Watch the Hardcore Original Ending to Kevin Smith’s 1994 Cult Hit Clerks

I’m not sure if it’s still the case today, in fact, I’m almost sure it isn’t, but in my day the ethos of an entire gen­er­a­tion could be tidi­ly summed up by ref­er­ence to a hand­ful of movies. Or at least that’s what we were led to believe, those of us who came of age in the ear­ly-to-mid 90s, when films like Richard Linklater’s Slack­er (watch free online), Ben Stiller’s Real­i­ty Bites, and Kevin Smith’s Clerks achieved almost instant cult sta­tus as totems of mid­dle class ennui—that of overe­d­u­cat­ed nar­cis­sists and direc­tion­less dream­ers and cyn­ics with ser­i­al roman­tic dis­as­ters and a gnaw­ing sense of the dwin­dling returns on their heavy invest­ment in cul­tur­al cap­i­tal.

Of this ad hoc tril­o­gy of 90s slack­er­dom, it’s Smith’s 1994 low-bud­get, black and white paean to the lives of low-wage con­ve­nience and video store clerks, their clue­less cus­tomers, and a com­ic duo of stoned hang­ers-on that per­haps holds up best, and this is because the film’s comedy—ranging from gal­lows humor to gross-out slap­stick to obser­va­tion­al geekery—seems most ground­ed in the every­day expe­ri­ences of real, absurd­ly bored, work­ing stiffs every­where. So it’s for the best that Smith decid­ed not to fin­ish the film with the orig­i­nal end­ing he shot, which you can see above. In it, the movie’s main char­ac­ter, Quick Stop clerk Dante Hicks, is killed in a rob­bery. The last image we see in this version’s har­row­ing dénoue­ment is of his corpse, awk­ward­ly wedged behind the Quick Stop counter.

It’s an end­ing that makes lit­tle sense tonal­ly. Despite the movie’s detours into the macabre, it nev­er gets seri­ous enough to jus­ti­fy this kind of heav­i­ness. As Men­tal Floss puts it, “the alter­nate end­ing to Kevin Smith’s break­through film turned a light­heart­ed vul­gar com­e­dy [see above] into a dark tragedy of Ing­mar Bergman-ish pro­por­tions.” Actor Bri­an O’Halloran, who played Dante, thought as much. “I hat­ed that end­ing,” Rolling Stone quotes him as say­ing, “I just thought it was too quick of a twist.” I guess it’s a good thing for Smith (and O’Hal­lo­ran) that he final­ly agreed, since with­out the Clerks universe’s main char­ac­ter, there may have been no Clerks 2, for what it’s worth, though Jay and Silent Bob would cer­tain­ly have gone on to their post-Clerks revenge.

Smith’s choice to keep it light also speaks to the spir­it of the time—or the spir­it of these filmed rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the time, which are ulti­mate­ly about a lack of res­o­lu­tion, a meta-lack of res­o­lu­tion, that becomes its own brand of tragi­com­e­dy. Clerks is loose­ly mod­eled on Dante’s vision of pur­ga­to­ry, but feels more like Samuel Beck­ett trans­posed to sub­ur­ban New Jer­sey. The char­ac­ters in Smith’s films for­ev­er live their lives in what post-hard­core band Fugazi so anthem­i­cal­ly called the “wait­ing room”—the kind of place where, in the midst of a per­son­al cri­sis, the most log­i­cal thing to do is debate the ethics of killing off inde­pen­dent con­trac­tors on Return of the Jedi’s Death Star.

The Clerks alter­nate end­ing appears on the 10th anniver­sary DVD of the film. You’ll prob­a­bly agree the movie works much bet­ter with­out this fatal­ly abrupt turn, but watch­ing it gives us a glimpse of a world where death—always hov­er­ing on the edges of slackerdom—intrudes to break the spell of ter­mi­nal inac­tion and emo­tion­al paral­y­sis.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Kevin Smith’s Clever First Film, Mae Day: The Crum­bling of a Doc­u­men­tary (1992)

The Always-NSFW Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes Catch Up in Jay and Silent Bob Get Old Pod­cast

Hear Kevin Smith’s Three Tips For Aspir­ing Film­mak­ers (NSFW)

Watch Free Online: Richard Linklater’s Slack­er, the Clas­sic Gen‑X Indie Film


Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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