Asked by Tasha Robinson at The Verge, in regards to the end of Sing Street:
It's clear the scene in the gym [i.e. the band's performance of "Drive It Like You Stole It"] is a fantasy, because it's got that bright candy color, and things happen that are so obviously unreal. But in the boat crossing [i.e. Conor and Raphina running away to England at the end of the film], you spend a lot of time establishing the physical danger of what they're doing. It seems like if it was just a romantic fantasy, you would have just had them sail off together. But there was a point where it looked like it was going to end with them both dying in the Irish Sea.
director John Carney responds:
I wish they had, in a way. I'm sorry! But there is a side of me that wishes they had. Given the difficulty of people who are making journeys, and end up dying...
I don't think it's supposed to be a fully real sequence. I think they're supposed to be quite brave, setting off. But it's supposed to be... it's funny. Maybe I do want to have a winning sequence, but... there's an element of it that could be a music video, or a fantasy. They're in a boat together, and it's dangerous, and they're being rocked by the sea, and he's like the brave captain, but it's kind of all in his head.
The thing is, Carney is wrong.
Don't care if he wrote and directed it. I don't even care if he wanted them to actually die in the end--he's being a little flippant, there, so I think it's safe to assume he doesn't mean that he really wanted that, just that he thinks of the end of the film as one more fantasy. Of course, it's a bloody fantasy. The whole film is a fantasy. It's a bloody film, you spanner. It's one big fantasy. Poor kid makes good, gets the girl, follows his dreams. It's the stuff dreams are made of, the stuff films are made of. This is your counter, essentially, to how your Once ended. That ended with the relationship being finite, wrapped up in the music they made together. This one allows for something more open-ended, something with more possibilities. That is not a bad thing.
Besides, if you wanted to play it like it's a bloody fantasy, you don't have the ferry there, you don't have them getting splashed by the cold water; those are elements of reality, the difficult of their life in the near future writ in simple metaphor. Ferries full of people will get in your way. The weather will be out of your control. (Just ask Phil Connors.) Life is never going to just hand you what you want, even if you do make the effort to follow your dreams. But, this is film, this is Hollywood--well, Ireland, but still, Cinema, capital C. It should, unless the point of the film is something like the opposite, be a little easier to chase after your dreams in a film, a little easier to win the love you want, to sing and be applauded, to steal away to England in your grandpa's boat. These are things, in the language of cinema, that actually work. The fantasy sequence before is distinct because in that moment, Conor is disappointed by Raphina not coming, and we see the video that could be. As that scene ends with Conor saying, "Okay, let's shoot it," the little bit of actual performance and actual dancing that we see isn't even a part of the actual video they make. We're even farther removed from the reality than Conor is there. And, it matters because we fall for Raphina just like he does, we fall for music and music videos just like he does, and in that moment, we need the fantasy as much as he does. In the end, though, we don't need the fantasy at that level anymore. And we certainly don't need them to fail either. We need the reality of what that boat trip entails. We need the reality of what that boat trip means. Because this is our fantasy. This is our film to watch, to take in, to form our own version of in our heads (a la Benesh (2011)). Director or not, he doesn't get to change that after the fact.
Also, I think this version he's imagining, where the sequence is still fantasy--that wouldn't work. He admits the interview that if they had died, "It wouldn't have been anything... It just wouldn't have been a film. It just would have been a joke, or a twist, or something." As a lover of film, as a lover of this film, I say, if they didn't really run away to England, it also wouldn't have been a film. It would have been a joke, a wasted opportunity to let the fantasy play out as a reality.