“Buzzard” follows Marty Jackitansky, a misanthrope and small-time scam artist, as he cheats any system he can while avoiding being caught in the act. The director, Joel Potrykus, makes no attempt to take a moral position on Marty’s scams, instead letting the movie serve as a study of Jackitansky’s character and the minor horrors he inflicts.
The film shares a number of similarities with “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter,” a 2015 release about a Japanese woman who pursues the insurance money lost at the end of Fargo. Both feature outcasts who don’t fit in with their peers. Both are extremely bored and disinterested with their lives, and are willing to give everything up and sacrifice their comfort in exchange for freedom. And both feature strange, surreal endings that really punctuate their themes.
“Buzzard’s” ending in particular really reshapes how the audience remembers the entirety of the film, and leaves a lot to be interpreted and explained. Needless to say, [spoilers] ahead for “Buzzard.”
Upon catching several red flags indicating Marty’s check scam, a bank manager named Craig pulls Marty into the back room and tries to keep him there while waiting for the police. This is a fascinating mirror to the opening scene of the film, and we see the manager not only corner Marty physically, but also idealistically. Throughout the movie, Marty has cheated the system in any way possible, not just because he can, but because he believes they deserve it. Rules are made to be broken, and if there are loopholes, Marty will exploit them however he can. The trouble is, some of his schemes are actually against the law, and Marty has trouble distinguishing the difference.
When confronted, Marty tries to talk his way out of the situation, claiming that the bank manager is not so different and cheats people like him out of their money. A lesser film would use this moment as a grand statement of counter-culture reflection, a monologue justifying Marty’s actions and encouraging the audience to rage against the machine. “Buzzard” completely subverts this, however. The manager simply brushes off Marty’s accusations, never wavering as he completely shuts down the arguments. Marty isn’t being cheated; he’s just breaking the law. Marty eventually realizes he’s cornered, and tries to flee the room. This turns to violence, and Marty inevitably dons the modified Power Glove. He slashes the bank manager in the face, takes his ID and checks, and leaves.
Taking the scene at face value, it seems likely to me that Craig ends up mortally injured. The neck wound in particular seems likely to bleed out. I do not believe Marty intended to hurt him that badly; he simply didn’t think through the consequences of his actions. He seems stunned and stammers as he leaves. Regardless though, Marty was caught on security camera as he entered, and the second bank teller knew his name. The police will certainly be looking for him almost immediately.
Fear the Cameras
Throughout the film, being caught on camera is the only thing that really scares Marty. When he first realizes his check scam scheme could be discovered, he moves in with Derek, claiming his apartment “has cameras everywhere.” Once in Derek’s basement, Marty remains calm, yet panics and decides to leave town after he is scammed by a gas station attendant and is recorded trashing the store – on camera. Even his fear of being caught in the check scam stems from him being caught on camera, as pictures are taken of the front and back of the checks He was unknowingly captured on camera entering the bank at the end of the film, but doesn’t notice and thus doesn’t freak out.
Clearly, the cameras represent being caught in the act by outsiders, but I believe Marty’s fear goes beyond that. The movie gives us several extended takes alone with Marty, which clearly show a complete lack of self-awareness (playing video games after kicking Derek out, dropping spaghetti carelessly on a white hotel robe). These are moments of privacy which would be long forgotten. Being recorded on camera, however, forces Marty to reflect upon himself and his actions. Deep down, he loathes what he has become, and realizes many of the actions he takes are illegal or at the very least immoral. Being recorded on camera forces him to confront his own life, lies, and crimes – one thing he absolutely refuses to do.
Out of Body, Out of Mind
That brings us to the final (and most surprising) scene of the film. Marty calls Derek, and discovers that Carol (his boss) has been fired. For some reason, he believes that this is the end of all his troubles (despite the fact that the police are likely looking for him for assault or murder). Jubilant, he runs down the street, celebrating his “victory.” He comes across an electronics store with several TVs in the window, all of which are connected to a camera pointing directly at Marty. He stops, and takes a good, long look at himself and his image projected on half a dozen screens. As he watches, the “Marty” from the center screen walks off-camera and disappears, even though the actual Marty still hasn’t moved. This understandably freaks Marty out, and after a moment, he runs off. The movie ends as the center television shows Marty walk by one final time, while the others show an empty street.
Interestingly, there is only one other truly surreal moment in the film, and it comes in the very first scene (the extended take of Marty closing and reopening his checking account). During the title card, we get two quick shots of Marty, wide-eyed, staring directly into the camera, smiling almost demonically. This is almost certainly not literally diegetically happening, as the teller gives no reaction; rather it is a representation of how Marty views himself as he games the system. The final shot of the film mirrors this, but instead of a manic smile, Marty’s projection simply walks away from himself as a separate entity entirely.
To me, this final shot is Marty trying to reconcile with what he has become. He seems to almost not recognize himself, really fascinated by his own image. The projection of himself represents a fracturing of his psyche – not a literal split in his personality so much as a loss of grip on his concept of self. He has finally taken things too far, and thinks of his actions as being carried out by someone else. The murder of the bank manager is now repressed, remembered as an out-of-body experience or even a demonic possession. He refuses to accept the consequences of his actions, and thus will only continue to make the same mistakes again and again.
“Buzzard” is currently available to stream for free on Amazon Prime, and is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. Feel free to leave your take on the ending in the comments below.