Warning: The following contains spoilers for Baby Driver.
Baby Driver writer/director Edgar Wright has elaborated on the ambiguous ending of his acclaimed, genre-defying summer action/comedy/musical/romance, but stopped short of offering up a definitive interpretation of events, preferring to leave the ultimate answer up to audiences’ imaginations. Even the movie’s stars don’t know how the ending should be interpreted, and that’s apparently exactly what Wright was going for.
At the end of Baby Driver, our hero Baby (Ansel Elgort) and his lady love Debora (Lily James) have dispatched everyone trying to kill them, including the seemingly invincible Buddy (Jon Hamm), and appear to have escaped from the cops pursuing them when suddenly they find themselves trapped by police on a bridge. Baby gives himself up to the police, and we then see a montage of him being tried and put in prison for 25 years (with the possibility of parole after five). Debora sends him postcards promising that they will get to go on the road-trip they dreamed about, and at the very end we see a black-and-white scene of Baby exiting prison to meet Debora that blooms into color (mirroring an earlier black-and-white fantasy shot), with a hopeful rainbow glowing in the distance.
Is the movie’s ending real or is it all just Baby coping with the miserable monotony of prison by imagining himself going off with Debora? Edgar Wright gave his own views on the matter in an interview with CinemaBlend, saying that the ending should be whatever the viewer wants it to be:
“I think the end scene is up for interpretation. And I sort of learned quickly through the test screening process that I should let people interpret it how they want. I think it’s an important thing with movies where you don’t have to state your actual intention because nobody’s response to it is wrong. I think that’s a good thing to do; you don’t want to have anybody say, ‘No, you’re wrong, you read that wrong.’ It’s better if you have two different interpretations.”
As for the rainbow, Wright explains how that shot pays off something a character says earlier in the film, allowing an otherwise quite dark movie to end on an uplifting note:
“Do you understand what the rainbow in the last scene means? Remember the teller tells him about the Dolly Parton quote? He says ‘Dolly Parton, I like her.’ And she says, ‘Everybody wants happiness, nobody wants pain; but there can’t be a rainbow without a little rain.’ He goes through incarceration to get to the rainbow.”
The two stars involved in the climactic scenes have their own opinions about the matter. Ansel Elgort believes the ending is just a figment of Baby’s imagination, and furthermore isn’t sure it would be right for Baby to expect Debora to wait for him for up to 25 years (in the scene in question, it’s clear that neither character has aged more than a few years). Lily James also discussed the ending and said she enjoys its ambiguous, romantic quality, but actually wishes the characters could have just gotten away.
While a clean escape for Baby and Debora might have been a more satisfying ending to some, it arguably makes more narrative sense to have Baby get caught and pay his debt to society, allowing him to have a clean start once he gets out of prison. The moment where Baby gives himself up to the authorities in order to save Debora from meeting an ugly demise at the hands of the police is consistent with the character’s sense of decency and self-sacrifice, and is in some way the most romantic thing he could do. Neither Baby nor Debora is cut out to live a life on the run and it might not have been fair for Wright to doom them to such a fate.
One thing’s for certain: lots of folks are discussing Baby Driver and its up-in-the-air ending. This is really a testament to how effectively Wright was able to realize his vision for the film. And, like with many ambiguous endings, the fact it’s being discussed is the real success, seeing fans go deep into the film’s themes and idea.
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