Film and television series The Trip typically sees British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon go on a European road trip, trading insults, jokes and spot-on celebrity impressions over Michelin-starred meals.
But the most recent film instalment, The Trip to Spain, features a twist ending that has left fans scratching their heads and reviewers pondering whether the series is “obsessed with death”.
The Trip, which was born in a 2010 television series but has since spawned three standalone films all written and directed by Michael Winterbottom, features plenty of improvisation from the two stars.
In The Trip to Spain, Alan Partridge star Coogan, fresh off his Oscar nominations for Philomena, teams up with Brydon to make a pilgrimage to Spain’s foodie hotspots.
For most of the film the two men wine and dine their way through summery Spain doing spot-on impersonations of Mick Jagger and occasionally discussing the perils of growing older. It’s hilarious and addictive viewing.
When their trip comes to an end, Coogan decides to continue travelling solo in an effort to write his own version of George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia.
It’s here the movie takes a more solemn – almost macabre – turn.
When Coogan makes a last-minute decision to cross the Mediterranean and explore northern Africa, his Range Rover breaks down in the desert with no help to be seen.
The last 20 seconds of the film captures Coogan’s blank expression as he sees a car full of Islamic State soldiers approaching, clad in balaclavas and waving guns.
Winterbottom was forced to explain the ending after a screening of the film at New York’s Tribeca Film festival earlier this year.
“It’s a tricky ending, I think,” Winterbottom said, according to Vulture.
“They talk quite a lot about Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, so it is like a version of that.”
Don Quixote is a novel by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra that follows a man on a mission to right the wrongs of the world alongside his sidekick Sancho Panza.
“[T]here’s a running thing that Steve imagines he’s gonna write this cultural book about Spain. He wants to have a life of action. He admires George Orwell because he went off fighting and he thinks he would fight. He admires Cervantes because he went off fighting, was kidnapped, and so on.”
Winterbottom explained this unconventional ending represented Coogan’s chance to “be a man of action”.
“All those liberal ideas, all this belief that he wants to be a man of action and really experience life – and suddenly he’s in the desert in a Muslim country and he sees four guys arriving and suddenly, he’s panicking, thinking, ‘S***, I’m actually gonna have an experience’.”
While some critics regard the ending as a stroke of brilliance – “The key to great comedy is knowing when to stop”, The Guardian‘s critic declared – but audiences are overwhelmingly confused by it.
“Who wants to talk about The Trip To Spain? Just finished. What a sad, unexpected, and dark ending,” Twitter user Sam Cooney said.
Another on Twitter remarked: “What an odd, unexpectedly outlandish, blackly comic ending to The Trip to Spain. Not sure what to make of it.”
While the jury is out on whether the ending is genius or ridiculous, reviewers and fans are united on one front: Coogan’s impression of Mick Jagger is uncannily accurate.
The ending of The Trip to Spain pic.twitter.com/KPThx7wtmq
— Krystina Osborne (@KrystinaOsborne) April 30, 2017