The ending of Good Time—which, in my opinion, is one of the best films of the 2010s—seems to throw a lot of people off. But I’m here to show you that a few key insights and clues from the movie can make it much easier to understand.
After a chaotic 90 minutes of Connie saving his brother and running away from the police, the film finishes with a very quiet scene where Nick attends a therapy session with several other participants. He is told to “cross the room if you like candy,” or “cross the room if you’ve ever been in love.” It’s a strange moment as Nick stares into oblivion, seemingly not processing any of the teacher’s requests while all the other participants walk back and forth across the room.
“Cross the room if you’ve ever lied,” she continues. “Cross the room if you’ve ever not gotten along with your family members. Cross the room if you’ve ever been blamed for something you didn’t do.”
Slowly but surely life seeps back into Nick as he crosses the room back and forth with his classmates. This truth. That truth. Back. And forth. Back. And forth. The oppressive surroundings lose their weight, lose their weight as Nick confronts reality. Confronts the future. Confronts himself. Back and forth. Back and forth.
This strange, melancholic ending of Good Time steps outside the manic run-for-your-life pace of the entire film. Infused with the aggressive presence of Oneohtrix Point Never’s unforgettable score, Good Time is constantly trying to keep up with the next step of Connie’s plan. But by the end, when all that remains is Nick and a group of strangers, all of that musical tension is stripped away.
And all we’re left with to figure out the meaning of it all is a song from Iggy Pop:
While the ending of Good Time could throw us off, I think that’s only because we allow the abrupt change in style to dictate our thought process. Really, this ostensibly dour ending is a continuation of the film’s intentions and thematic focus.
To explore that, let’s review the directing style of Josh and Benny Safdie (who is also an actor in the film as Nick), the alarming presence of Oneohtrix Point Never’s score, and what Iggy Pop’s lyrics tell us about the world in which Nick suddenly lives as Good Time comes to a close.
The Safdie brothers’ unique style of storytelling
Before we can delve into the contemplative ending of Good Time, we really need to understand where the Safdie brothers come from stylistically. And in my opinion: these two modern directors are at the forefront of the post-cinema movement.
Armond White recently touched on this cinematic trend in his essay on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. A damning review, White describes the latest Star Wars sequel’s breakneck speed and manic editing as the “end of cinema.” He writes:
“Director J. J. Abrams shows no interest in cinema’s sacred essence or the supernal quality of image and movement. He goes through plot as a series of action routines — like a TV director, never deepening the characterizations beyond how they might play in terms of popular politics. Abrams’s bland compositions and quick editing prevent any moment from having meaning. This even goes against the MTV generation’s former ability to read into or feel an image, a scene, or a sequence.”
I understand how many could feel this way about the changing state of storytelling in film. The Rise of Skywalker truly goes against everything we expect not only from blockbusters, but movies in general: there needs to be set-up, exposition, and foundation laid before there’s any sort of development or conclusion or narrative payoff. The Rise of Skywalker instead pivots from scene to scene, moment to moment without any explanation of how the characters got there. Instead director J.J. Abrams relishes in each passing moment, requiring the viewer to keep up with the “now” as opposed to whatever brought them there from the past.
It’s hard to accurately describe “post-cinema” as an artform because film scholars are still studying it and filmmakers like the Safdies are still defining it. But to briefly characterize this growing wave of storytelling: post-cinema focuses on the fleeting moments of the everyday. While movies have traditionally told their stories like any book would—with a beginning, middle and end with plenty of thematic clues and symbolic motifs guiding the journey along the way—movies that are part of the post-cinematic movement aim to be much more reflective of reality. Oftentimes we aren’t concerned with where we are or how we got there, but instead with what we’re doing and where it will lead. We live from moment to moment, and only afterwards are we able to contextualize our journey and find meaning.
To me, this sounds like Good Time—a film that, like The Rise of Skywalker, is also part of the post-cinema movement. The “post” certainly sounds like the “end” of cinema, as White describes, but really it’s a new beginning. Projects like Good Time aren’t the end of how movies have traditionally told their stories, but instead an electric transition into new territory. When films simply focus on the reality of “what is,” post-cinema films come to reflect our times, our politics, our financial culture, our environmental changes naturally. Those topics are not commented on in the traditional politicized way, but instead revealed by naturally existing in the post-cinema environment.
Like the characters on screen, we are captured by the beauty and emotion of each passing scene. And like the characters on screen, we can’t truly understand the larger truths the film is exploring until that journey has ceased. It’s not because we can’t keep up with the film—it’s because we are largely new to the storytelling trends of post-cinema.
How music helps us understand Good Time
With our understanding of post-cinema established, think about how Good Time sounds and feels and moves. At no point does Robert Pattinson’s character Connie Nikas know how he’s going to break his brother Nick free from jail—so neither do we. All he does is react. He tries to post bail; he hides out with Crystal (played by Taliah Webster) in her apartment from the cops; he guilts his girlfriend Corey (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) into stealing money from her mother; he pursues Ray’s (played by Buddy Duress) crazy plan to retrieve a bottle of LSD-laced solution from an amusement park aka Adventureland); he even enlists his crazy criminal friend Caliph (played by Necro). Heck, even robbing a bank in New York City—an event that kickstarts the plot of the entire movie—just sort of happens naturally in the moment as we’re thrust into the film. Connie moves from person to person, setting to setting as he tries to put together his mess of a plan. And all we can do is watch the wild night unfold.
The genius of the Safdie brothers’ film wouldn’t be complete without their third collaborator, Oneontrix Point Never (aka Daniel Lopatin). The electronic musician wanted to work with the filmmakers after they sent him a mood board that featured images from “completely unrelated stuff, like a picture of SpongeBob and then weird heist imagery.” To Lopatin, the connectivity of the images wasn’t the key—it was the energy those images gave off.
In an interview with Vulture, Lopatin and the Safdie brothers described their working relationship as they edited the film as “old-school.” Lopatin’s looming score remains present throughout virtually the entire film, “building themes around their chaotic leading man.” As Lopatin describes it:
“It would go in between this sexiness and this messiness, which is what [Connie] is all about. It’s this sort of psycho-scribble over these beautiful landscapes.”
During that recording, the Safdie brothers aimed to recreate the celestial ambient landscapes of the German electronic group Tangerine Dream—but “more f***ed up.”
And Lopatin abided. Keeping in step with the Safdie brothers’ post-cinema vision, Lopatin’s score aims to highlight the tension, the excitement, the turmoil that is each passing moment. The score doesn’t ever allow you to reflect or ponder. Instead, you react to each and every situation as Connie reacts. You’re consumed with his plight to free his brother…without every really considering if he should free his handicapped brother. If he even has the right to free his brother. If he will truly set Nick free.
You’re not allowed to reflect on any of that—until the very end when Iggy Pop shows up.
The Pure and the Damned
Before we discuss the final moments of Good Time, let’s remember the opening scenes. Nick is in the middle of a session with a therapist (played by Peter Verby) about a violent moment he had with his grandmother. Because of his mental handicap, he is not able to properly process what he’s done. Then before long, Nick, our protagonist, bursts into the room and forces Nick out of the room. Then we get the bank robbery. This is when Lopatin’s signature score kicks in and the movie starts to bounce at an electric pace. At this point, the movie becomes a full-blown thriller. Good Time is laden with anxiety and chaos
Contrast that with the energy of the closing scene, when Nick is back in therapy. After Connie is taken into jail, the alluring, chronic score disappears. We are removed from Connie’s nearsighted, headlong plight and brought back to reality with a thunderous-yet-meditative piano. And the truth is that Nick has no friends or family left in his life to care for him. He must now attend therapy and confront himself and his existence before he acclimates back into society.
Which creates a conundrum we haven’t been able to fully realize or reflect upon until the film’s closing moments. Is Nick better off without Connie? Will he now be able to lead a moral, acceptable life? Or is Connie the only one who truly understood him? Is Nick now stuck in a system he never wanted to be part of?
I think the beauty of these questions is that there is no true answer—there is only reality.
Which is why Iggy Pop’s existential pondering brings psychological closure to the film.
In that previously linked Vulture article, Lopatin and Josh Safdie elaborated on their collaboration with the legendary musician came to be. After all of the back-and-forth between the filmmakers and Iggy Pop, the lyrics of the film’s closing song came to fully capture the core truth at the heart of the film. In Josh Safdie’s words:
“There’s the duality between Connie and Nick, and I see the movie through both of their eyes. I genuinely do. And Iggy did as well. And he saw it, he saw the “pure” as Nick’s character, and the “damned” as Connie’s character, but that they’re one, and that they both, in a weird way, act out of this thing called love. And I was blown away by that. I was blown away that the communication was clear.”
A traditional film would keep you guessing the entire time if Connie was being a good brother, if Nick needed to be broken free from the system. But in the end, all that really matters is that Connie and Nick loved each other. “The pure always act from love,” croons Iggy Pop over the credits. “The damned always act from love.” In a film like this, it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong, if someone is a bad character or a redeemable one—what we connect with is that journey you embark upon when you love someone.
Because of the Safdie brothers’ post-cinematic approach, because of Lopatin’s persistent score, we are always consumed with the dynamic between Connie and Nick. The plight, the mission, the desire to reunite overshadows the typical narrative threads that encompass a film. It doesn’t matter how Connie will get to the next moment—all that matters is that next moment. Because that next moment could lead him back to Nick. Their shared love is the pulsating blood of the film.
Which is why we shouldn’t view the ending of Good Time as an abrupt transition, but instead a continuation of the film’s core mission. As the credits roll, Lopatin’s electronic score comes back to life as Iggy Pop murmurs, “The truth is an act of love.” That palpitating energy that accompanied Connie throughout the film now paints Nick’s journey as he walks back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Do you like candy? Have you ever been in love? Have you ever been blamed for something you didn’t do?
Suddenly the film becomes a blatant reflection of self. How have you loved? What does your love mean? Where can your love take you? Caught up in the moment of Connie’s dangerous, excessive mission to free his brother from jail, we might have failed to recognize that Connie was desperately acting out of love the entire film. But here in the closing seconds, both Connie and Nick are forced to look at themselves, to answer those questions.
Then Lopatin’s electronic score disappears once again as Iggy Pop hums: “Someday, I swear, we’re gonna go to a place where we can do everything we want to. And we can pet the crocodiles.” Truly in the style of post-cinema, all Nick and Connie can do is get by in the moment—and look to the hopeful future when they can reunite.