MovieChat Forums > Billy Liar (1963) Discussion > Your thoughts on the ending

Your thoughts on the ending


An American here. I saw this film when I was a teenager—I really identified with Billy, and was heartbroken when he didn’t go on the train.
I still love this movie, but I have a question about that ending. I can see it in more than one way.
One is that Billy is finally facing up to reality—he knows he isn’t going to write scripts in London, and that—just as his mother said—his troubles will go in the suitcase with him. And certainly he is leaving town at a bad moment—he’s left his tearful mother at the hospital, where his grandmother has just died. His yelling at his grandmother earlier in the day may have even contributed to her death. So he must be feeling degrees of guilt, and this, I would assume, is a factor in his ambivalence as he stands holding the two milk cartons at the train station.
On the other hand, when Billy is walking home at the end, he is back to dreaming of being in Ambrosia, and this hardly smacks of his turning toward reality—although I could perhaps see it as, “I’m going to face up to my responsibilities, but in doing so I’m not going to give up my dreams.”
However, there is yet another interpretation—that it isn’t guilt that keeps Billy off the train, but that he’s so much of a dreamer that he can’t even face up to escaping with Liz—and that his walk down the street shows him withdrawing even deeper into himself. This is rather a depressing interpretation, the one I like the least.
Thoughts, anyone?

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My take on the end was your last choice, that he didn't get on that train because he really wanted to keep living in his personal fantasy world.

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The most alarming thing about Billy now, looking back at the film, is that, viewing his many violent fantasies about gunning down those who anger him, he may well have ended up a serial killer!
Sadly, the streets of London are cluttered with alcoholic and drug-addled travesties of those who followed Billy's path to the smoke. London's anti-social nature tends to conspire against would-be Billy's. I tend to think that Julie Christie's character was a prick-teaser anyway.
Also, look closely at the fellow passengers on the train, and you can clearly see a four-man pop group among them. A HARD DAYS NIGHT opens with the Beatles at a train station. Unwittingly, this film is the link not only to Christie in DARLING but the fab 4 as well.

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Chickened out-why I find the film very depressing.He reminds me of myself!Couldn't make up my mind about his father-was Geoffrey an ignorant pig or just pig ignorant?

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I don't think Billy chickened out on the train to London because of guilt feeling about his grandmother. Clearly by all of his actions throughout the film, he is a sociopath and they have no sense of guilt. All I can say is that Julie Christie was well rid of him. What the hell did she want to marry him for, simply because they shared a few fantasies? Yikes.

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for a while i thought Julie Christie was just another figment of his wild imagination. she is a little too perfect. the ending was heartbreaking, here was Billy's chance to get away from his fantasies, his family, and he just couldn't do it mentally...

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While Billy walks up the street to his house at the end of the film, this is the first and only time we see his fantasy became part of his real life. Previously we've seen him daydreaming at his desk, on his bed etc when he was dressed in the uniforms of royalty or military personnel. However, in this scene, his private Ambrosian army infiltrate his real life and are seen to march behind him while he wears his own clothes. Or he's started inserting his real self into his fantasy.

Either way, this seems to imply that Billy has sunk even deeper into the fantasy world.

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it isn’t guilt that keeps Billy off the train, but that he’s so much of a dreamer that he can’t even face up to escaping with Liz

That is the way I interpreted the ending. Billy was desperate to leave his home town because he did not want to be a part of it's society, yet when Billy was given a chance to escape he turned it away. In my opinion the last fantasy sequence of Billy leading his Ambrosian army was to symbolise Billy trying to build up courage to face his Mother and Father after disappointing them both on the same night.

"I'd rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not".

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I knew it would end like that because it was part of the "British New Wave" of the early 1960's. In all those movies, there is an anti-hero, not a hero, and he muddles about in society, often mistreating people, sometimes in a charming or disarming way, but ultimately his choices lead to his not breaking out of his punishing situaiton.

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I think he sabotages his plan to break out, without realizing it. Liz knows him better than he knows himself, however, and she knows he doesn't have the job with Danny Boon (she rolls her eyes when the announcer at the dance hall mentions it), and she knows when he leaves the train he won't come back (she leaves his suitcases for him on the platform).

Note the maternal symbolism as Billy clutches the two cartons of his milk to his chest, like two breasts. He's not grown up enough to leave the nest. He needs his mother.

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Yes - she confronts him with the fact that, ultimately, the impediment is his own creation - which is somewhat out of synch with the rest of the film, where the stultifying effects of working-class and 'normal' existence are highlighted. Or perhaps he is just bound to forever forgo an encounter with any sort of antagonism, caught in the parochial symbolic network of his town, playing with it (telling stories, false promises) in his fantasy world but leaving it untouched, and never leaving it behind.

Without these impediments, he can't sustain his fantasy world; with them re-established at the end, he can fully embrace it. Once a real alternative is foreclosed, his fantasy alternative can come to full fruition - and the real consequence is that he goes back to his parents' house.

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But he had had a letter offering him the job with Boon, surely?

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"...he’s so much of a dreamer that he can’t even face up to escaping with Liz-"

His immaturity and personal insecurities dominate his bland life. Though he has an overactive imagination, he lacks any form of self - discipline or self ambition to succeed in implementing any of the vague ideas he dreams up.

He seizes on any excuse to leave the train and you can see that Liz was more than half expecting it to happen.

Moreover on walking back to his house, he "celebrates" his non - departure for London, by imagining a brass band welcoming him home.


"today's a day of big decisions".

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I can't help to point out that (as hardly anyone has said) in the end, Billy did choose to go with Liz.

Billy was thinking it was a pipe dream to go to London with Liz, but she persuaded him. After the discussion he was filled with excitement for the possibilities that would await him.
He was still adamant after the first short argument with his father, on his return. However, His visit to the hospital put doubt in his mind. Should he stay and comfort his grieving family in the close-knit town, with people who don't understand him? or go to London with his 'true love', leaving behind his problems and start anew?

On meeting Liz at the station, his mind turns to his family, and the "you pack your troubles in your suitcase" saying. With this doubt, he tries to keep the other option available for as long as possible by making excuses. On the train, he sidetracks and goes for milk at the last minute.

-my point-
At the machine, he buys TWO cartons of milk which suggest he is still intending to return; But then doubt comes back into his head and it's decision time. He chooses Liz.

He headed back to the train, walking at first, then running when the situation became urgent. He misses the train and out of frustration of his inability to make the decision in time, he throws the cartons on the tracks. He lost his chance.

I like to believe that when he walks home, he's feeling sorry for himself, but 'It's just one of those things'. He now believes he's doing the right thing for the good of his family. He makes the the Honorable march to his home, backed with the support of his admiring army (escaping to Ambrosia when times get hard).

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Billy self identity is bombarded by habitual verbal abuse from 'role models' around him. Even those he chooses reflect either this or insistent forced collective trapped-ness of Tiny Town. Very 60's as I recall.

His fantasy world is a safe place and it protects him from awareness of this reality. Liz is a step to far: when she agrees to marry him in the park, (apart from 'noooo') I wondered 'has he met his match'. Lazy script writing more likely. London AND Julie Christie is the offer you cant refuse. I couldnt.

At the hospital I'm 'get on the train, get on the train' and to my astonishment, he does. And so does she!

On the train he has what looks like an anxiety attack - wants to get away from the getting away or even that he is doing an exclusive decision of any sort. He blocks this by doing the milk getting: but as he runs up the platform his suitcase has been offloaded: wise Liz. The Mona Lisa smile at the vending machine says it - Im doing me again' aka no one is going to change me

He hasn't developed any sense of self though it does flicker to life occasionally, such as when does leave the hospital. Most of the time he is trying to deal with the parts of the abusive and demanding outside world that bear on him. The ending seems to be, like a number of others in this, simply a script writers choice to delivery the tale: Either he stays on the train or doesn't. Its a climactic point of decisiveness but given the endless hammering any independent thought has been given, its hardly surprising that he combines 'doing what they want' (or dont want in this case) with the passive destructiveness that appears to cloud and pervade his thought.

I loved his stream of conciousness in Shadrack's office: how can he ever come to any stable conclusion about anything but Ambrosia?

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Anyone who skips going to London to marry Julie Christie needs professional help!

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Its a pity.....

I think it would be a decision that BL would rue to his dying day.

The beginning of the swinging sixties right till the end of 68 would've suited Billy down to a tee.

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