If you’re still unconvinced that ‘Mad Men
’ remains the most exquisitely crafted examination of loneliness, then study the ways the show closes out each episode. Resting on the power of its compositions over witty dialogue, the numerous backwards tracking shots, framing Don, Peggy and others dwarfed in their work and home environments, often framed within doorways and other frames, is as poignant in its reflection of urban solitude as any Edward Hopper painting. And it’s clear that Hopper would have adored ‘Mad Men’: just as Matthew Weiner so subtly captured the lives of ordinary, extraordinary New Yorkers over the course of 8 years, Hopper was obsessed with capturing the privacy of everyday people. In solitary bedrooms, offices, movie theaters, often solitary characters reflect in their environments, yet even when couples are together, as in Hopper’s Room in New York
, they are occupied with their own devices and do not interact with each other, their intimacy as unattainable as Don’s constant chase for happiness in the beds of other women, or a new wife.
That isn’t to say that every shot ended in a back tracking wide shot; the close-ups of Don’s conflicted face accentuated his existential dilemma, and the frames within frames only heightened how trapped the characters were in their own fears and longings. But the back tracking shots are a basic staple of editing: start wide, go in, end, in a way that punctuates how far you’ve come. And that is exactly what makes the contrast between Don’s constant fading away, his dismayed face and the final filmed shot, a push-in to Don’s smiling face, so poignant. Stripped of his possessions, his family, his home of New York, he has found something close to internal peace at a hippie retreat on the California coastline, finding himself and, perhaps, a Coca Cola ad in the process.
Editor’s Note: The ending scenes are not in strict chronological order, to allow for some editing creative licensing. However, their respective seasons remain firmly in order. And I will be reminded that Don’s smile is not technically the last shot, or even the penultimate shot, of the series. A helicopter shot from the famous Coke commercial is the last shot seen of the series. However, it was the last scene of the original footage shot for the series, and for that, it is arguably the true final shot of the series.
Serena Bramble is a film editor whose montage skills are an end result of accumulated years of movie-watching and loving. Serena is a graduate from the Teledramatic Arts and Technology department at Cal State Monterey Bay. In addition to editing, she also writes on her blog Brief Encounters of the Cinematic Kind.