Directed by Wim Wenders
Story by Nicholas Klein and Wim Wenders
Music by Ry Cooder
Produced by MGM and CiBy 2000
Released September 12, 1997
DVD Released March 28, 2000
Cast: Bill Pullman, Andie MacDowell, Gabriel Byrne, Traci Lind, Loren Dean, Daniel Benzali, Marisol Padilla Sanchez, and Udo Kier
Official entry Cannes Film Festival 1997; nominated for the Palme D’Or
At the Movies: The Best Films of 1997 (1998) (TV Episode)
The End of Violence was critic Gene Siskel’s #5 pick.
Nothing lasts forever
Wim Wenders is fascinated by the paradox that is Los Angeles. On one level, it is the stereotypical sun-drenched urban paradise characterized by a laid-back, everything-goes attitude, but on another plane it is a violent place where brutality is subtly celebrated — and even promoted. The End of Violence centers on a diverse group of Angelenos whose lives interconnect after each is touched by violence. Mike Max (Bill Pullman) is one of Hollywood’s more prominent directors of schlocky action movies. His films are among the bloodiest and cruelest in the business, and the moral implications of his business bother the money-hungry Max not a whit. He is so consumed with his business that he has little time for his increasingly frustrated wife Paige (Andie MacDowell). She plans to escape the situation by doing volunteer work in Guatemala. It is only after a gorgeous stunt woman named Cat (Traci Lind) is injured on the set that Max shows even the slightest compassion. The producer’s life changes dramatically, however, after he is kidnapped by two inept but potentially dangerous hit men. Max escapes and goes into hiding at the home of his Mexican gardener and remains in seclusion there for over a month. Meanwhile, a police investigation to find Max is headed by detective Doc Block (Loren Dean). During his search, he encounters Cat and becomes fascinated by the beautiful girl — who is secretly in contact with Max. In a parallel story, Ray Bering (Gabriel Byrne) runs a high-tech surveillance operation out of the Griffith Park observatory and with his assistant records daily events in the city. Sometimes he visits with his father (noted director Samuel Fuller), a retired military veteran. The FBI is after Bering’s system and he is forced to go into hiding as well. In making this film, Wenders and screenwriter Nicholas Klein decided to explore their topic without exploiting it; thus it features very little actual violence and that which does occur, happens off screen. —Rotten Tomatoes
Movie producer Mike Max meditates on the paranoia of fear of attack, in the movie business and life in general, as his wife Page announces she is leaving him. He receives a document via email from a NASA employee he met earlier at a conference. Before opening it he is kidnapped and almost killed, a scene captured by surveillance cameras and witnessed by computer scientist Ray Bering on surveillance footage scene in his laboratory at the Griffith Observatory. However, it soon turns out the two men have been shot, Max has escaped and now is accused of killing them. He takes shelter with, and goes to work for, the Mexican gardeners who find him and they help him investigate who is trying to kill him and why. Bering, who originally sent Max the email and recognized Max in the surveillance footage, has a conversation with an intelligence agent who makes it clear that anyone who gets in the way of a new “anti-crime” satellite surveillance program not yet approved by Congress will be dealt with terminally. Detective Dean Brock suspects Max is not a killer and on a tip meets with Bering, who is assassinated by a gunshot as they begin to speak. Max gives up his business and money to his wife and the movie ends as he meditates on how a real attack has freed him from paranoia. —Wikipedia
The film tells the story of the successful film producer Mike Max (Bill Pullman) who is violently abducted from his daily routine in Hollywood one day. But he manages to escape his kidnappers. He finds shelter with his Mexican gardener and thus he himself becomes one of the countless “invisible hands” that keep Los Angeles alive. He tries to find out who is out to kill him and for what reason and how his wife Paige (Andie MacDowell) is involved in it. In the process, he discovers an Orwell-like world of surveillance, run by information scientist Ray Bering (Gabriel Byrne) from the legendary Hollywood observatory. Instead of looking at the stars, he watches the city, not knowing that the surveillance technology invented to prevent crime has been degraded to a criminal tool of intelligence services. The film is a metaphor for an industry for which the depiction of violence has become a major product. Now the city is scared of the spirits it summoned. LA is now trying to protect itself in every perceivable way from that which simultaneously drives it so powerfully.
—Wim Wenders website
The truth is, I try to avoid modern technology whenever I can.
Ray: (to his father)
What is the point of having a phone if you don’t answer it?
Ray: (to his father)
You know, I was right, Dad. I was more right than I ever could have imagined.
Ray: (yelling at Mathilda)
What the hell are you doing? Do you realize what you’ve just thrown away? Little things around here have big importance, do you understand? Mucho importante! Importante! Understand!? I can’t have people around here who don’t know what’s what.
(in a lower voice) But then again, I can’t afford people who do.
Ray: (to Mathilda, looking at her scars)
I never…I never noticed.
Ray: (to Florinda, Mathilda’s daughter, who is looking through the telescope)
That was Orion. This one is Taurus. If you look really close, you can see the shape of a bull.
Florinda: Wow! Which one did you go to?
Ray: I didn’t go to the stars. I just help with these big telescopes, so that we can see them better.
Florinda: My daddy’s up there. It’d be nice if we could see him. But I guess we can’t always have what we want.
Mike Max (the Bill Pullman character): A man I met once chose me to reveal a secret to. He’d been working on a government project. I guess he doesn’t believe in it anymore and he needed somebody on the outside.
Ramon: Why did he pick you? Weren’t you a big shot movie producer or something? I thought everybody hated you guys.
Mike Max: They do. I guess the reason is he liked me.
Phelps (the Daniel Benzali character):
Just wanted to touch base, tell you we’re all very happy with your work. The country’s grateful and all that. If we could get this thing fully operational soon, it’ll be an awesome tool. Cut down on crime response time by 200 percent. Accuracy, eye witness evidence. Could mean the end of violence as we know it.
Ray: That would be good.
Phelps: Of course, if there was just one tiny, infinitesimal leak before Congress approved it, we’d have to wipe the whole thing out. Everything down the drain. Poof! Or they’d crucify all of us. Not a perfect system.
Ray: I’ve worked on projects before that weren’t popular with the public.
Phelps: You’re not in NASA anymore, Toto. You’re not watching the heavens from earth. That’s easy. You’re watching the earth from the heavens. That’s messier. A system like this, there’s a chance for abuse. If you see anything that I miss, any misuse, anything, uh, strange, you’ll let me know, right?
Ray: (laughing a little) I’m a computer scientist. This is Hollywood. What’s not strange?
Ray: (watching his father, Louis, typing on an old typewriter)
I don’t know how you get any work done on that antiquated typewriter. You gotta change to a computer.
Ray: I’ll hook it up for you.
Louis: (pointing to the typewriter)
I think the idea of THIS is right!
Louis: (looking at his son, Ray) I have nothing to lose except THAT (pointing to the typewriter) so long as you are with me.
Ray: (looking out over the cityscape from his perch by the astronomy tower)
What a city.
Doc, the detective: Nothing like it.
Ray: If we could see it.
Gabriel Byrne Interview
Director Wim Wenders Interview
The End of Violence Featurette
[A note: a large portion of this review has been included because the reviewer seems to appreciate the thematic elements in Wenders’ film, as well as the details employed to illustrate those elements. The End of Violence was not everyone’s favorite movie in 1997; it seems likely that more viewers would appreciate it today.]
Hollywood-style hubris has rarely been portrayed as indelibly as it is in an early scene of Wim Wenders’s brilliant puzzle of a film, ”The End of Violence.” In it a bullying producer of action-adventure films named Mike Max (Bill Pullman), who intermittently narrates the movie, is shown doing tough business while lounging beside the swimming pool on his opulent estate overlooking the Pacific.
Through a network of computers, telephones and fax machines, all within arm’s reach, Max checks out the dailies of his newest movie, ”Seeds of Violence,” intimidates a Japanese financier and has a face-to-face video conference with his assistant, Claire (Rosalind Chao), who mentions that a mysterious 400-page Government document about surveillance has been dropped into his E-mail.
Amid the hurlyburly, Max’s neglected wife, Paige (Andie MacDowell), who is brooding only a few yards away inside the mansion, telephones her husband and calmly informs him she is leaving him. Although Max claims to love Paige, he also admits in a voice-over that he has taken pleasure in putting her through the emotional wringer.
Max’s arrogant manipulation of all that gadgetry to bring a semblance of the world to his poolside throne sets the dark, paranoid mood of a film that artfully crunches together more intriguing speculation about technology, communications and the effects of mass media than a hundred science fiction fantasies. In exploring these ideas, ”The End of Violence,” which has a smart, diagrammatic screenplay by Nicholas Klein, is schematic in the manner of 1960’s European art films.
If some viewers are bothered by the movie’s sacrifice of realism for the sake of intellectual musing, so be it. The movie, filmed by Pascal Rabaud with a ravishing hallucinatory feel for the soul of Los Angeles, spins out its paranoid fantasies with a free-spirited sense of possibility that the ambiguous final scene, set on the Santa Monica pier, lifts into high cinematic poetry. A gorgeous soundtrack by Ry Cooder featuring Jon Hassell on trumpet deepens the mood of cool, shivery beauty conjured by the cinematography.
That mysterious E-mail dropped into Max’s computer turns out to be a secret Government plan for a sophisticated surveillance system to monitor the streets of Los Angeles via satellite and video camera. In fact it is already being tested. The sinister Government agent in charge of the operation (Daniel Benzali) insists that the system, if established, would deter street crime so effectively it could mean ”the end of violence.” Running the secret operation is a NASA-trained expert in satellite communications named Ray (Gabriel Byrne), who operates this spy system from a grand, lonely observatory overlooking the city.
If Max is a Hollywood-style Master of the Universe, his sense of omnipotence abruptly shatters when he is carjacked by a pair of thugs who plan to shoot him and steal his Mercedes. In the movie’s funniest moment, the desperate producer offers the killers ”a million bucks in points” to set him free.
At this point, the film makes a small but crucial leap forward in time. The carjackers have been found dead, and Max is missing. When he is discovered by a group of Chicano gardeners on the edge of an estate, Max seems to be in shock, and they take him home with them. But once restored to health, Max is a changed man who remains undercover in the uniform of a gardener while the whole world continues to search for him.
Ray’s surveillance system naturally has videotaped what happened to Max but not clearly enough for the details to be sorted out. The shots that killed the carjackers might have come from an overpass (echoing the grassy knoll theory of the Kennedy assassination), and they might have been intended for Max.
The scenes in which Ray reruns and enlarges these pictures pointedly recall Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film, ”Blow-Up,” in which a young fashion photographer discovers that he may have inadvertently photographed a murder. But as Ray frantically develops larger and larger blow-ups of the scene, the images, instead of becoming clearer, become more diffuse and ambiguous.
As much as ”The End of Violence” echoes ”Blow-Up,” it is a lot more full-blooded, and ultimately it leaves little doubt as to what happened…
Midway through ”The End of Violence,” one character wonders aloud whether the fact that certain nuclear particles change when they’re being observed is applicable to human behavior. A corollary question (and it’s a very old one) that drives ”The End of Violence” is whether art changes things or simply reflects them. Mr. Wenders seems much more confident of art’s transformative power than the Antonioni of ”Blow-Up,” who left his mystery story hanging.
With ”The End of Violence” Mr. Wenders has made a film as resonant as his most memorable work. His perspective on Hollywood and American mass culture has a wistfulness that feels quintessentially European. From a distance, Hollywood (and all the terrifying power exerted by its violent imagery over the global imagination) is finally just a world of dreams.
Some of the key scenes in Wim Wenders’ “The End of Violence” involve a man who sits high above Los Angeles, in the Griffith Park observatory, spying on the city through a network of secret TV cameras. Of course he doesn’t need to be high (he can sit anywhere and watch the screens), but the detail is significant; Wenders may be evoking an echo of “Wings of Desire” (1988), the great film in which he imagined lonely angels in Berlin, looking down at the lives of men.
Wenders revisited that image to much less effect in “Faraway … So Close” (1993), and now here it is again, with the mysterious observer (Gabriel Byrne) free to watch but powerless to intercede, and not always sure what he is seeing. One of the things he sees is the violent abduction of a Hollywood producer (Bill Pullman), who is kidnapped by paid thugs, for reasons that will gradually become clear. These two character threads–the producer and the voyeur–will continue through the film, but there is a lot of other stuff, not all of it necessary; Wenders has always liked to make very long films, and at 122 minutes, “The End of Violence” may not be long enough to do justice to all of his ideas…
There is more. A subplot involves a secret government plan to use the surveillance cameras to control crime and violence in Los Angeles, and Byrne, sad-faced and thoughtfully musing as only he can be, tries to piece together what he knows about his job, and what he guesses. Everything comes together, somewhat unconvincingly, at the end.
Wim Wenders is a gifted and poetic German filmmaker whose reach sometimes exceeds his grasp. It helps when he has some kind of clear narrative thread to organize his material–as he did in “Kings of the Road” (1976), where two men confront their problems within the conventions of a road movie, or “Paris, Texas” (1984), with Harry Dean Stanton as an amnesiac trying to piece together the pieces of his life. Those films had goals, as did the search for the sharing of loneliness in “Wings of Desire.” “The End of Violence,” on the other hand, doesn’t seem sure what it is about, or how it is about it. There is an abundance of ideas here, but they’re starting points, not destinations…
How a viewer approaches The End of Violence may determine what he or she comes away with. Anyone expecting a straightforward thriller is in for a very big disappointment. Wenders and screenwriter Nicholas Klein aren’t interested in answering many of the questions posed by the narrative — in fact, they only hint at possible solutions to several of the biggest issues. And the ending, such as it is, leaves a lot of room for interpretation. On the other hand, if you approach this film as a study of the mutability of human nature, the need for redemption, the growing lack of meaningful human interaction in the electronic era, and the lure of violence, it has the power to involve, if not overwhelm. Ultimately, the noir thriller is just the means that Wenders uses to explore these issues. If only he had managed to inject a little more life into the proceedings…
The acting in The End of Violence seems either strangely muted or outrageously over-the-top. Aside from Traci Lind and Loren Dean, who are pleasantly enjoyable as they imitate past performances rather than create something original, there isn’t a single portrayal in this film that attracted my attention. Bill Pullman and Gabriel Byrne are subdued, Andie MacDowell is unimpressive (what is it that directors see in her?), and the hit man duo of Pruitt Taylor Vince and John Diehl look like they have escaped from the set of the latest Coen Brothers’ production.
The film’s title is richly ironic because this movie is about the proliferation of violence, not its end. Guns are everywhere in the movie, and each change of personality happens as a direct or indirect result of a violent encounter. Mike, who built his fortune making violent action movies, rejects his old life as a result of his close encounter with death. Mike’s disappearance stirs Paige out of her perpetual state of apathy. Ray’s realization that his project is being perverted into a killing weapon causes him to hatch a plot. And Mike learns to trust Cat only after a bruising confrontation.
Wenders has packed a lot of issues into The End of Violence, and I challenge anyone to call the script “dumb.” Sadly, however, unlike the director’s best work (The Wings of Desire), it’s neither involving nor magical. The End of Violence offers viewers opportunities to ponder a variety of diverse subjects, but its overall entertainment value is less than one might hope for. Great ideas and eye-catching cinematography only add up to a wonderful movie when they’re contained in a powerful narrative. And that’s the one key ingredient where The End of Violence falls short.
Defining Violence: Terri Murray on Wim Wenders and panoptic power
From Philosophy Now, originally published in 2008
The Panopticon is a vivid example of this new regime. It was invented by utilitarian philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham, who had intended to design the perfect prison. In his design the cells are arranged in a circular formation around a central viewing tower. Each prisoner is visible to the surveillant, who may or may not be watching. With a window at the back of his cell, the subject can be seen at all times.
The Panopticon is a mechanism and metaphor for efficient hierarchical control – over space, the body, human relationships and all things visible.
The architecture of the Panopticon is such that it operates effectively even if no guard is present. Because the prisoner cannot see whether the guardian is in the tower, he must behave as if he were perpetually under surveillance. Unsure if he is being observed, the prisoner becomes his own guard. As the final totalizing step, the Panopticon also includes a system for observing and controlling the observers. Those whose job it is to control are themselves thoroughly controlled.
Wenders illustrates this last predicament in his film through the character of Ray (Gabriel Byrne), who occupies a seemingly omniscient position in the government observatory, but who is himself constantly monitored by anonymous supervisors. A scientist who assisted in the construction of the surveillance telescopes, Ray has realised too late that he cannot extricate himself from the state’s gaze. He has assisted in the construction of his own prison. As Foucault says of the Panopticon, “this machine is one in which everyone is caught, those who exercise this power as well as those who are subjected to it.”
interview with Wim Wenders
Includes scenes from the film
dvd and streaming
As of April 2019, The End of Violence is available for streaming at Amazon US Prime. It is also available on iTunes and VUDU, so check these sources if you want to watch it there.
The film score was composed by legendary musician Ry Cooder, who also composed the score for and co-stars in Wim Wenders’ The Buena Vista Social Club.
Several songs by well-known artists such as Los Lobos, Sam Phillips, Michael Stipe, and Tom Waits, are included on the soundtrack. Most notably, perhaps, is the song “You May Feel Me Crying,” written by Will Jennings and Richard Kerr and performed by Roy Orbison, a newly discovered track. Orbison wrote the lyrics and recorded the vocals in 1987; producer Brian Eno completed the song in 1997.
The Complete Soundtrack (duration: 60 minutes)
Opening Credits Track
To capture the sprawling landscape of Los Angeles, Wenders shot the film in widescreen Cinemascope, a format he had never used before.
There are scenes in the film within the film where we see a live recreation of the painting “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper. This image became popular for some posters for the film.
notes on the supporting cast
Wim Wenders included some spectacular talent in small supporting roles in this film and these actors add both humor and humanity to the story.
Samuel Fuller, the renowned American film director/writer/producer who plays Ray’s father, had suffered a recent stroke and couldn’t memorize lines, so Wenders allowed him to use props to improvise. Sadly, Fuller passed away shortly after the production wrapped.
Udo Kier, playing the director of the film within the film, has an incredible 263 acting credits to his name, along with directing and producing several films. Born in Germany during WWII, he has become a familiar face in American horror and genre films, as well as dramatic movies like this one. Mr. Kier appears again with Gabriel, two years after The End of Violence, in End of Days.
Henry Silva portrays Juan-Emilio, the paterfamilias of Mike Max’s lawn care rescuers. He has been a staple in Hollywood for decades. Starting out in television in 1950, he went on to appear in strong supporting roles in The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and many other films and TV series. His was a face you always recognized, even if you did not always know his name.