MOVIES

The Ending Of Napoleon Explained

Right before the credits roll, Ridley Scott leaves us with Napoleon’s last words: “France … Army … Joséphine …” These aren’t exactly right, but they’re close enough. According to the historical record, Napoleon’s final words were, “La France, l’armée, tête d’armée, Joséphine,” directly translating to “France, the army, head of the army, Joséphine.”

It is an absurdly literary way to go out, quoting the handful of things by which you defined your life. Reading into the delirious utterings of a dying man isn’t necessarily productive, but these last few thoughts do reflect the way Napoleon surely saw himself: He was a Frenchman — the greatest, perhaps, in his estimation — a soldier and general, and a lover to one particular woman.

This unwavering (or at least unvanishing) image is reflected in Napoleon’s dress throughout the film. When they first meet, Joséphine calls it a costume. He objects, stating that it is his uniform. As the movie reaches its end, it becomes more obvious how correct Joséphine was in her assessment. Even in defeat and exile, Napoleon keeps the hat on. He keeps the coat and the buttons. He keeps the stance. In both words and presentation, he continues to project the idea of what he once was and might have been. That doesn’t save his legacy, though.

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