The explosive ending to Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun irks me. Here, finally, when the Brauns are forced to stop playing war-torn games and actually learn to live with one another (no easy task), they are engulfed in flames. I understand the blow-up’s socio-political undertones—"Fassbinder's world was one in which sex, ego and money drove his characters to cruelty, sadism and self-destruction,” wrote Roger Ebert in a review of Maria Braun, and Fassbinder’s world was also one in which fascism wreaked everyday havoc. Yet I always find that, when self-destruction takes the form of a cataclysmic explosion, the difficulty of living with the effects of cruelty and sadism has been conveniently avoided.
However, the explosion at the end of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point strikes me as one of cinema's best. Daria imagines an apocalyptic ending to the world’s injustice, watching a masterpiece of modern architecture and its privileged inhabitants repeatedly, violently erupt in flames. The blow-up occurs in her head, but its satisfying finality allows her to keep living.