Reservoir Dogs is a classic movie in every sense. A benchmark in indie filmmaking, the film introduced the world to the world to Quentin Tarantino and his uniquely bizarre style of filmmaking. And in what has come to be typical Tarantino fashion, the Reservoir Dogs ending still inspires debate 30 years later.
Reservoir Dogs made its theatrical debut on 9th October, 1992. 30 years ago to this date. At the time the film was heavily criticised for it’s extreme level of violence. In fact, Quentin Tarantino’s debut feature was originally submitted for film classification in June 1992. The notorious sequence in which Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde tortures a policeman by slicing off his ear, dousing him with petrol and threatening to set him on fire. This scene was considered troubling and was the subject of considerable debate within the BBFC.
The film passed with an 18 certification for theatrical release. The film was then submitted in 1993 for home video classification, which did not go as smoothly. The video release was delayed until 1995 – after the release of Taratino’s next film, Pulp Fiction.
All of that is now a part of history. Instead, we look towards the content of the film itself, and that question that looms over the Reservoir Dogs ending: did Mr. White kill Mr. Orange?
Warnings: Spoilers below!
Reservoir Dogs Ending
To set the scene: after an argument between Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), while Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) lies bleeding on the other edge of the warehouse, Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) arrives with a cop hostage. They beat the cop and tie him to a chair until Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) arrives. Eddie takes Mr. White and Mr. Pink outside and leaves Mr. Orange in the room with Mr. Blonde. Mr. Blonde then proceeds to start torture the cop, slashing his face with a razor blade and cutting off his ear, before taking a gasoline canteen from his car and pouring it out on the cop.
Before setting him on fire, Mr. Orange wakes up and shoots Mr. Blonde, killing him. Mr. Orange then speaks to the cop, revealing himself to be undercover officer Freddy Newandyke, just before Nice Guy Eddie, Mr. White and Mr. Pink return. As they find Mr. Blonde dead, Mr. Orange tells them that he shot Mr. Blonde because he was planning to kill them and the cop. As a response, Eddie shoots the cop himself.
The big boss, Joe Cabot, soon arrives, draws a gun at Mr. Orange claiming he’s the cop. Mr. White tries to protect Mr. Orange and draws a gun against Joe. Eddie then draws a gun against Mr. White, and they all shoot each other. Mr. Pink survives, and makes it out with the heisted diamonds. Badly wounded Mr. White embraces Mr. Orange as the sirens are heard, thinking they will go to jail together. However, Mr. Orange reveals himself to be a cop to Mr. White…
An outraged Mr. White points a gun at Mr. Orange’s head as the cops storm in. The camera focuses on Mr. White’s face as a loud bang can be heard, then several more bangs as Mr. White is shot.
Did Mr. White Kill Mr. Orange?
That first loud bang is the question. The first theory is Mr. White shoots Mr. Orange, before being shot by the cops himself. However, it’s also believed that it is in fact a warning shot by the cops, and Mr. White – having built a bond with Mr. Orange – was unable to pull the trigger.
Tarantino himself weighed in on this debate. On the commentary track for the 2002 10th Anniversary Edition DVD of Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino says that viewers who don’t understand why Mr. Orange tells Mr. White that he is an undercover cop (knowing full well that Mr. White is likely to kill him upon finding out) have not understood the film. Mr. Orange tells Mr. White, who has acted as his protector throughout the film, the truth because he feels that he owes it to him as a matter of honour.
Tarantino describes the Reservoir Dogs ending as being beyond honour, best summed up by the Japanese word “jingi”, which has no English equivalent. Having witnessed White sacrifice everything for him – White kills two very good friends of his to protect Orange, takes a bullet and stays behind (losing out on the diamonds) knowing he will go to prison rather than leave Orange for dead – Orange feels compelled to do likewise. Orange does not reveal the truth until the final moment because it is only then that he is free to do so without forsaking his duty as a police officer. Now that Joe Cabot is dead, Orange’s mission is over.