An individual spends a significant part of his/her life in pursuit. It’s either love, hatred, money, goals, dreams, whatever. Most of us don’t even know what are we going to do once we reach the end of the tunnel. To give ourselves a reason to live, we keep stretching the tunnel because we are afraid of the end. Do we hate everything that ends – love, life, feelings, money? In a beautifully weaved narrative, Azazel Jacobs examines the fear of an end and resistance to move on, in his surreal comedy, French Exit.
French Exit is based on the novel of the same name written by Canadian author, Patrick DeWitt. Without any grand facade, or depreciative comedy, Azazel Jacobs explores the beautiful streets of Paris and human silence alike. At its core, it is the story of a devoted son who can foresee the struggles of her widowed mother in a lonely man’s world.
‘French Exit’ Summary
Manhattan heiress Frances Price (Michelle Pfeiffer) lives grandly with her son, Malcolm Price on the fortunes left by the rich husband, Franklin Price. The film begins as Frances receives a notice that all her husband’s property will be seized by the bank. Seven years back, Frances found Franklin on a bed pinned with a stroke but instead of helping, she left him for a while, letting him die.
Frances’s lawyer informs her that the court has decided to seize Malcolm’s legacy due to which they are penniless now. He advises her to sell everything in the house, jewelry, art, and the books, in private and take the cash, and leave.
Frances was confident that she would be dead before the money ran out but she lives and thus, here they are, stuck with a crisis. France’s long-time friend Joan (Susan Coyne) supports her with a vacant Paris apartment.
Meanwhile, Malcolm returns back home to tell her mother about his engagement with his long-time girlfriend, Susan (Imogen Poots). Inhibited and reserved Malcolm has collected enough strength to surprise his mother, but before he can speak, his mother surprises him with their permanent departure from America.
Heartbroken Malcolm and Pessimist Frances reach Paris along with their beloved cat, through the ship. They were trying to adjust to the beauty when Frances’s precious cat scratches her and runs out of the house. She later reveals that her dead husband Franklin was reincarnated in that cat and therefore it needs to be found. The search brings the mother and son closer to each other and bridges the gap in the family.
Major Spoilers Ahead
‘French Exit’ Ending Explained
When Frances looks at his son and his girlfriend, Susan embracing each other, it created a sense of fulfillment in her. She felt happy that her once devoted son, has now found a new devotion in his life. It also makes her realize the void of living without a loved one. This emptiness expanded after the cat ran away, which actually is her husband.
Through the fortuneteller, Madeleine the Medium, she connects with her late husband’s spirit hiding inside the cat. She recollects the memories of the past they shared and apologizes for letting him die. She tells him in the end that she was startled by Paris during their honeymoon because she recognized Paris as the eventual location of her death.
Madeleine the Medium cried the whole time while Frances talked to her husband’s spirit. The look on Madeleine’s face suggested that she can foresee that Frances is going to die. It was one of Madeleine’s powers to anticipate people’s death. On a cruise, where they first met, she warned her not to lose the cat. Madeleine knew all the time that the cat is linked to Frances’s survival.
Frances used the phrase, “I’ll be dead before the money runs out” thrice. Everyone around her knew that she was spending the money like water because she wants to die. And when finally that night, during the house party, the money is dealt with, she sneaks away from the house.
She disappeared in the yellow street light of Paris with the Cat approaching her.
The ending flashback sequence establishes an understanding between Malcolm and Frances. It is built upon the fact that for the world Frances killed her husband, but Malcolm should understand that she killed him for good. She killed her husband to save the family.
Why did Frances kill her Husband?
Frances and Franklin were the elite couples. They loved each other but soon lost their way. Frances thought that a child would bring them together and rekindle the love, but after Malcolm’s birth, Franklin became more distant.
Frances never verbalized her hatred towards her late husband. But Malcolm did. Through spirit talk, Franklin tells Malcolm that her mother had the intention of killing him and he should ask his mother the reasons for it. Malcolm denies to plunge further and neither approved nor disapproved of her mother’s intention. At this particular scene, it could be witnessed that Malcolm and Frances share a similar thought for Franklin. He never showed Malcolm the slightest preference or kindness when as a child he worshipped him. He wanted his father to embrace him but he treated Malcolm like a repellant creature. Malcolm spent his childhood in boarding school. He was filled with hatred for him, and Frances felt the same.
The couple grew apart during the course of time. Franklin became cold, detached, and mean. When he was hit with a stroke, Frances just left him to die. When she came back, she found the cat on his chest and she knew that his spirit lives inside it. Frances spent prison time for not attending her husband’s stroke.
Petting the cat became an act of redemption for what Frances did to her husband. This is why the creature plays such an integral part in the story. It was a means to bridge the gaps and some of it was mended in the end.
Based on a novel built upon words, French Exit has so many distinctive scenes that communicate hundreds of emotions in a single expression. The sub-text is extremely dominating, in a good way. Flaunting such a profound narrative, the film is actually a comical fun ride. It tickles you with subtly designed scenes and witty humor. Some scenes like the dildo in the freezer, character of Mme. Reynard and Frances’s wittiness stays with you, even after the film ends.
The character of Frances as portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer is outstanding. In a man’s world, she radiates a power of her own. We see Frances through Malcolm’s perspective. He worshipped his father all his childhood but later realized that his mother was the real Hero. She was fighting the world all alone, and that is why Malcolm was too devoted to her. He doesn’t want to leave her alone because he knows that he is all she has. Frances knew that Malcolm would never leave her that’s why in the end, she decided to leave herself. The unspeakable bond between the mother and son has been graphed adorably.
This film shouldn’t be missed. French Exit takes you on a subtle emotional journey filled with laughter and sorrow. It is a bouquet of feelings shared by mother and son. Such narratives are rare and that’s what makes this film great.
French Exit is a 2021 surreal comedy film based upon the novel by Patrick DeWitt. The film is directed by Azazel Jacobs and is available for Video On Demand.
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