Movie Discussion: James Wong’s Final Destination (2000)

  • Monthly Theme: Blockbustersfinal-destination-movie-poster-2000-1020205292
  • The Film: Final Destination
  • Country of origin: U.S.A.
  • Date of U.S. release: March 17, 2000
  • Studio: New Line Cinema, Zide-Perry Productions & Hard Eight Pictures
  • Distributer: New Line Cinema
  • Domestic Gross: $53 million
  • Budget: $23 million (estimated)
  • Director: James Wong
  • Producers: Chris Bender, et al.
  • Screenwriters: Glen Morgan, Jeffrey Reddick & James Wong
  • Adaptation? No.
  • Cinematographer: Robert McLachlan
  • Make-Up/FX: Terry Sonderhoff
  • Music: Adam Hamilton & Shirley Walker
  • Part of a series? Yes. This is the first film in the Final Destination franchise, followed by 2003’s Final Destination 2, 2006’s Final Destination 3, 2009’s The Final Destination and 2011’s Final Destination 5.
  • Remakes? No.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Genre star Tony Todd (Candyman, Night of the Living Dead (1990), etc.).
  • Other notables?: Yes. Hollywood star Seann William Scott. TV stars Ali Larter and Kerr Smith.
  • Awards?: Best Horror Film and Best Performance [Devon Sawa] at the 2001 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films. Breakthrough Performance [Larter] at the 2001 Young Hollywood Awards.
  • Tagline: “No accidents. No coincidences. No escapes. You can’t cheat death.”
  • The Lowdown: In the movie, a pellucid teenage goblin named Alex (Devon Sawa) has a terrifying vision of a plane crash during his high school class trip to Paris. He and several of his peers are thrown off the plane, but they are relieved when the plane does explode. However, Death is pissed off that they managed to cheat their destiny and begins to come back for them one by one. The basic idea for the movie was actually pitched by writer Jeffrey Reddick to The X-Files, where it was turned down by showrunner Chris Carter. But staff writers James Wong & Glen Morgan liked the concept and developed Reddick’s spec script into a feature film. The five Final Destination movies have been very successful at the box office, bringing in a combined gross of $665 million dollars (the highest earner was the fourth film, which alone took in $187 million).

If you haven’t seen Final Destination our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Kristine: So I have to say, my first reaction to Final Destination was “meh,” but then the more I thought about it the more I liked it.

Sean: I was surprised by your initial reaction because I thought you’d get a kick out of the Dawson’s Creeky trashiness of the movie. I thought for sure you’d appreciate that after Resident Evil especially.

Kristine: It is a lot wittier than any of the other franchise movies we’ve watched so far and it really moves along. It’s a tightly constructed movie. Whereas Saw is a mess of flashbacks, flashforwards and boring soliloquies. It can’t just like, tell a straightforward story. And Resident Evil is, of course, just a bunch of action setpieces strung together by nonsense. Final Destination, by comparison, is very effective at delivering both story and spectacle. But I wasn’t as into the teenaged Dawson’s Creek antics as I would have thought. Probably because this cast was a vat of vanilla pudding boringness.

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The waiting room at The CW offices.

Sean: I agree with you that this is a really well-made piece of popcorn cinema. I think it’s by far the “best” of the franchise movies we’ve watched.

Kristine: All the death scenes were pretty awesome, especially Tod’s. But totally reminiscent of A Nightmare on Elm Street’s greaser-in-the-jail-cell scene, am I right?

Sean: Oh yes, total Nightmare rip-off. And that character’s name was Rod. I don’t know what’s significant about that coincidence.

Kristine: How many horror movie points do I get for that observation?

Sean: You get 1,0000 HMPs.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: I think that the lead actor, Devon Sawa, is the ugliest freak ever invented by life and I can’t even stand looking at him.

Kristine: I was totally wondering if you thought he was ugly. He’s not cute, but for me he gets less ugly as the movie progresses.

Sean: His haircut

Kristine: Ha!

Sean: His Gollum-faced snagglemouth. His whiny voice and his prepubescent pallor.

Kristine: The snagglemouth was not cute, I agree.

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My Precious…

Sean: I was vomiting. And he is a black pit of anti-charisma. He is so incredibly unlikeable. But even I have to grudgingly admit that, as a stand-in for the ridiculously over-privileged white suburban teen, he’s perfect exactly because he is such a grotesque brat.

Kristine: Did you think Carter was hot?

Sean: Carter is a hot…. lesbian. In fact, the only good-looking guy was George,  the hot Jewish brother who doesn’t get off the plane.

Kristine: Carter’s girlfriend, the goldenlocked camel-toe, was gross, too. Tight white capris with platform shoes = hell no.

Sean: Her death scene is my favorite, though. Getting smacked down out of nowhere by the city bus.

Kristine: Her death scene was great.

Sean: I remember seeing it in the theater and the audience dying at that moment and exploding into applause/laughter/screams of delight. “Miss Lewton” is a bargain basement Carla Gugino.

Kristine: Yes. I totally thought she was Gugino for the first half hour.

Sean: I heart Carla Gugino.

Kristine: Speaking of camel toes (I am, anyway) did you notice when Clear Rivers and Alex von Ugly break into the funeral home that she either has a penis or the weirdest, biggest vagina ever?

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A vision of mediocrity.

Sean: No, I did not notice that and you are terrifying me. Kristine, I live for Clear Rivers. Live for her.

Kristine: Why are you doing this to me? You are being deceitful and hurtful.

Sean: I am being dead serious. There are certain talentless, wan, pale white actresses who I just fall in love with and she is one of them. Leelee Sobieski is another.

Kristine: Oh boy. This is going to be a hard discussion for me to get through.

Sean: Clear is camp. She defines it.

Kristine: She is not. Midriff tops are never camp.

Sean: There was a great comment in the A.V. Club discussion forums for this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. A comment about one of this season’s contestants was, “She’s at her most likeable when she’s failing at something but doing her goddamn best to try.” That is how I would describe Clear Rivers on all levels, from the conception of her character in the script, to the role the character plays in the plot of the film, to the bizarrely stilted performance of Ali Larter in the role. All of it is trying so hard to work and take itself seriously, but all of it is failing the whole time in the most delightful way possible. Leelee Sobieski also brings this quality to her performances, especially in the awesomely dumb Joy Ride and The Glass House. Do you know that my friend Tawney and I once had a Leelee Sobieski film festival and it was amazing?

Kristine: That is so random.

Sean: My dream tv show: Leelee and Ali Larter as estranged sisters-slash-bounty hunters who spend every week workin’ on their difficult relationship and trackin’ down criminals.

Kristine: You know that Leelee is a madam/sex worker IRL, right?

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Clear sings along to her Alanis Morissette albums in the car just like any red-blooded American girl at the end of ’90s.

Sean: That is a made-up lie.

Kristine: Yes, Leelee is a dominatrix sex worker IRL. Everybody knows that.

Sean: You are fake. She’s like, married to a fashion designer and has a baby.

Kristine: I am not fake. You can’t be married and have a baby and be a dominatrix? Says who? Why are you trying to limit LeeLee? Google it, bitch.

Sean: Googling right now. Um, it says here she starred as a dominatrix in some dumb indie comedy with Tricia Helfer. You are addicted to lie-sites like Dlisted that are full of lies and you think they’re true and it’s a sad, sad thing.

Kristine: Shut up. Leelee is a dominatrix in real life and it should make you love her more. It takes her from lukewarm tapioca to marginally interesting for me.

Sean: Did you die when you saw the scene of Clear being a welder/outsider artist? And the lines they give her. “Everything’s always in transition,” she tells Alex. When she shows one of her – totally shitty – “art pieces” to Alex and tells him, “It’s you. Not a likeness. This is how you make me feel, Alex. Like you, the sculpture doesn’t even know what or why it is. It’s reluctant to take form and yet creating an absolute, yet incomprehensible, attraction.” This is her version of throwing herself at him, I guess?

Kristine: The fact that she is a(nother) welder/outsider artist and that conversation made me want to die. When did that become the go-to profession for these types of roles?? So bizarre.

Sean: I know. Because Kristine,as Hardware taught us,  being a lady-welder is edgy.

Kristine: Also, she is like an orphan who lives alone in a bog? WTF?

Sean: I want you to perform an art critique of her pieces now. Using industry terminology.

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This is my dick, and I am going to fuck you with it.

Kristine: I can’t on the spot. I will think about it and get back to you.

Sean: You better. But the movie goes out of its way to suggest that there is a supernatural bond between Alex and Clear, that they both can “tap into” some kind of clairvoyance.

Kristine: Yes and all that stuff is gross and boring. The game of outsmarting death is much more fun and interesting. This movie succeeds where Saw fails in making the idea of a “master plan” compelling. Do you agree?

Sean: Yes totally. Final Destination pulls it off because it goes big – it turns the whole thing into a gigantic metaphysical puzzle rather than the design of some Z-grade character actor who got his break in the business playing an uncredited waiter in Tootsie. The ideas Final Destination draw on are mythic enough to work with a minimum of explication also. I mean, it’s the same basic shit as the Greek stories about “the Fates” and all that. It’s clever and the movie has fun with it. That’s the one thing this movie is that Resident Evil and Saw both fail horribly at: just being fucking fun.  I love this movie the same way I love tv shows like Revenge or Gossip Girl. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it does take itself seriously, if that makes sense.

Kristine: I think the way “Death” operates is so much smarter, funner, and frankly more scary than any of the contrivances in Saw.

Sean: And I was impressed that Hollywood basically came up with a new way to cash in on the success of Scream without turning out a total Scream-clone á la Urban Legend, Valentine or I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Kristine: But can I tell you the scariest thing about Final Destination?

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: That fucking Benjamin Button baby wailing on the plane. Did you get a good look at that scary-ass evil baby? Holy shit.

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UM.

Sean: Remember also when George says, “It would be a fucked up god to take down this plane” because of the screaming infant in first class and the developmentally disabled adult at the head of coach?

Kristine: The developmentally disabled adult made me very, very uncomfortable. I was like, I can’t believe they are going there…

Sean: Oh they went there. With bells on. I think the whole plane sequence at the beginning is pretty masterfully done pop-storytelling. And as someone who is very scared of flying, it accurately rendered all of the weird little details that are scary about boarding a plane. Like noticing the scoring on the outside of the aircraft as you board, the luggage cart passing by underneath them as they step off the ramp and into the airplane…

Kristine: I agree that it was well done. I loathe flying as well. Did you notice the “666” on the luggage cart? All those little quick touches were well done… Stupid Saw would have dwelled on each one with stupid techno music playing so you knew it was a sign of evil. This movie just puts them in and if you see them, great, and if you don’t, okay. Can we discuss the Magical Negro/soothsayer-of-doom undertaker?

Sean: First off, just so you know, horror movie audiences would recognize that actor because he is a scream legend.

Kristine: Who is he?

Sean: He played Candyman in Candyman. That’s his big claim to fame. But he also played the lead in Tom Savini‘s 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead.

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A viewing of the former lover’s dead body, for the benefit of the new lover, hosted by Blackie von Magick.

Kristine: Okay.

Sean: So the casting of Tony Todd in the role does make that character seem less random, but not by much.

Kristine: You don’t even want to fuck with that mack daddy, Sean.

Sean: So 1990s. That character returns in almost every sequel to this movie and quoths such lines at the lead.

Kristine: So, the people who made this film are obviously horror scholars.

Sean: You picked up on that?

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: How?

Kristine: Just because. The Nightmare on Elm Street homage, the undertaker character (horror movie trope of a random character who comes in and explains everything and gives warning, á la Halloween and a million more, including the obese Magical Negro psychic lady in Jeepers Creepers), how the protagonist is suspected of being the killer, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

Sean: Also – the names. Alex Browning, the ugly lead, is a reference to Tod Browning, the director of the 1931 Dracula and the cult film Freaks (also, just fyi, Devon Sawa won this role because the director was so impressed by his performance in your favorite movie, Idle Hands). Billy Hitchcock, played by the guy from American Pie, is obvs a reference to Alfred Hitchcock. The teacher Miss Lewton is named after Val Lewton, a producer of a string of popular B-movies in the 1940s, including the original Cat People. The blonde who gets creamed by the bus, Terry Chaney, is named after Lon Chaney, the famous silent-era horror movie star known as “The Man of a Thousand Faces” (his son, Lon Chaney, Jr., also played the original Wolf Man). The shit-obsessed kid who gets hanged in the shower is named Tod Waggner after George Waggner, who directed the 1941 version of The Wolf Man (as well as a bunch of other Universal horror pictures including the Claude Rains version of The Phantom of the Opera). The FBI agents are named Wiene and Schreck after Robert Weine, the director of the seminal silent horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Max Schreck, the star of the 1922 Nosferatu. The fey French teacher who dies in the plane explosion is named Murnau, after F.W. Murnau, the director of Nosferatu.

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Michael Hutchence is rolling over in his grave.

Kristine: Well, I didn’t pick up on any of that.

Sean: That’s what I’m here for.

Kristine: However, I did notice… Carter’s tribal armband tattoo. Because… of course.

Sean: So, as you just pointed out, this movie plays out like a traditional slasher movie, except there’s no personified killer, there’s no Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. Did the lack of a killer make the movie more tense? And what did you think of all the Rube Goldberg-esque mechanics?

Kristine: The lack of a killer did make it more tense because there is no one to “stop”, right? And I loved the Rube Goldberg mechanisms, especially with Tod and Miss Lewton. Though, fyi, vodka is not that flammable. If it were, I would be a cinder.

Sean: I mean, the movie is kind of nihilistic. In a “normal” slasher movie you defeat the villain, you win. In this, it seems like death just keeps coming and coming for you.

Kristine: Right, exactly. Which is why Carter sort of has a point when he throws his tantrums – “I’m never gonna die/I control my life.” Even though his outbursts were the most tedious, heavy-handed and obvious aspect to this movie. We get it, teenagers think they are invincible. Next.

Sean: Right, right. But there’s a mean bleakness at the heart of the movie that still strikes me as different than say the Scream movies. Saw and this movie are both mean in a 21st century way.

Kristine: Explain.

Sean: Well, like the mortician’s speech: “What you have to realize is that we’re all just a mouse that a cat has by the tail. Every single move we make, from the mundane to the monumental. The red light that we stop at or run. The people we have sex with or want with us. The airplanes that we ride or walk out of. It’s all part of Death’s sadistic design, leading to the grave.” This idea that the Universe itself is sadistic and out to get us. That’s fucking depressing.

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Pretty boy apocalypse.

Kristine: Okay, yes, that is depressing. But somehow, for me, still far less depressing than the self being the enemy, á la Repulsion or Hour of the Wolf. If the universe is going to get you, then one can just be fatalistic and say, “Fuck it” and just live for today. You dig?

Sean: Yes, I do. And you’re right. I guess I just was thinking of it in the framework of slasher movies. This movie is more fatalistic and mean than Halloween or Friday the 13th, which just pivot on the idea of “one bad man.” Final Destination is like, the entire universe is Hell. I mean, doesn’t George’s line about “it would take a fucked up god to take down this plane” basically make God like, the villain of the piece? God is Jason Voorhees according to this movie.

Kristine: Yes. It is more bleak… but also notice how the RIMAs [Rational Inquiring Masculine Authority] try and make it be about one bad man. That is a much easier and less scary thing to understand, right? Which makes me think – this movie is post-Columbine but pre 9/11. Do you think that is significant? [Editor’s Note: For the backstory on RIMA, see our discussion of Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy.]

Sean:  I was thinking about this movie being pre-9/11 and wasn’t sure if I thought that was significant or not…

Kristine: Do you think there were nods to Columbine in the suspicions placed on Alex? Would this have been made post 9/11?

Sean: Alex was definitely painted as an Eric Harris type figure, which starts to get into my big theory about how Alex is a queer figure… But I mean, there have been 4 massively successful post-9/11 sequels to this movie. If anything, I think 9/11 created more of a need for this kind of story about coping with unexpected disasters and this idea that, sorry, there just is a big plan to the universe and you puny humans wouldn’t understand it.

Kristine: I guess I specifically mean the exploding plane.

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Leisha Haley is probably on this flight.

Sean: Right. It would be weird to have made that right after 9/11, but now we’re back to where its acceptable. I mean, by 2006 we’ve got Snakes on a Plane.

Kristine: I forgot that is a real movie…

Sean: Oh, it is real. Do you think I’m right that this movie thinks God is Jason Voorhees? I’m thinking of that scene where Alex has “deathproofed” everything in Clear’s ugly cabin by the bog.

Kristine: Ummm… I don’t know. Is it God? Isn’t it just… the plan?

Sean: George says, “Fucked up God!” The movie says it.

Kristine: Yeah, I suppose. But it felt to me like it was more the universe than a God.

Sean: I think God/Universe are interchangeable here… and I think it’s very telling that no talk or mention of God comes up in the mortician’s monologue about how we are just dirty rats in a maze.

Kristine: Is there significance to the latter part of the movie being in some nature preserve and Clear Rivers’ retarded name?

Sean: She is the only person who “believes” Alex, so her name is “Clear.” That is the level of depth to the metaphors in this movie.

Kristine: Ugh, gross. Tell me about the sequels.

Sean: Part 2 is a gigantic highway accident. Part 3 is a rollercoaster crash. Part 4 I forget. Part 5 is a bridge collapse.

Kristine: Huh. And they all have ‘survivors’ that are then hunted down by Death?

Sean: Yes. A new set of characters appear in every movie, one person sees it coming, then the survivors get whacked one by one until a ‘twist” ending. Oh! Part 4 is a crash-up at a Nascar event

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Bros who get sprayed together, stay together.

Kristine: Stop. My boyfriend is at a race all weekend – his brother is driving with the Porsche club.

Sean: Sorry but that’s the movie.

Kristine: My boyfriend might do some racing, too. Now I am going to throw up.

Sean: You’re being ridic. He will be fine.

Kristine: Anyway, explain the appeal of these movies to me.

Sean: That’s what I was trying to unpack by asking about the mean-spiritedness of the movie. I mean, it seems like the appeal of this franchise is the confirmation that we’re all fucked and not in control of our own destinies.

Kristine: Right, but the idea is also that you might as well have a sense of humor about it.

Sean: Sure. I also think this movie is about queerness.

Kristine: How so?

Sean: Are you going to be mad at me if I have a theory? You get mad at me when I dare to have ideas and you roll your eyes and call me “Professor.”

Kristine: I do not.

Sean: I’d argue that Alex is a figure tinged or marked with queerness, most overtly in the unusual triumvirate he forms with Carter and Clear. He ends with movie with a girlfriend and a boyfriend. He also starts the movie as a member of a homosocial triad – himself and the two Waggner brothers. I’d argue that the boyhood, pre-sexual trio of Alex and the brothers gets replaced by an explicitly erotic new trio of Alex, Clear and Carter at the end of the movie. That’s my theory.

Kristine: I didn’t see that, but I don’t outright reject it. I do think it’s interesting that he and Clear don’t end up as an explicit couple.

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And baby makes three.

Sean: Right? Do they even make out? Through the events of the film, Alex is trained away from childhood social preoccupations and into the world of incipient adulthood and new frontiers of sexual exploration. There are even ideas of male beauty and attraction present in the interactions between Alex and the brothers at the start of the movie, like when Tod complains about how he looks in his passport photo (male vanity) and his brother George replies, “How do you think I feel having to look at you all the time?” This comment subtly disavows same-sex attraction and marks the world Alex is coming from as homophobic and heteronormative, as well as anticipates that the world Alex is moving into will be less so. I also think it’s significant that the kids are on their way to Paris at the beginning. As the students gather around in the airport gate at the beginning, there are images of bald eagles in the background, clearly marking the airport as an American space (later, the memorial to the dead unveiled in front of the school is a large eagle statue). But because in my mind there are queer/gender politics at the heart of this movie, I feel like the dichotomy of French/foreign vs. American is actually connected to the central themes and tensions around queerness in the movie.

Kristine: I definitely agree about the rah-rah America stuff… but explain what you mean about the dichotomy further. Do you mean how Europeans are thought of as being more fatalistic and less controlling of destiny?

Sean: No, I mean that the French is codified with and connected to the queer and the feminine repeatedly throughout the movie. Remember when the (sort of swishy) French teacher is trying to get the students to translate the voice of the announcer over the airport loudspeaker (a voice that is female, which I would argue is significant), Carter – the character who is meant to represent mainstream masculinity most pointedly and who also embodies both homophobia and homoeroticism – makes a big deal of not being able to understand the French language.

Kristine Ok…

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Deep betch.

Sean: “What the fuck’s he want?” he asks his girlfriend Terry – loudly in a manner that is meant to be heard by everyone around them as well as just her – when their teacher addresses the students in French. Clear – our female hero and the character most comfortable with being an outsider/queer/misfit – is the one who translates the language over the loudspeaker. When we first meet Clear in the airport she’s reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. The significance of that title is how it links the impending voyage of the teenagers with bohemianism and sexual experimentation/hypersexuality. I also think its an important detail that suggests something kinky or queer about the Alex-Clear-Carter triad that ends the movie in Paris, about to embark upon their own Tropic of Cancer-style experience together, as a threesome – something that Carter remarks upon pointedly when he says, “If you would have told me six months ago that the three of us would be sitting her having a drink… I don’t know, sometimes it just feels like the two of you are the only ones who can really understand.” So again, the French is connected to the feminine/queer and the American is connected to the heterocentrist/”normal.”

Kristine: I agree with the Tropic of Cancer/threesome thing, though I would also like to point out that’s what snotty bitches with artistic tendencies read in high school. It’s the first and only time I read Henry Miller OR Anaïs Nin. So. I would like to offer up a piece of supporting ephemera for your “Alex is queer” theory – he has a Pecker poster in his bedroom. What teenage boy loves John Waters movies and is not a lil’ bit gay?

Sean: Right.

Kristine: Truth.

Sean: I’d argue that the queer themes in the movie become explicit at several key moments. One of them is when the Hare Krishna approaches Alex in the airport and gives him the pamphlet. “Death is not the end,” he says.

Kristine: Explain…

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Hare SWISHna.

Sean: The Hare Krishna character is played with an effeminate lilt by the actor – in fact when Miss Lewton intervenes in this moment of “predation” (one way of thinking about the moment is that Alex is being cruised by this strange man) the Krishna says “Hare rama” in a bitchy, queeny way to Miss Lewton. That moment is really significant to my overall reading of the movie as queer. Remember how Clear is the only one who understands the French announcement over the loudspeaker? She translates the French as “The airport does not endorse solicitors.” So the moment of “solicitation” that occurs between Alex and the Krishna is being openly acknowledged by the film itself and this is all coded with national and gender identity politics. The idea that the airport itself – which is in America and part of American society – does not “endorse” moments/exchanges like what occurs between the Krishna and Alex is pointed, I would argue. And the voice of the French woman does not say “we do not endorse solicitors,” she says “the airport does not endorse solicitors.” This drives home the dichotomies between queer/straight, France/America, supernatural/natural. The announcement is a warning, in French, to those who can “hear” it, that queer exchanges are not tolerated on American soil (remember the bald eagles on the walls of the airport clearly mark it as a space of traditional American values). Later, when the French airline official is questioning Alex at the ticket counter, she asks him, “Have you received any packages by persons unknown to you?” and Alex brandishes the Krishna pamphlet in response. The airline official – who is both French and female – laughs at the joke he’s making – she’s not threatened by or suspicious of the Other-ness of the Krishna or his pamphlet. Only Miss Lewton – American, paranoid, conservative – sees the Krishna and his ideas as a threat and a “harassment.”

Kristine: I totally agree he was a swishy, bitchy queen of a Hare Krishna. And I agree that she acts as though she is protecting Alex against a predatory male. It was a bit funny but also kind of offensive in my opinion. Miss Lewton is a strange character. I am not sure how I feel about her.

Sean: Yes. The non-normative sexuality and/or masculinity of the Krishna figure is key, and this older female figure intervenes in order to stop the queer moment from happening. Miss Lewton, I’d say, is one of the movie’s most conservative figures. She consistently polices what is “normal” vs. what is uncanny, strange, queer, unnatural. She is terrified of Alex after he “comes out” as a “witch.”

Kristine: Yes, she is the main one who demonizes him. Did you notice, during her death sequence, all the great staging? Like the dagger in the stained glass of the door behind her?

Sean: Yes. I’d actually argue that her death is the “nastiest” one in the movie.

Kristine: For sure.

Sean: I think the reason for that is because this movie is about faggotry and she is the movie’s “bigot.” But I thought her death read as a kind of rape/sexual assault in a way that made me uncomfortable.

Kristine: Explain.

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Deleted scene from Spy Kids.

Sean: When she is lying there, pinned to the floor, looking down at the “knife” stuck into the bottom half of her body? And then the chair falls and drives it in deeper? Alex is there watching it, too, and it is gross and weird.

Kristine: I agree with the Alex part… even though he isn’t the perpetrator, him being there, standing over her when she is being impaled to death is difficult.

Sean: Yes, it feels rapey. Do you agree that Alex is a queer witch ladyboy? Because he is marked as queer by his “vision” of the plane crash – remember after the crash everyone is regarding him with suspicion, fear and unease and Clear says, “He’s not a witch.” The way in which Alex has become codified with this feminine archetype and has done something that is traditionally non-masculine – had a “vision” – is really significant. Horror cinema is populated by a long line of witches, seers, psychics, mediums and clairvoyants, and they’re almost always female (and middle-aged). Putting Alex – young, male, and allegedly ‘heterosexual” – in this lineage is enough to mark him as queer in my opinion. If Alex’s “vision” marks him as a witch, a queer, a weirdo, then the moment with the Krishna is the prelude to that queerness. The fact that the Krishna himself is played sort of queeny only adds power to this reading. At the memorial for the crash victims, when Alex tries to talk to Miss Lewton, she says, “Don’t talk to me, you scare the hell out of me.” Once he’s transgressed the heteronormative – become a male marked with a queer ability to “see” beyond – he is now threatening and frightening to Miss Lewton. Mr. Waggner also rejects Alex after the accident, both for being “witchy” and also for failing his paternal test to “look after” his sons. Tod and Alex’s interaction at the memorial is fraught with homosocial tensions. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I miss you,” Alex tells Tod, struggling to articulate his feelings for his lost childhood friend and policing his own heterosexuality – he does not, even in this small way, ever want to be perceived as queer. The irony is that Alex by this moment has all ready become queer. It’s too late. People are all ready “taking [him] the wrong way.” Tod tells Alex,” My father, he doesn’t understand” their relationship. The homoerotics of the Tod/Alex relationship are laid bare here, and this underscores that Alex unwittingly creates queer-tinged relationships with other males in his age group whether he wants to or not, from his anal-stage, regressive relationship with Tod to the open hostility between himself and Carter that crackles with homoerotic desire.

Billy dies by GIVING HEAD.
Billy dies by GIVING HEAD.

Kristine: Yes, I do agree he takes on a traditional lady-role, and that is interesting.

Sean: So this brings us back to the moment with the Krishna, whose line (“Death is not the end”) raises the possibility that the “natural” order of things can be/is disrupted, that the supernatural (which to my mind is interchangeable with the concept of queerness/non-normativity) is real, that there is more “out there” than a traditional mainstream heterocentrist and patriarchal sensibility would allow for. And remember, significantly, Alex takes the pamphlet (which is titled Reality Beyond Matter). He is “curious,” and I wonder if in some ways that innate curiosity in him is one of the things that opens him up to the supernatural, that marks him as different.

Kristine: Sure, but then why does he fight so hard to escape death? Shouldn’t he go ahead and explore it?

Sean: Well, but I don’t think that queerness and death are interchangeable. If anything, his queerness is the thing that helps him fight death. It is his superpower. Every time his or Clear’s bangs get ruffled by the wind and they “see” something, that is a queer moment.

Kristine: Ugh. Those bangs. Those midriff tops.

Sean: We have to discuss the Penthouse moment.

Kristine: That was… sorry, it was dumb.

Sean: I don’t know about you, but the Penthouse magazine was one of the most unconvincing details in the universe, and I found it a bit grotesque that he is seemingly inspired to take out the porn magazine after seeing a somber image of Clear in the newspaper, dressed in black and sitting in mourning at the memorial.

Kristine: I thought it was dumb that he couldn’t get hard because he “respects” Clear too much.

Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 12.56.26 PM
Alex heard this is what “normal” boys do.

Sean: I think “respect for Clear” here really means “gay for cock.” Even Alex’s heterosexual impulses are marked with queerness – the Clear/Alex relationship is tinged with necrophilic and funerary overtones, from his arousal at the image of her in mourning to their breaking in to the funeral home together in order to view the naked dead body of his best friend. I also found it hilarious that Alex pulls out a Penthouse magazine while sitting right in front of his computer that has an Internet browser open. Surely teenage boys in the year 2000 know how to find porn online – do they even need Penthouse anymore? That detail makes the Penthouse seem like such an overeager detail in which the movie tries to assert Alex’s “normative” heterosexuality, as if the movie doth protest too much. But even this moment in which Alex looks at straight porn, the specter of his homosocial relationship with Tod resurfaces – Alex throws the porn magazine into a fan that shreds it and Tod’s name comes cascading down in the tatters. Even before this moment Alex seems to have given up on his own heterosexual urges, half-heartedly fixating between the topless women in Penthouse and the somber image of Clear in the paper before shrugging his shoulders and starting to put the magazine back in his desk drawer. What began as an opportunity for Alex to masturbate to images of women ends with him running sweatily through the night to Tod’s house.

Kristine: Well, I found the whole thing weird and unconvincing also. It is evidence that he thinks he is supposed to jack off to relax and get his mind off his troubles… but it doesn’t work.

Sean: I don’t even know what to say about Tod coming up to Alex in the airport and going, “Let’s go take a shit!” and then convincing him to do so by spinning this long, convoluted yarn about heterosexuality, the logic of which boils down to “if a pretty girl smells your shit, she will never fuck you.” WTF?

Kristine: That was a total bullshit moment. Okay, I am not a hetero teenage boy but even still I can call total BS on that scene. So weird. I guess I chalked that up to the movie making a nod to gross out teenage comedies, á la American Pie or Harold and Kumar?

Sean: It IS fucking jaw-droppingly weird. To me, the Freudian and homoerotic layers to the whole sequence are practically endless. This goes back to my argument earlier about how the movie “trains” Alex away from the pre-sexual id and towards a sexualized adulthood. This is a moment of puerile, anal-stage grotesquerie – the infantile obsession with their own feces, the homosocial dynamics of retiring to sit side-by-side in the bathroom stalls emptying their bowels together, the idea that the stink of their shit bonds them together but would alienate or drive away potential female sexual partners, the preoccupation with each other’s bodily functions. Weird.

Kristine: Totally weird.

I can hear everything you're doing... and I LIKE IT.
I can hear everything you’re doing… and I LIKE IT.

Sean: But the tension between pre-heterosexualized, homosocial childhood and post-heterosexualization comes up a lot in the movie. Like how Christa and Blake, the girls in the pastel Capri pants, want to sit together rather than apart, but Tod wants to force a heterosexual pairing onto them. This is another of the subtly queer moments in the movie – Christa and Blake would rather be together than with a boy; Alex agrees to switch seats with them, signaling his own subliminal preference to be seated with a boy rather than one of the girls. To further drive home the link between the homosocial and the pre-sexual/pre-adolescent, once Alex joins Tod, Tod complains, “Thanks to you now I have to sit here and watch fucking Stuart Little.” What could have been a voyage marked by heterosexual destiny and adult eroticism is now rendered an infantilized all-male space. Tod is forced to regress because of Alex’s rejection of the “normative,” heterosexual dynamic of the original seating arrangement. This is even underscored visually a moment later, when Billy boards the aircraft late and rushes to find his seat. He begins to enter the row where Carter is seated with his girlfriend Terry, but (almost as if upon realizing that the row is now marked as a heterosexual space and not a homosocial one) he feints and withdraws from the row, instead finding his seat in the row behind them.

Kristine: And the movie presents that ugly evil baby in first class as the specter of heterosexual reproduction….

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: So do Carter and Alex fuck off-screen? Maybe that scene at the Parisian café takes place after they’ve all just had a wicked threesome….

Sean: The homoerotic subtext to the aggression between Carter and Alex is ridiculously obvious, like when Carter can’t even drive by Alex sitting with Clear without stopping to harass him. Terry recognizes the repressed desire in Carter when she sees him seeing Alex and in fact her last words are, “If you want to waste your life beating the shit out Alex every time you see him, then you can just drop fucking dead.” It’s easy enough to recognize that this obsession with “beating the shit out of Alex” points to some kind of repressed desires in Carter, something openly acknowledged during the ending sequence in Paris. We could easily replace “beating” with “fucking,” here. And the movie removes Terry from the equation. The heterosexual obstacle to Carter’s queer exploration is gone, enabling him to “go to Paris” with Clear and Alex. Alex himself resists his own heterosexual pairing when he refuses to come to phone when Clear calls for him. Alex’s father argues that Alex needs either to move forward into adult heterosexuality by “opening up” to Clear or to retreat back into pre-adolescence by instead “opening up” to him. It’s Alex’s refusal to choose a space to occupy, his weird liminal nature that is figured by the movie as a “problem,” even as it suggests a larger heterosexual destiny for Alex by linking him to Clear via the Alka-Seltzer tablets they both drop into their water. But Alex tells his father “there’s something I need to understand before I can talk… to anyone,” which is basically the mantra of any queer or questioning teen trying to get a handle on their own incipient sexuality. And then how he saves Carter by like, ripping the belt at his waist? “I saw the belt! I tore the belt!” just elides the next few words: “and then his pants fell down….”

Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 1.02.40 PM
Close-up of Alex’s hands desperately wrestling with Carter’s belt and crotch area.

Kristine: Ha!

Sean: Would you watch a sequel?

Kristine: Yes, I would watch a sequel. This is the first movie of Franchise Month that  I can say that about.

Sean: Is this a franchise for The O.C. crowd?

Kristine: Definitely. Is Ugly Alex in all the movies?

Sean: No. Only my homegirl for life, Clear Rivers, returns.

Kristine: Ugh.

Sean: Love. Pitter-pat goes my gay little heart.

Kristine: You’re my friend, not hers. That lanky bitch…

Sean: True. Don’t worry honey. She’s our agreed thing that straight people say. What is that? When straight couples get to pick a celeb they can fuck without penalty?

Kristine: It is called a “freebie list.” And no, she is not on yours.

Sean: Yes she is. Because we’re gay/gal pals we get to have seven people on our lists. Seven alternate friends I can have coffee with without penalty. My list reads Leelee, Clear Rivers, Tina Fey and I’ll think of the rest later.

Kristine: Fine, but I am going to pick seven gheys that will make you want to die. I am excited.

Sean: I would argue that Leelee + Ali Larter actually equals one complete person.

Kristine: True. But only barely.

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating: Better and weirder than I expected.

The Freak’s Rating: Total trash…I loved it! and Bloody wonderful genderfuck.

Dawson's Creek bloodbath
Dawson’s Creek bloodbath

10 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: James Wong’s Final Destination (2000)

    1. I swear to God I don’t always argue that movies have secret gay subtexts… just ones that do! And just to clarify, my thoughts about The Revenant are just that the movie plays around with the homoeroticism that’s a totally standard element of buddy comedies/action movies (intentionally or not) and is hilarious. I actually think Final D is supergay.