Based on your comments, Mark, I checked out the script for In Bruges that I have. You’re right! The implication in the final scene is Ray kills himself. He’s on the phone with Chloe and says he has to hang up. When asked why, he responds, “Because I don’t want you to hear the gunshot.” Then:
He picks up the handgun from the bedside table and puts it to his head.
CUT TO BLACK
We do not hear the gunshot.
So yes, McDonagh had a change of heart re the ending. Or Ray led McDonagh to the point where Ray says in the movie: “I really hope now I don’t die.”
That’s the end point of his arc because at one point earlier in the story, Ray did consider suicide, as if living with guilt for the tragic murder he was involved with was too much — at that time. I think you’re right: a big part of his arc is about forgiveness, but I also think it’s about two other things:
(1) The sacrifice and consideration shown to him by Ken. In not only NOT assassinating him per Harry’s orders, sparing Ray’s life, then going one step further, putting Ray on a train when Ray KNOWS Ken’s actions will put Ken in harm’s way with Harry, the sheer magnitude of that sacrifice must have impacted Ray. Whether it’s Ray feeling like he owes Ken by taking this second chance or realizing that if Ken feels Ray’s life is worth saving, he (Ray) should consider that as well, or both, clearly Ken’s actions impact Ray.
(2) It’s one thing for Ray to consider killing himself. That he’s capable of doing — after all, he’s a hit man — and it’s something he can control. But facing down Harry, who he both fears and loathes, to have this asshole be the guy to whack Ray, I think, perhaps offends Ray, but more likely it scares him. Harry incites Ray’s most basic human instinct — survival — to lurch into action.
In any event, some combination of narrative developments feed Ray’s arc from overwhelmed by guilt to a willingness to somehow at least TRY to live with the consequences of his past and embrace the potential of what his life may become.
As for your take on Ken, I think you’re right: In theological terms, I think his actions are a salvific act, metaphorically Ken is a kind of Christ figure who sacrifices himself for Ray’s sins. In doing so, Ken is an agent of grace, bestowing upon Ray the chance for a new life. It’s up to Ray to accept that grace which ultimately he does.
On a more secular level, I think Ken sees in Ray a younger version of himself (Ken). And whereas Ken has managed to accommodate his job (killing people) with an appreciation of life (see his curiosity about Bruges, art, architecture, etc), he sees in Ray a younger man who has NOT learned how to cordon off his job and normal life. Perhaps he feels as if Ray will NEVER be able to do that, hence, his admonition to Ray to go have a different life, dying in the belief that Ray “can change”.
Thus, one more theme which plays in both Ray and Ken’s life: Guilt. Ray’s guilt is directly tied to the mistaken death of the boy. Ken’s guilt is projecting into the future of what he would feel if he were to kill Ray or allow Harry to kill Ray.
Think about these themes: Guilt. Forgiveness. Sin. Grace. Salvation. This is not a religious movie, by no means. But there are theological themes running throughout the story. Which brings me to your final point about the setting: Bruges. It is, indeed, a character in the story (after all, the movie is titled In Bruges). And like many European cities, it is steeped in religious history and iconography. If the movie had been set in Las Vegas, would Ken have come to the same selfless conclusion he does in the movie? I’m not so sure. Something about the historicity and timelessness of Bruges perhaps influenced him to realize there are things BIGGER than our mundane little lives, deeper truths. I doubt he was thinking about stuff in any sort of way we would see as being ‘religious’ per se, but his awakening does feel like a kind of conversion to a higher cause.
Thanks, Mark, for you observations. I agree with you and perhaps there’s something of value in my expansion on your reflections about the story’s themes.