Two Winslow Beefs (Including Spoiler)

I’ve been meaning to complain about two elements in Don Winslow and Oliver Stone‘s Savages, although the fault is more Winslow’s than Stone’s. I’m a fan of Winslow’s novel of “Savages” (particularly his “tight sentences and smack-dab phrasings,” as I said in my 7.6 review of the film) but — here’s the first beef — I found his descriptions of Laguna Beach and other Orange County havens bothersome. Negligent, I mean.

Winslow omits a fundamental aspect of the character of Laguna Beach and that general south-coast sprawl, which is that it’s an over-developed, traffic-suffocated hell-hole. I’ve felt this way about Laguna since I first visited in the late ’80s, which is one reason why I’ve only gone back once. Portions of the beach area are nice and you can take an attractive photo if you’re careful, but it’s way overstuffed — too many cars, too much clutter and crap, not enough parking, too many tourists, surrounded by Republicans. It was probably sublime in the 1920s and ’30s.

But to go by Winslow’s descriptions — “rich and beautiful,” “oceans and cliffs,” flower-covered hills, fragrant aromas — Laguna and that neck are just like Tuscany or inner Belize or the Cote d’Azur, albeit spotted with gas stations and freeways and 7-11′s and super-malls. That’s just not honest reporting. Drive down sometime and tell me Laguna satisfies anyone’s definition of “paradise,” which is how Blake Lively‘s “O” character describes it at the start of Stone’s film, the screenplay for which was co-written by Winslow, Stone and Shane Salerno.

My other complaint contains that SPOILER I mentioned in the headline. It’s about the ending. The first ending, I mean. The real one taken from Winslow’s book. Here it is:

How realistic or believable is it that O and Taylor Kitsch‘s Chon, in the prime of their lives, would purposely submit to death with a shot of morphine in order to stay with Aaron Johnson‘s Ben as he expires from a couple of gunshot wounds? The idea is that these three are so emotionally entwined that if one goes, the other two are compelled to follow because there’s no reason to continue without their profoundly close bond.

Except there’s this little instinct we’re all born with called “survive at all costs.” Ask any male combat veteran if he was ever seized by an impulse to lie down next to his dying best buddy and shoot himself in the temple. Doesn’t work that way. My late father, who was with the Marines in the Pacific during World War II, told me some stories that gave me a little insight into this. The instant somebody really close to you catches a bullet in the eye or falls off a cliff or gets eaten by a lion, the universal reaction is always “whoa, shit!… dude, that’s awful and sorry to lose you…I’m freaking and weeping but, well, at least I’m still here! Whew!”

Winston Churchill spoke of the exhilaration that comes when a bullet aimed at you misses its mark. I suspect that being close to death is more on that level.

That’s how it is, how we’re built. Life is awfully precious and you don’t throw it away out of sympathy for a fallen comrade. Until experience teaches me otherwise I say Winslow’s finale is bunk.

13 thoughts on “Two Winslow Beefs (Including Spoiler)

  1. I haven’t read the book, but the double endings bothered me immensely. I didn’t even mind the first ending. I could buy it, given how the relationships were laid out in the beginning. The whole second ending was so thoughtless and needless. I knew immediately what ending was right and when the reverse happened, I was pretty disappointed. 90% of the film was really well done. Too bad the last 10% or so was atrocious.

  2. I don’t know Laguna at all but Newport Beach, a few miles up the road, fits Jeff’s description exactly. Very expensive and nice in a way, with great weather and fast cars. But there are DOZENS of shops selling t-shirts that say “Balboa Island” on them and other crap, plus the tourists and the traffic and, yes, rich Republicans with stretched out plastic surgery faces.

  3. I took the opposite route as you — reading Winslow’s novel after I saw the film — and I really dug it. As you say, the prose is the main reason to read it, because the story’s just as take-it-or-leave-it as it is in the movie. But there really is something about his tightly-clipped swagger that’s intoxicating.

    Have you read any other of Winslow’s novels?

  4. The double ending works… It’s like Stone easing into old age and letting the trio off the hook, AND a depiction of how movies are better than real life.

    It also affords Travolta that awesome line about Native American soil isn’t US territory, but we all kinda know it is.

    Also does Laguna REALLY have as many blonde white women as depicted in the film? I better not go there are find 9,000 Filipino muffin tops singing karaoke.

  5. Laguna is actually the Liberal oasis in the midst of the Republican O.C. desert. It’s congested for sure but only because it’s so damn tiny. There are far worse examples of runaway sprawl up and down the coast. I’d live there in a heartbeat if I could afford it.

  6. “Ask any male combat veteran if he was ever seized by an impulse to lie down next to his dying best buddy and shoot himself in the temple. Doesn’t work that way.”

    You’re right. I wanted to fucking jump out of the Chinook.

    OHWAITTHATSNOTWHATYOUMEANT.

  7. Laguna Beach IS beautiful. Driving on Pacific Coast Highway alone does not a profile of the city make. It’s definitely over developed in parts, but the coast quickly up into rolling hills. It’s gorgeous. It’s long been a haven for artists (who knows, I guess drug dealers too). Yes, it’s smack dab in the middle of the Orange Curtain. Go figure.

    O has rich boyfriends; she doesn’t spend time snarled in traffic or stopping at the Arco. She lives near the cliff side, lives the more laid back lifestyle of the idle rich of the area. I didnt find Winslow’s depiction of the area to be that wrong headed at all. I really dug the book, more than the film.

    The ending of the film? Pure hokum.

  8. Danny King — I’d recommend you also read Winslow’s The Power of the Dog. It’s a pretty sweeping takedown of the war on drugs. It reminiscent of Traffic in that regard. I’d like to see Stone tackle that novel as a 6 hour HBO miniseries.

  9. I believed the first ending more than the second, which essentially wiped out the entire reason for everything that had come before.

  10. I believed the first ending more than the second, which essentially wiped out the entire reason for everything that had come before.

  11. Danny King — I’d recommend you also read Winslow’s The Power of the Dog. It’s a pretty sweeping takedown of the war on drugs. It reminiscent of Traffic in that regard. I’d like to see Stone tackle that novel as a 6 hour HBO miniseries. graduation transportation

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