I chose for this week’s assignment to talk you about the Buster Keaton’s movie One Week, and more specifically about the final scene of the film.
To put the sequence in context, I will briefly remind you the general plot. Beginning our journey on a Monday, Buster Keaton gets married and has to fight back the still ardent lover his wife rejected to marry him. Following a car pursuit, they finally arrive safe and sound on the property they received for their marriage. They then begin the construction of a prefabricated house, which reveals itself much more dangerous (and of course funny) than anybody could have imagined.
The comical moments are uncountable, and we finally arrive on the Saturday, when the new couple learns their property is actually on the other side of the railroad.
It is now the final scene. It starts with the pulling of the house by the car. After a couple hundred meters, the rope holding the car breaks, right in the middle of the railroad tracks. Buster Keaton then tries to nail the back of his car to the house, but only the frame of the car moves forward, leaving him desperately fixed to the car, not even noticing his incongruous situation.
A dramatic reversal is about to take place now: stuck on the track, both wife and husband hear a train arriving full speed towards their condemned house. Their last efforts to save their home are vain, and they seek refuge a couple meters from the tracks. But, completely unexpectedly, the trains runs on the tracks just next to the stuck building, and doesn’t touch it.
Assuming they are saved, the couple expresses relieve, when suddenly, another train, from the opposite direction, smashes the house and destroys it completely. Buster Keaton and his wife leave the sad sight of their former home, not without placing a small « For Sale » notice on the ruins.
The scene gets it’s comical power from the quite unexpected turn and rhythm it takes. First, the moving of the house is laborious. It takes several shots to arrive on the tracks. The plan then starts to fall. There will now be no turn back, they will keep to sink deeper in terrible events. The tentative of Keaton to nail the car is therefor completely ineffective, and now the train is coming.
The sight of the train creates a clear tension in our minds: will they be able to move a house off the tracks with the bare hands? Of course not, it would be absurd, but we still strangely wish they would. After a lot of vain efforts, the house seems doomed, and they finally have to give up. When the train, against all our expectations, passes by without any damage, the tension is appeased. As viewers, we are convinced that this is the end, and are accompanying the couple in their relief.
The climax of the comical element then strikes us, as fast and hard as if we were ourselves hit by that train. Our relief was crushed by the opposite train’s arrival. We then can only laugh at ourselves to have believed the home was safe, and enjoy completely this genius moment of comedy.