If the film’s narration is taken to be Ronnie’s subjective perspective than the entire film has to be subjective. It can’t just be the ending, or it doesn’t work. It’s the same idea as Taxi Driver’s ending, as Devin mentioned. Yes both films share the same dénouement, but it’s the content that precedes those endings that drives such divergent interpretations. The problem with people calling the end of Taxi Driver a dream sequence is that absolutely nothing else in that film can really be construed as fantasy. However, Observe and Report almost basks in this rupture of reality.
If Observe and Report is subjective, and I’m not entirely sure it is, though for now I will argue on that side, it presents only a SKEWED form of reality. It's narrative is filtered through Ronnie's POV. Ronnie has bi-polar disorder and suffers from delusions. He’s not a pathological liar or schizophrenic. An important distinction.
Originally Posted by Dre
How does this guy have a job? His mall is constantly being robbed, and he proves his incompetence to his boss when the cops come, but it's the third act that's unbelievable?
The other problem with the "off the meds" reading? For the return to the mall he's back on them, which is made evident when his mom gives him a pill. Being unable to accept aspects of the film makes me think it's about audience members giving themselves permission. Art is by nature not binary.
Well, I would agree that the “off the meds” argument is false, since Ronnie exhibits delusions both on and off meds. Just because he’s taking pills doesn’t mean he doesn’t suffer from bi-polar disorder. His medication only keeps him in check, it doesn’t cure him. Though I find it interesting that when he’s on meds, there tends to be an almost unnaturally positive spin on the film’s events, whereas when he’s off them, his world becomes nightmarish. Here’s a breakdown of subjective events I noted in the film when I saw it a second time.
Ronnie hides in Det. Harrison’s car before he receives his ride-along. Now that could possibly be acceptable, I guess. Ronnie is certainly crazy enough to do something like that, but it’s illegal to break into someone’s vehicle. The tipping point is when he beats up a bunch of gangbangers (including horrifically breaking one guy’s arm) AND tracks down the kid who ran home. The film never alludes back to those dead thugs so who knows. The only witness to the event is Ronnie. Now, you can argue that there’s no reason to believe that Ronnie couldn’t do such a thing, but if I remember correctly, he had a hard time picking up Brandi when she was hysterical. If he can barely lift someone who weights a hundred or so pounds, that leads me to believe he wasn't really in that great shape. Sure, he can shoot a gun, but breaking arms and beating down three guys with a nightstick takes a lot of skill. Still, I’m willing to write this one off as a mere exaggeration of reality, or even reality.
Ronnie beats up the Cinnabon Guy but receives no repercussions (I guess Patton Oswalt could be too afraid to retaliate). Then he sees Brandi sleeping with Detective Harrison in the parking lot (this actually seems like the most out of place scene in the entire film, bordering on complete fantasy. I mean, it would make a lot of sense for Ronnie, once rebuffed after his “date” with Brandi, to imagine her a whore sleeping with the enemy so to speak). There’s the hilarious drug montage with Dennis (a big part of the joke is how exaggerated it is, it's a lot like the "town sequence" in Wet Hot American Summer), and then there’s the Oldboy sequence where he beats up the police (and Detective Harrison uses a giant metal sign on him). Still, his delusion certainly influences that fight. He fends off a dozen cops for over a minute (with a flashlight!). And why would Charles, the Capt. O'Landers kid, help out Ronnie with the cops? It doesn’t add up.
BACK ON MEDS
He comes back to the mall and meets the flasher. I think it’s pretty questionable that he could go to his locker/shooting range and grab a pistol (how does he still even have access?), shoots the pervert in the upper chest (easily would have bled out), and drags him (alive!) to the police. All set to the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” no less! Oh, and then he somehow gets his job back, and is deemed a hero by the community.
Also, just in general, almost every scene features Ronnie (except Dennis stealing shit, which can't be subjective), which lends credence to the film being filtered through his POV. Oh, and the film's title potentially has multiple meanings. It's the motto of mall security guards, but it could also refer to the act of a psychiatrist observing and reporting on a patient, or Ronnie observing events and reporting them to the audience itself.
Now if there weren’t all these weird moments, I’d agree that the ending has the same meaning as Taxi Driver. But to me, there’s something tonally interesting going on in the rest of the film. Maybe it’s a conscious thing maybe it’s not. I’m a believer in the idea that an artist isn’t always consciously aware of what they’re doing it just comes across in their work. I believe that Jody Hill was constructing a character portrait of a mentally ill tinpot dictator, and that in turn played an important part in the film’s constant tonal shifts. Maybe I'm completely off-base, but I think there's definitely some truth in my interpretation.