death, Films

Bidding farewell to Paul Walker on Fast Furious 7: A lesson for life

I used to say I live life a quarter-mile at a time. And that’s why we were brothers. Because you did, too…No matter where you are, whether it’s a quarter-mile away or halfway around the world, you’ll always be with me and you’ll always be my brother.

With these words by Vin Diesel ended the Fast and Furious 7, as Diesel’s car drove on the highway whilst the other car, driven by the character he referred to as his brother, took the exit and headed for a new destination. Brian O’Conner will never feature in the F&F franchise again, as Paul Walker had departed this world months before this scene was shot in a tragic crash. The scene was a tribute to Paul from the F&F crew, which Vin Diesel described as the greatest moment in cinematic history.

I am only catching up with this franchise of films in recent months. I watched the first film a long time back and then watched a few scenes and trailers. I was aware of Paul’s death in 2013, and although it was shocking, it didn’t affect me greatly. The first Fast and Furious film was a long time ago, and it didn’t leave a lasting impression. Also, being a Vin Diesel fan those days, I wanted to think that Vin was the lead character of the first film. Yet, watching the sequels one after another, it was apparent that, in fact, Paul was the lead character, at least in the first few films. His character had grown on me, which made watching the seventh film more daunting.

I have not watched any films featuring Paul in a lead role outside the Fast and Furious films. Perhaps he was, but his characterisation of Brian was a natural choice. On-screen, it looked as if he was made for the role -—young, vibrant, moral, faithful, mixed with an air of desperation to seek something that you can’t lay your finger on. And his passion for fast cars. Most of these virtues were evident in his life off-screen as well. Whether it was his collection of fast cars, his charitable work or his camaraderie with Vin Diesel — we could almost imagine Paul stepping off the camera and carry on playing Brian O’Conner in real life. The high-octane sessions were probably so mesmerisingly on screen, yet one such moment would end his life, albeit it wasn’t Paul who was on the driver’s seat when the accident happened.

With such a perception about Paul almost playing his alter-ego as Brian O’Conner made my senses more scute as I sat down to watch Fast & Furious 7. I already knew about the enormous trauma faced by the production team from the events of Paul’s death, as well as the dilemma of whether to continue with the film, the magnificent editing work to complete the film and send goodbye to Paul in a fitting manner. Yet, the most troublesome thoughts were how to see someone on screen, knowing that they are no longer there. Yes, the editing masked many sessions that have been shot after Paul’s accident, but the most obvious moment was after the climax, as everybody chilled out on the beach, the camera picks up Paul, blurred, as he played with his child. That was the first moment when one could notice Paul’s absence, and it hits you like a brick. Yet, that scene ends as Dom Toretto leaves the gang and drives off. You’d think that that was the last scene with Paul, and as Dom waited at a crossroad, something dramatic will happen as it always did for fast and furious films.

What happened next was dramatic, but not what I’d expected. There was Brian, pulling over besides Dom’s cars, smiling at him, saying, “How come you’ve left without saying goodbye?”. It was Paul, but knowing it wasn’t him and seeing him from a montage of scenes from previous films brought back memories of those films. And we are reminded of how Paul had grown since the first film over a decade ago. It was a magical farewell, and at the end, ‘For Paul’ said many words without saying much. Paul may not be there anymore, but the memories will remain, and the scars will remain. There couldn’t have been a more fitting tribute to Paul as Dom celebrated his life and cherished his brotherhood on-screen and off.

It was emotional seeing that send-off. We all get emotional seeing one film or another. But this was a different feeling knowing that the lump in the throat has probably not much to do with the cinematic dramatisation and more of saying goodbye to an actor who lived that character for a decade and that he was no more. Only his legacy remains, and as long as more fast and furious films are released, Brian will be there, if not on the screen, at least in the hearts of the millions who will still remember Paul.

PS: Yet, on a personal level, I think there were other reasons why watching that farewell for Paul Walker affected me that way. Seeing Paul on screen and his passion for cars and bikes, and his untimely death, reminded me of my old flatmate with whom I shared a flat in Southeast London for over a year. He was about Paul’s age when, on a bike trip to Germany, a car trampled him and a fellow rider. His death was a shock to me, and it was difficult to come to terms with the truth. Watching FF7 was a déjà vu moment that made me realise that perhaps Vin Diesel has been going through the same thoughts and turmoils as I was when I heard about Jeff’s death. At the end of the farewell scene, as the two cars go different ways and the camera pans to the horizon at the setting sun, as the viewers pay tribute to Paul Walker for his life, it also made me realise that as incredulous as it seems that they are not there, Paul and Jeff and my childhood friends Aju and Khokon, we can’t not let it go, and rather than being stuck in the past, we must take solace in the fact that may be they are not here amongst us. Still, they are in spirit, as their memories will never fade.