penelope was faithless. Lang rejects this theory as anachronistic sensationalism. Godard, you might say, builds the strongest possible case for Camille through the first two acts, but in Act III this Penelope proves faithless.


Even in Capri, when the game is up, Paul demands one last time: “Why do you have contempt for me?” She answers: “That I’ll never tell you, even if I were dying.” To this he responds, with his old intellectual vanity, that he knows already.  By this point, the reason is truly unimportant. She will never tell him, not because it is such a secret, but because she has already moved beyond dissection of emotions to action: she is leaving him.”


Ok, but she already has told him, over and over again. I think it’s difficult for people in this kind of quagmire to sever ties once and for all. Relationships like this one have to go through multiple cycles (of what we actually witness in the film) before they finally split. And sometimes they never split until one person finds something better, or unless they literally explode, like in Buñuel’s TOOOD or Fassbinder’s Marriage of Maria Braun, or wreck their car. But again, I do not say Camille was wrong to want to leave Paul. I simply suggest the reason she is killed is because of her attempting to outsmart Greek tragedy. Being unfaithful is fine, but taking away the bullets—now that really is cheating.