Why the Ending to "Swimming with Sharks" Was Actually Perfect
This Film is a Dark, Biting, and Fun One-Time Watch
Although I cannot say that Swimming with Sharks is any kind of cinematic masterpiece, it certainly hits all the right points. The dialogue is snappy, the pace is quick, and the acting is intense and evocative on all fronts. Kevin Spacey, of course, is the stand-out star of the ensemble with his portrayal of the sociopathic yet multi-dimensional senior executive, Buddy Ackerman. Spacey never gives a flat or boring performance in anything he does, and he's especially good at being both terrifying and funny at the same time. It's no wonder why he went on to play one of the main antagonists in the 2011 comedy, Horrible Bosses.
From reviews and forums on the Internet, it appears as if we are all in agreement about Spacey's awesome performance in this cheeky comedy. Now if we could all come to an understanding about the ending of the film...
One of the official movie posters for "Swimming with Sharks"
The Classic Rags to Riches Story With a Twist
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Guy (Frank Whaley) tries to get his foot in the door of the movie industry by taking on a job as the personal assistant to brutal senior executive, Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey). Guy spends a horrible year fetching coffee, manning the phones, and receiving verbal and physical abuse from his boss in the hopes of eventually making it big alongside his producer girlfriend, Dawn (Michelle Forbes). After Guy is finally pushed over the edge, he attempts to teach his boss a lesson and ultimately has to make the choice about what he really wants.
This is the synopsis of the film with the spoilers left out. The twist at the end is perhaps a bit predictable if you pay careful attention to Guy's actions, desires, and motives, and it's certainly not integral to enjoying the movie. However, don't read any further if you prefer to see the film spoiler-free. It's on Netflix right now. Go watch it, absorb the brilliance that is Kevin Spacey's acting, and then come back.
Guy keeps his boss a prisoner in his own home for an evening
A Brief Review of the Ending
As I have done my duty of warning you that spoilers await, we can now begin to discuss the ending to the film. In a phone conversation, Buddy implies that he is considering firing Guy despite Guy's considerable contribution to an upcoming picture. Then, adding fuel to the fire, Guy inadvertently hears a conversation between Buddy and Dawn where they agree to meet at his house at midnight for what is presumably a sexual encounter. Enraged, Guy appears at Buddy's house, ties him up, and tortures him using physical and mental tactics. Dawn appears at midnight for their rendezvous and interrupts the situation. After a heated argument between the three, Guy aims his gun at Buddy who goads him on. Guy says he's sorry and pulls the trigger. In the next couple of scenes, it is revealed that Guy didn't shoot Buddy. Instead, he shot and killed Dawn. The two men then framed her for Buddy's torture, and Guy receives a promotion and the success that he's always really wanted.
The Ending is Perfect Because Everything Comes Full Circle
While some may feel emphatically that the ending came out of left field, I'd argue that there could be no other finish to the film. It brings everything full circle with Guy embodying what he (superficially) hated and essentially morphing into another Buddy Ackerman. From a story telling standpoint, there is no other feasible way to end the film. There has to be motion, an action, that will propel him out of the corner he painted himself into. He cannot simply back out and free Buddy, because that would mean that he would, at the very least, lose his job and would most likely lose his girlfriend. He cannot shoot Buddy, because then he would be arrested and lose any shot he had at attaining success. The only correct answer to the riddle is to prove to Buddy that he has what it takes and to kill the only thing that is standing in his way: his superficial love for Dawn. By killing his darling, so to speak, Guy is able to develop the ruthless personality that is necessary for success in the entertainment business.
Benicio del Toro makes a brief appearance in the film
What Guy Wants All Along is Success in the Business
Although it's tempting to think of Guy as this sweet, naïve fella, especially at the beginning of his employment with Buddy, this was never the case. His focus was always on climbing the company ladder, which is evident in his interactions with Dawn. He only agrees to go out with her when she brings up the fact that she and Buddy are connected in their work. On their first evening out, he tells her that he's a writer, and she asks him, point blank, why he's choosing to be a doormat for Buddy. He seems uncomfortable with her question and flounders in trying to answer her. He cannot tell her that what he really wants is success. Guy doesn't want to write scripts for the sake of art or his passion for movies, like he tells her. Instead, he wants to get his foot in the door so he can have all the perks that Buddy does.
From then on out, whenever we see Dawn and Guy together, they're never talking about their relationship or simply enjoying each other's company. Instead, they are discussing what to do about Dawn's picture she wants to pitch and how to get Buddy to say yes to the project. This is demonstrative of Guy's focus in the film. While he may kiss and hug Dawn and be sweet with her, his eyes are always on the prize, which does not include Dawn.
When Guy makes his decision to visit Buddy and enact his revenge, the audience is lured into thinking that it's because of Guy's passion for Dawn. This is never the case. The catalyst for Guy's breakdown, although not apparent right away, is the threat to his job; the fact that Dawn is planning to have a sexual rendezvous with Buddy is just icing on the cake. However, the reason Guy feels sickened by this is not because of any love or true affection towards Dawn; it is because Buddy is taking away elements of his life that Guy feels he is entitled to keep.
The Sweet & Low Scene (contains some adult language)
It Could Happen to You
What's so unsettling about Guy's transformation from bumbling hero to brutal villain is that it happens so gradually that it's nearly impossible to detect the changes. This idea of anyone becoming sadistic and cruel is hammered down when you look at the characters' innocuous names. Both "Guy" and "Buddy" are generic, non-threatening terms for an average man. There's nothing that would suggest that any person with one of those names is anything other than the ordinary, run-of-the-mill person. In spite of his apparent ordinariness, Guy crushes everything in his path and ascends the ladder to become a man that is far from the norm.
Did you think the ending was a good fit for the characters' motivations and overall tone of the film?
Guy has an uncomfortable experience on his first day
See the Film and Decide for Yourself
This film is a delightful one-time romp into the darkest corners of the human psyche. From beginning to divisive end, it keeps the tension high. Because we grow to appreciate Guy's struggle, it's tempting to make concessions for Guy's behavior or to become indignant towards the conclusion of the story altogether. However, when you step back and reevaluate Guy's motives from the very beginning, it's easy to see where this calculated decision came from.