Frank operates on two levels.
The first level involves the story of Jon Burroughs.
The second level is the story of The Soronprfbs.
Frank is interesting because so much of the movie is about Jon and his experience with the band The Soronprfbs. But at the very end of the film, Jon is pushed aside. The dramatic, cathartic action doesn’t belong to him. It belongs to Frank and the other members of Soronprfbs.
Unfortunately, Frank ends with Jon merely walking away, down a random, American street. Not with him sitting down to a piano. Or playing something fresh that shows his growth. It may be that Jon quits music altogether. Or commits suicide, just like other characters in the film tried to do/did successfully.
We’re left with a little bit of a “is the glass half full or half empty?” scenario. It’s as likely Jon is completely broken as it is he’s now equipped with the life experience to write good music.
The cheese stands alone
Frank falls into the categories of Bildungsroman, or coming-of-age stories. Generally, these stories have younger protagonists, but it isn’t unusual for them to feature a character in their twenties. These stories are associated with a loss of innocence.
That’s exactly what we see happen in Frank. Jon is an innocent wannabe musician. By joining up with Soronprfbs, his hope is fame, stardom, musical achievement. For a little while it seems like Jon might get his wish. He’s part of this band for months and months. He invests time, money, risk. He feels invested in it. And the whole thing blows up.
But it’s a bit more brutal than “it just doesn’t work out.” If it just didn’t work out, then Jon could have lived with the this idea of, “Man, I was so close. If only this person hadn’t messed it up.” Or, “If only this thing hadn’t messed it up.” But the band breaks up BECAUSE of Jon. Even then, there was a lot of reasonable doubt Jon could use to protect himself. The others didn’t understand Frank. The others were crazy. The others just weren’t as invested. etc. etc. etc.
But much to the chagrin of Jon’s psyche…Frank walks into this bar, past Jon, up to the stage, and sings this beautiful song about loving the other members of the band—Clara, Nana, and Baraque. While Jon’s just off to the side. Never noticed by Frank, never sang to by Frank.
The weight of understanding
Up to this point, Jon had still been hanging around Soronprfbs. Even though Clara, Nana, and Baraque hated him. And even though he had attacked Frank and been kind of told to fuck off by Frank. Joe still clings to this hope that things could work out. That his investment will pay off. That Soronprfbs will be his ticket to fame.
But with Frank’s song, Frank’s lack of attention, it becomes very clear to Jon that he is not only not wanted…that he has been a problem the entire time. So off he goes.
Where does Jon go to, though?
Well, we would imagine that he’s going back to England, back home, to start fresh. While that seems like taking some steps backwards, it’s probably a good thing for Jon.
Something to say
One of Frank‘s early scenes is Jon walking home and searching for inspiration for a song. He sings about all these different things he encounters. And he writes what’s arguably some shitty music to some of these shitty lyrics. This, and his later interactions with the band, set up an arc of “Will Jon have something to say with his music? Will his music become more than just hollow aesthetics but a meaningful creation based on actual human emotion?”
For much of the movie, all Jon sees is this aesthetic practice. The craft. It isn’t until Frank sings to the rest of the band that Jon realizes just how little he has to say…and how worthless what he has to say is. He recognizes the emotion in Frank’s voice and the impact that emotion has on not just everyone in the room but on the music itself. We, as the audience of the film, can hear the difference too. That this is something important and beautiful. It completely overwhelms any other musical moment in the movie. It’s powerful enough that Jon finally quits the band he had been so desperate to stay part of.
You would hope then that this entire experience will be the loss of innocence Jon needed to have in order to write something meaningful.
Personally, I like to view this as the “making of the future musician.” That it is a bittersweet tale of how Jon learned a hard lesson.
The long and winding road
But there’s enough evidence to craft another theory.
The keyboard player went mad and tried to drown himself, which is how Jon got into the band in the first place. Then the manager hangs himself after admitting to wanting to be Frank—hanging himself while wearing a Frank head. We see that this band has psychologically ruined two other people. Actually, the manager had been the keyboard player before the one who tried to drown himself. So that means two out of three keyboard players tried to kill themselves.
From that, we could argue that Jon may go kill himself.
But that could also be a false set-up merely signaling Jon’s loss of innocence, his existential death.
Regardless, Jon has lost something important, just like those other characters. The burning question, the one the film refuses to answer, is whether or not Jon gains something from this loss?
I wish I had a better, more conclusive answer for you on this one.