Is a goodbye forever, or is it until next time? And is every goodbye a new welcome, or is it sometimes merely a fullstop? And, finally, with a soundtrack and a sunset, or with a silent nod and a broken heart?
Worldwide (and, notably, mostly American) cinema has been worried with the composition of a beautiful and yet meaningful goodbye scene since the dawn of time. Our favorite characters leave, favorite characters’ favorite characters leave, and we are left in awe and melancholy.
But it’s time to wave this prologue goodbye, and move forward with the breaking down of our 20 favorite goodbye moments from the film world, where trains are waiting for the characters to kiss, death comes only when the monologue is over, and a music composer knows the right time to hit just the right chords to break our hearts in bits.
The Goodbye Scene: A group of women kiss a deceased man’s face goodbye during his funeral, only to crowd their beloved departed with kitsch lipstick kisses.
And its importance: It is not a triumphant Hollywood goodbye, nor an underlying indication of a bunch of plot points to be resolved with this movement, but the niceness of this goodbye scene is found in its simplicity. The women start cracking in bittersweet laughter when they see the spoiled face of their beloved one, unable to restrain the tears. It is unsure why they are actually laughing; whether they think the viewing is ridiculous, or that the whole formality of such a ceremony and the need of excessive care for a body whose soul is long gone are needless. But their laughter is a rare humanistic moment in film history, and one of the most touching coffin goodbyes to be experienced in the big screen long time.
The Goodbye Scene: A dying elderly woman gives her new (and last) best friend, a young boy, some steady advice on moving on inside a moving ambulance.
And its importance: Harold is obsessed with death and so it comes as a pleasant surprise when he is so awkward upon his first meeting with it as he has to wave his new friend, septuagenarian Maude, goodbye, for good. She’s dying inside the ambulance, and tears are in his eyes, for he has finally realized that there’s one thing more exciting and more addictive than death –love. But Maude, being about six steps further within life’s actual cynic self, gives him a good push to get away from her memory and deeper into his own life –when he tells her he loves her, she gladly accepts that and merely encourages him to go out in the real world and love some more.
The Goodbye Scene: A man salutes his almost-underage love interest in a crowded airport, and welcomes a life lesson coming from her in the shape of one of Woody Allen’s best quotes to date.
And its importance: Allen’s Isaac and Hemingway’s Tracy have a lot of luggage to empty in front of the latter’s actual baggage about to be dropped on a plane about to take her 6 months away. But this also has to be a short-timed and short-term goodbye, now mutually difficult for the two characters. Isaac is a changed person and realizes that Tracy is just as much an immature child as he is a mature adult. He needs her guidance and light, and she is taking it away –for 6 months. For the first time in the film’s duration he begs. But Tracy knows better than to surrender to his childish impatience, and comforts him beautifully: “You got to have a little faith in people”. Yes, she is not about to forget about her love for Isaac, and no, this is not a forever-goodbye. And now Isaac, for the first time, smiles –for the first time, he’s in love.
The Goodbye Scene: A young boy bids his alien pal farewell as the latter returns to his home planet, forever.
And its importance: Whose VHS childhood hasn’t been contaminated by E.T.’s flying bicycles? And who wasn’t repulsed by the said alien’s first appearance, feeling for the poor child having to confront it, only to have one’s own heart melting upon the warmness of the intergalactic friendship formed? “I’ll be right here” is a quote with a finger targeting at the head, and not the heart (shout out: Disney), because memory is what keeps a true friendship alive, at the era when the Skype application was as much an alien as the title character of this film, for friendships which have to end due to miles and miles put between their subjects. It is a physical separation, but E.T. taught us quite early through life that what goodbyes us in person can have a seat reserved forever inside our heads.
The Goodbye Scene: The protagonist decides to join the Resistance in fighting the Third Reich’s forces, choose what’s best for the love of his life, and begin a beautiful friendship with a local officer.
Its importance: Rick is a heartbroken, yet proud man – and this is what makes his decision to forever goodbye his former lover so she’ll join her new lover towards the continuation of their common greater purpose in Lisbon such a bold screenwriting move. This is not a goodbye scene, this is an account clearance set up through the whole duration of classic Hollywood Casablanca – Rick decides there’s a greater purpose in life, Ilsa makes up for her common past with Rick and follows the rightful path towards the Resistance, and Casablanca is about to become a safer, less corrupt place to be stepping upon. And all due to the decision of our protagonist to set his egoism and personal desires aside, and let the past rest in the past. Yes, Rick and Ilsa will will always have Paris, but for their individual lives to go on, they need to part ways and embrace their new beginnings. Here’s looking at such a bittersweet decision, kids.
The Goodbye Scene: A woman goodbyes her love interest who betrayed her along with the rest of the city she wished to benefit, just before shooting him dead.
And its importance: “Goodbye, Tom” is as cold as goodbyes and epitaphs come. Not raping Grace does not make Tom innocent – his platonic love for her gave her all the courage needed to silently endure every horrendous act of manipulation the Dogville citizens had to offer; and Tom’s silence was the evil deeds’ potent legalization. And Trier decides to punish through Tom the whole class of spiritual people who theoretically state their compliance with the powers of Good, only to practically stay neutral in front of this world’s Evil. In a wildly boomerang-esque move, Tom calls the gangsters from whom Grace sought a refuge in Dogville in the first place, only to give her back to them and cash her in. In sweet irony that only this film’s cynicism could provide, Grace is now armed with all she needs to put down once and for all the vile people who “welcomed” her in the town that is the American suburbs through Trier’s lens. And it takes but an illuminating dialogue with her father about the resemblance of dogs’ and people’s nature –and a handgun- to wave goodbye at, first of all, her Tom, her very own grace, her hope for the human race as a whole.
The Goodbye Scene: A typical train setting sets up for a reinstallation of the classic Lot’s wife parable –and this specific Lot’s wife listens to the never-turn-back command.
And its importance: For the world of A Touch of Spice (Politiki Kouzina), to look back in train stations is a great sin –it is an unethical promise to those staying behind. This way, years after waving his childhood love goodbye, the protagonist now waves her in adult form once more along with her new life, and commands her not to look back as she walks away from him, tears in both characters’ eyes. She obeys and they never see each other again, over the shoulder or in any other form.
The Goodbye Scene: A train leaving, a newly formed couple of star-crossed lovers, and separate lives waiting to welcome the characters back.
And its importance: It’s become apparently clear that neither of the protagonists wants to leave his/her perfect stranger behind. And opposing to A Touch of Spice’s bitter train station goodbye, this one actually sets for a future promise. They both look back (she from the train window and he from the train platform) at each other, and they know and secretly promise that this is goodbye only in words. And we now know that this is the beginning of a beautiful cinematic rollercoaster of a relationship.
The Goodbye Scene: A platonic love which would even make Freud clap ends not with a boom, but a whisper.
And its importance: It is really up to us to discern whether this is a ‘goodbye’ or an ‘until we meet again’. Murray and Johansson hug goodbye in a sea of unknown faces, in a land of unknown languages. But huge speculation has grown since as to the content of the inaudible mumble Johansson offers to Murray –a promise, a goodbye, or a ‘take care’? We may never know and we certainly never need to, since this film merely served as a chance to watch upon the connection of these two wandering souls getting bigger and bigger into love in Japan –but after the passing of the film’s running time, it’s time for them to return to their story’s privacy, and director Sophia Coppola allows them to do so by giving them (and us) the chance to end this whichever way they (we) choose.
The Goodbye Scene: A formerly vainglorious German businessman bids farewell to all the Jewish workers he saved from conservation camps throughout World War II, only to realize –a little too late- how much more he could have achieved.
And its importance: To regret for the way you treated the room behind the door you’re closing is a great curse when delivering a goodbye, and this is the case with Oscar Schindler in the film to metaphorically end and literally inaugurate all of Hollywood’s Holocaust filmography. The victims saved in the hands of the accidentally beneficial business man (the lesser of two evils to be precise and in line with the film’s underlying comparison between the sadistic Nazi commander of Ralph Fiennes and the carelessly greedy businessman of Liam Neeson), are grateful during their salutation to their employer. But his is suddenly filled with regret, self-pitty, and epiphany. His vain gold objects could have saved the lives of hundreds more, had he actually created places for them to work in his industry. But it is too late for him to change things, and his breakdown and sudden realization of falsity is what he has to be burdened with from this goodbye till the end of his days.
The Goodbye Scene: Mythical Scarlett O’ Hara loses in love, only to gain in self-realization.
And its importance: As epic as they come, Clark Gable’s unforgiving goodbye assurance of not giving a damn, pretty much stands on top-5, for good. But the essence of this rough goodbye between the tempestuous couple is not the much-embraced scene of closing the door of the old Southern mansion for good, but the moment Scarlett decides to pack herself up, re-emerge from the bottom for good, and start her new life the way she wishes to, not in grief but in triumphant determination. It is at this moment that an unwelcome goodbye is turned into a hardening tool to be embraced by our heroine, and this scene is turned into an eternal lesson to divorcees wishing to rebound for good.
The Goodbye Scene: A young woman buys a present to the first man she’s fallen for since possibly forever, only to have the trash can greet it instead of him, after she sees him with his ex-girlfriend.
And its importance: After all she’s been through, including former Nazis, abusive males, and one flame too many, Lisbeth achieves another unmanageable conquest –to find love in the face of Michael, the controversial journalist she’s been helping throughout the film. Ready to find some solace in oblivion, she buys him an old jacket as a Christmas present, and is ready to make a new start with him. Little did she know, this would turn out to be a silent and subterranean goodbye neither of them was willing to “say”. Seeing him with his former love flame, Liz decides to remain hidden in her unnatural way of living, return back on her old ways and motorcycle, and throw her first evidence of affection towards a fellow human being in the garbage. And once again disappear.
The Goodbye Scene: A young boy waves his invisible friends and fantastic land of adventure goodbye, to both sides’ acknowledgment and disappointment.
And its importance: “Please don’t go, I’ll eat you up I love you so” is one hell of a way to bid your king farewell. And so all the mythical creatures living in Max’s heart and head (shout-out: E.T.) are about to lose eye contact with him, but none of them will actually lose each other –not really, not ever. Max needs to grow up and leave the images of the cute furry creatures and their mythical land of forests, and sand, and magical Karen O soundtrack behind, but the memories of all the things they’ve taught him and all he’s felt among them are not to leave him anytime soon. There will forever be a home for Max’s wild things inside Max, but now it’s time for him to sail back to a home of his own.
The Goodbye Scene: Entering a car on a road to college, Andy finally waves goodbye to our favorite animated trilogy, Woody and the pals, his childhood, and our lacrimal glands.
And its importance: “So long, partner” is all Woody need say to a child that went from being a competition trophy in the first film, to being all of us making the quintessential separations on our way through life. But growing up is not a solitary case for Andy; Pixar makes a bold show-off of its genius by having Andy, and actually us, give way to the new generation to have fun with the old bunch of toys. The way today’s youngsters will show their trilogy to their kids as young parents in the future, Andy shows the ways of his old toys to a nice little girl who seems to have no evil masterplan in store for the ole companion –alas! And the rareness of this goodbye is nothing more than its inevitability –of growing up, of moving forward, of letting go.
The Goodbye Scene: The greatest mic drop a reality subject has ever delivered can make any Kardashian blush in humbleness, and our back hair stand still in awe –and all in glorious Philip Glass soundtrack.
And its importance: Truman delivers a beautiful goodbye quote to his creator. Upon the end of the film, he has realized that he is living with a fake world, a made-up setting directed to please bored TV viewers around the globe. His life was, up until now, a boring, cheerless, and loveless imitation of a suburban everyday reality –and each day/episode of it began with the same line he gives his Director before exiting this unreal life to reunite with his eternal love, for good –“In case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight”. Truman exits the set, the ignorant viewers continue channel surfing, and we insert another DVD.
The Goodbye Scene: The consequent goodbyes two cowboys in love give each other throughout the years each time they leave the only haven for their forbidden love in order to go back to their normal family lives –from first to final.
And its importance: Brokeback Mountain has always been so much more than a simple love story to be embraced by LGBTQ+ audiences worldwide. It is a hymn talking about all things that keep lovers apart, and all things these lovers will come up with so as to overcome them. It talks of love and loss, of the way the years pass and we never do anything to change the awkward conditions in which our love attempts to flourish, about the places, and clothes, and odors we associate with our other half. All the goodbyes spoken by Ennis and Jack throughout the years are but the last layer of so many hidden emotions and words to be spoken by one to the other, unable to be communicated in the short timespan of their stay in Brokeback Mountain (the only place allowing them to experience their forbidden passion) –and the tragedy of their last one is that neither knows that this will be the end, their end, as imposed by the unforgiving fate kept in store for Jack. And the biggest tragedy of each and every one of their goodbyes is that none of them actually had to be goodbye, and neither of them two ever wanted it to be.
The Goodbye Scene: A boy waves his first best friend and his last childhood summer goodbye, as his future self informs us in voiceover of the said best friend’s brutal murder many years later.
And its importance: It ties up in an intertemporal manner that our protagonist chooses to mentally goodbye his former best friend on the occasion of the latter’s death, by remembering their last actual goodbye in blood and flesh. This serves as an opportunity for our character to plunge deep into his childhood and wave it goodbye one last time, only to greet it in new form in present time, by playing childlishly with his own son. This comes as a nostalgic move following the melancholic realization that we’re never to find better friends than those found in the age of 5. And it only takes Ben E. King’s vocal chords’ first sign for our tears to start rolling along with the end credits.
The Goodbye Scene: A young man goodbyes his mother before leaving for college, and she comes to realize that she also has to say goodbye to him.
And its importance: Patricia Arquette’s scene-reason for winning uncle Oscar is a much needed addition to this list, because it verbally and practically expresses one of the most common reactions to a goodbye speech most of us have come to experience –we don’t want to have to say goodbye. Yes, her child is now a grown man who has to go to college, yes kids grow up, yes life goes on –but does it really? During her breaking monologue, the Mother comes to realize that she is not only losing contact with a child, but also the meaning she’s given to her everyday life throughout all these years. How do you accept the roughness and inevitability of “time takes it all” as life goes on, by merely waving the person you love most of all in the whole world goodbye? And not because he is dying, but because he has to live, like you. We don’t have the answer, the director doesn’t have the answer, and the Boy merely keeps on his ride moving forward –because this is merely life. And Boyhood’s most basic an dominant subplot is –only too late- revealed to be Motherhood itself.
The Goodbye Scene: A woman makes two goodbye choices, each holding its own unbearable burden.
And its importance: Ah yes, Meryl Streep having to make THAT difficult choice, before transferring her character from one impossible acting step to the next, all being the old yellow bricks leading her towards her first golden statuette. First, we learn that Sophie had to choose the unbearable: which of her would she let a random sadistic Nazi soldier to execute? And then, she has to choose whether she’ll wave our protagonist, a young poet in love with her, goodbye, only to go back to her mentally unstable but deeply deserving (according to her) constant lover. What’s hugely interesting is the way the first choice actually played a huge role in the second –a woman having gone through a horrendous choice of letting one of her kids die, now has to make herself stay tied in fate’s vicious cycle, and choose death over life once again, choose mental instability and punishment over a happy family life over and over again, because this is where her life is meant to go, from first horrible goodbye, to last. And with her goodbye letter she chooses death, and finally rests.
The Goodbye Scene: A rough and silent man hugs his lobotomized best pal for the last time, before suffocating him to death and escaping the mental institution in which both were being held.
And its importance: The Chief is faced with a horrible ending achieved by our love-to-hate sadistic nurse for his bromance with Nicholson’s Mac –his quirky, fox-like cunning, and wonderful pal is turned into a vegetable-like entity due to lobotomy’s sharp tool. He embraces him and murmurs several words goodbye. But it is not this the mere indication of love for his friend the Chief has to give: he also takes him out of his misery and helps him reach the final redemption through a pillow. And after that, he raises the hydrotherapy fountain previously talked about in the movie by his now resting friend, so as to break the institution’s window and escape to Canada. This goodbye is so important, because it is a wake-up call to us all: as viewers, we get to be inserted in the position of Chief. We admire cunning Mac, we watch the horrendous deeds committed in the institution, yet we, like the gigantic Chief, are unable and unwilling to change the situation. We see all the horrors and the frights of our everyday lives, and remain silent passers-by –until the moment comes when our hero has fallen, and we have to become that hero. We have to save the person who’s been putting our souls to rest every day, and we have to collect all of our immense powers and change the situation the easy and simple way we were supposed to from the very beginning. And, above all, the proud goodbye given from the Chief to his only true friend in this institution, is a rare indication shown in American cinema of actual and brave love, of not merely conserving someone in our lives for pure egoism, but of having the courage to put our Superman to rest when the kryptonite has finally taken over.