How do you end something? Whether it is a film, game or book, the moment comes when you have to make a decision and advance towards the endgame. You could always put it off and make your work a trilogy, but even then the end has to come sooner or later. Lets have a look at some endings, that I remember. As you might expect – spoilers follow.
Lets start at the top. The Usual Suspects. This Bryan Singer classic from 1995, launched Kevin Spacey into the a-list, because of his portrayal of Verbal Kint and the ending which still stands as the yardstick for Hollywood. Set up as a swerve from the beginning, this competent, crime thriller is elevated to study-text level because of the twist at the end. The viewer is kept interested by the questioning of Verbal throughout the film. We are told of the failed heist through a series of flashbacks and the questioning detective, breaks the weak, crippled Verbal into a co-operative state. All the while the real-time spectre of crime lord Keyser Soze, looms over the story. The detective convinces Verbal that one of his colleagues is Soze and lets him leave after the story has been told. Sitting confidant in his conviction the detective suddenly drops his cup as he stares at the investigation board. The whole story, that has been spun by Verbal, was constructed from words and elements in the office, at the same time a fax with a sketch of Soze comes through. We cut to Verbal outside, his limp vanishes, he begins walking normally and dons a pair of shades. The printout is a match for Verbal and a legendary ending is born. Now clearly Singer had the ending in mind throughout the whole film, so perhaps it was easier to make, in fact it could be argues that the whole film is the ending. Nevertheless it remains the high-point of recent times.
From the high I have to hit a personal low. The Devil Wears Prada. Expecting nothing, I was pleasantly surprised by this film right up until the ending. I know this was based on a novel, so the film-makers couldn’t really change it, but I was still left unhappy at the ending. Glenn Close had molded Anne Hathaway’s character to be her successor for the majority of the film. At the ending she offered her the chance to continue with her development by following her up the steps to the fashion show. For me the perfect ending would have been for Hathaway to realise this is what she was meant to be and follow her. It seemed the best thing to do. The film could have risen from normal chick-flick status to one of the best, a female version of Wall Street, instead we got the contrived ending that , we have seen many times before. Hathaway stays in the car, quits her job and sticks to her principles. We are told through an unnecessarily tacked on happy ending sequence that everything works out alright. Come on! At least end the film on the pivotal moment.
Ending at the correct moment is not the sole domain of girly films. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, also has ending issues. After the epic journey and commitment of time the film clearly has its pivotal moment when Frodo and Sam are rescued from Mount Doom. From a film point of view it had to end there. After the journey we had been on, there was no need to try to tie up all the loose ends. Give people a reason to read the books. Peter Jackson had no problems cutting out the original ending, therefore he should have curtailed the final back slapping 25 minutes, which meant the audience left on a bored note rather than the high that the series deserved. If you listen the director’s commentary on the DVD you hear the ideas that were floating around in his head. If only he had picked one of the others.
Recently I looked at the horrible ending of Interstellar and how the leaked alternative was much better. An ending doesn’t have to build to a crescendo to be perfect. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, we actually got a brilliant ending that happened after the event. The Ark is opened the Nazis are all dead and the film is over. Usually I would be begging for the film to cut it here, but instead we get the brilliantly downbeat scene of the greatest historical find ever, being boxed up and put away in storage forever. It’s beautifully powerful in many ways and lets the viewer leave thinking, rather than bored.
Let Me In the american remake of Let the right one in also has a good ending. Oscar is a bullied child through the whole film. The abuse he suffers is sickening. You know there is comeuppance to follow but you think it has been dispensed when Oscar finally fights back. The vampire story is a clever secondary store to the real tale of bullying and when he is set upon again at the end the retribution is swift and horrific. Both stories, the bullying and the Vampire tale are resolved in minutes and the viewer is left feeling happy at the horrific acts carried out.
My own obsession with endings began in school with a book. Edith Wharton’s The Age Of Innocence. Never before had I questioned an ending, I had always accepted what was in front of me. Instead here was a book that I had actively disliked, feeling it far inferior to The Great Gatsby,that from nowhere had me invested by the ending. The penultimate chapter has possibly the most definite ending in literature, but instead of putting the pen down and revelling in her masterpiece, Wharton does what most creators do and tries to tie it all up. There are loose ends in life, therefore there should be loose ends in fiction also.
The Hollywood ideal, the happy ending is actually what harms films more than any other. Some of the most respected films, break from this tradition. Arlington Road, Drive, Nightcrawler and Gone Girl all have unhappy endings in their own ways. But sometimes the correct ending isn’t the happy one. Going back think Gone With The Wind, The Shootist, Citizen Kane, Gladiator and more. Make the correct ending whether happy or not and you have the right thing for your creation.
What are your most memorable endings?
Love this feature article, a film without a good ending can really ruin one’s enjoyment
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Extremely true – I watched The Interview recently and while it was certainly … interesting, the ending left me feeling alright about the film. The beginning had me worried that the movie was going to be a let down, but I think the ending was actually quite satisfying. What a movie, though.
Have to see it then. I could have went on for pages about different endings but had to keep it readable.
I rather liked the LotR endings — after that much screen time, the story earned that amount of closure — but I see your point. (Imagine sitting in the theater, all jumpy from having to go to the bathroom, and then it gets to the ending. Only it’s not really the ending. And now you’re stuck between the movie and an impossible physical urge. At that point, it’s kinda ridiculous.)
Other endings I appreciate: that of the original Star Wars (like a play where everyone comes out to take a bow), Watchmen (an ending I HATED but soon came to appreciate), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (same as Watchmen), and 24: LAD (a redemptive moment for Jack Bauer). Those aren’t all movies, but still…
Great examples. Thanks for the nice comment. Watchmen will be the topic of a post soon. The comic ends the same way and while annoying it plays out better in print than on screen.
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