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The End -- One Of Burt Reynold's Best Roles?

Updated on April 13, 2013
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When people think of Burt Reynolds, I don’t think most think of TheEnd but it’s really one of his best movies. It was done during the Burt and Sally Days. On a side note, I always thought Burt and Loni Anderson made an odd pair. This was one of his best acting performances. It really showed what a good actor he truly is. It wasn’t an easy role to play; you had to mix comedy with tragedy.

Burt plays Wendell Sonny Lawson. The movie begins as Sonny is being told it’s the end for him; he has a blood disease that’s going to kill him. Sonny hasn’t led an exemplary life. He cheated on his wife and he was a crook in business. But he swears he’s going to take this news with dignity and he isn’t going to tell anyone he’s dying. That is until he leaves the office.

This movie has a lot of truths in it. One of them is when someone cries, people can’t get away from them fast enough. Sonny starts crying hysterically in the elevator to the point he has a dog in the elevator whining in sympathy with him. But as soon as the elevator doors open everyone in them don’t walk but run out of there as fast as they can. A woman is about to get in the elevator with Sonny, and she hears him weeping and decides to take the stairs instead. Emotional displays make people uncomfortable and instead of reaching out to the person in distress to offer comfort, they get away from them as fast as they can.

When Sonny comes out of the hospital he finds a ticket on his car, and he does what we all might do in a situation like this. He crumbles it up and throws it away. He’s dying, what are they going to do if he doesn’t pay the ticket? What we might not do is chase a funeral precession asking the driver of the hearse what the corpse in the casket died of. He almost causes an accident and ends up in front of a church, so he decides to go in to give his last confession.

That’s another of those truths. When people learn they’re doing they turn to God. Hopefully they end up with a better priest than Sonny got. The kid looked like he was still in high school. While Sonny is giving his confession, Father Benson [an appropriate name since Robbie Benson is playing the role. I wonder what happened to him] pulls out the white thing from his collar and he keeps making an annoying noise running it back and forth over his teeth. He tells Sonny he has doubts if he made the right decision becoming a priest, and it doesn’t stop you from lusting after women or wanting to screw over your partner in business. He’s also very impressed when Sonny reveals during his eight year marriage he committed adultery 200 times.

After leaving the church, he returns to the hospital, where he wants to see where they keep the dying people. When he sees people hooked up to all the life support machines he decides he isn’t going to go out like that. He’ll kill himself, instead. That’s exactly why a lot of people make living wills because they don’t want to end up like that before they die being kept alive by machines when they should have been let go.

Sonny’s talk of keeping his illness to himself doesn’t last long as he begins using it and claiming the time he has left is a lot less than he actually has. He tells his lawyer he’s going to kill himself and his girlfriend. He doesn’t tell his daughter or elderly parents, but tried to tell his ex-wife, Jessie, until she told him she didn’t want to hear anything that would bring her down. He even tries to tell her boyfriend, but he can’t understand English, so it’s totally lost on him.

Sonny actually tries to get Jessie to give him some sleeping pills. Then they get into a fight over why their marriage ended. She came home to find him with two hookers, but he defends himself that out of respect to her they never laid down on their bed together. And that’s another truth in regards to cheating. It’s bad enough when you cheat on your spouse, but how can you have such a lack of respect for them to do it in your marriage bed. It’s a complete lack of disrespect and adds a deeper level of betrayal to the betrayal you’re already committing.

Sonny finally goes to his parents to get some pills to kill himself with. Jessie claims they’re both hypochondriacs and apparently the doctors keep giving them all sorts of medications they may not need. They also don’t apparently keep track of the stuff they’re giving them. They have an entire pharmacy in their medicine cabinet. This movie was made at least ten or twenty years ago, and doctors are still over-prescribing medicine to this day. I had a friend who was abusing her medication and the doctor kept giving her more and more pills and she would show up at his office stoned out of her mind.

Anyway, the time comes for Sonny to kill himself. As he’s about to take the pills, he spots a suicide hotline number and calls it up on a lark. He starts talking to them only to realize he’s talking to a recording and he’s been put on hold. So he takes his pills, then realizes he hasn’t left a note and has to debate who he should leave it to. He can’t leave it to Jessie or his girlfriend, Mary Ellen, will be upset, and his mother would be hurt, as well. If he leaves it to his father, he’ll never read it. So he ends up addressing it to his teenage daughter, Julie.

The attempt to kill himself fails, and Sonny wakes up to find he’s been committed to a mental institution. Fellow mental patient, Marlon, played by Dom Deluise [I think it’s the first time he and Reynolds were paired together] informs Sonny it’s against the law to kill yourself. Even if you’re dying, it’s against the law to kill yourself, and if you fail at the attempt you’ll find yourself stuck in a mental hospital to live out your final days surrounded by a bunch of crazy people. I can understand doing that to someone who has a long life ahead of them, but to do that to someone who may only have a few months to live is pretty horrible.

Jessie comes to visit Sonny and she won’t sign him out of the hospital. That have another one of those truthful moments when he asks if they can’t be kind to each other, when he calls her a selfish bitch for not wanting to let him die, and she tells him they forgot how to be nice to each other. That’s the truth. When a marriage breaks up you can forget all the love you shared and just be filled with hatred and anger towards each other, which is kind of sad since you once loved this person enough to marry them.

Sonny is sent to Death Therapy and the counselor reveals he’s dying, himself. He’s got a bad ticker and could drop dead at any second. Which he does right after convincing Sonny to give up the idea of killing himself. Sonny is shaking his hand when he drops dead at his feet. Needless to say Sonny changes his mind, afterwards.

Marlon offers to help Sonny off himself in the mental hospital. He tries to help him jump off a building, but ends up falling off himself. He even gives Sonny a hangman’s noose and tries to help Sonny hang himself. When that doesn’t work, Sonny makes the fatal mistake of telling Marlon no matter what he says about changing his mind about killing himself, Marlon is to not believe him. Then Marlon chases after Sonny as he escapes from the mental hospital.

Sonny goes to his girlfriend Mary Ellen who has a gun he left there. Mary Ellen finally comes around to Sonny’s thinking and says it would be selfish of her to not let Sonny go, but perversely he feels if she really loved him she wouldn’t go along with him killing himself. They get into a fight and Sonny leaves. He drives to the beach to kill himself. He stupidly leaves the gun behind on the seat of the truck he stole and Marlon finds it.

Sonny walks into the ocean and swims out to drown himself, but as he does he can hear his daughter Julie’s voice in his head reacting to the news her father killed himself and he can’t go through with it. That’s another truth and why suicide is an inherently selfish act. The person that kills himself doesn’t really think of how the people they left behind will react to it. Some even kill themselves in the home so their loved ones can come home and find them like that. Just how selfish is that?

Sonny finds himself out in the middle of the ocean wanting to live and fearing he’ll die before he can make it back to shore. So he starts making a deal with God of how he’ll change, but the closer he comes the faster he starts breaking that deal. That’s another truth. People makes all these promises to God that they’ll change when they’re in a dangerous situation then they don’t keep it when the danger is over.

One of the biggest truths when Sonny is breaking his promises to God is he says while he knows it was God that saved him, it was also God that made him sick. If God hadn’t made him sick, he wouldn’t have swum out in the middle of the ocean trying to kill himself. And it’s true. God lets a lot of bad things happen to people and yet we’re not supposed to get mad and turn the other cheek and still worship him.

Of course, Sonny doesn’t get a moment to relax, because as he collapses in the surf, there’s Marlon shooting at him determined to help Sonny kill himself. Sonny tells Marlon he’s changed his mind and he doesn’t want to die and Marlon seems to accept it. Only Marlon pulls out a big butcher knife and Sonny’s back to trying to make deals with God as he runs from him and that’s how it ends.

This was actually a very risky movie to make. Making a black comedy about suicide is a tough thing to do, but they managed the delicate balance between comedy and tragedy while addressing a lot of truths about marriage, death and dying. It’s why I think it’s one of Burt Reynold’s best movies. He had to successfully pull of that delicate balance between comedy and tragedy in his performance and he did a wonderful job of it.


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