The list below is a rare one for me, if for no other reason than every film is a recent one. And I probably have the Internet to thank for that. With the emergence of social media and blogging, it’s become a lot easier to discover which films are hated and which are appreciated. For whatever reason, I am utterly drawn to the endings of the films listed below, while many people are not.
And I’m certainly not trying to be presumptuous (if you do like some of the listed endings then, well, yay!), but for the most part, people seem to detest how these 10 films conclude.
As the title may indicate, this list contains a series of spoilers. Feel free to skip over the ones you haven’t seen, and remember to tell me which film endings you find yourself consistently defending.
The general distaste for Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (either the German or US versions) starts at a very specific place. Throughout the film, two teenage psychopaths hold an innocent family hostage for no apparent reason. At one point late in the movie, the mother/wife gets a hold of a shotgun and shoots one of her kidnappers in the head. The other captor frantically searches for a nearby television remote, and then rewinds the movie a few seconds, before the shooting took place. Logically, this makes not one hell of a shred of sense. But I believe it’s Haneke’s very deliberate way of reminding us that we are indeed watching a film. He made Funny Games as a way to throw violence back in audiences’ faces. Many of us pay good money to see movie characters hacked and chopped and shot to death, only to have the good guys win in the end. Well, Haneke sees things another way. And I dig it.
Cast Away (2000)
Yes, I’m fully aware of the cheesy, not-at-all subtle metaphor of Tom Hanks standing at a literal crossroads as his character contemplates what to do with his life. He looks one way, then another, then another, before finally, confidently, happily, deciding to follow those wings. The way the camera slowly pushes in on Hanks’ face, the way Alan Silvestri’s music cues up, the way Hanks gets a look of sheer satisfaction… it all simply devastates me, in the most blissful way possible. I love everything about it.
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
I don’t know, maybe Steven Spielberg’s A.I. would’ve been a better, more grim movie if it ended with robot boy, David, wishing to be turned into a real boy, only to have his wish fade into darkness. But Spielberg keeps it going. He jumps 2,000 years in the future and brings aliens into the mix, who find David and reconstruct his brief life based on his own memories. In short, David gets to spend one last evening with his long-since-gone foster mother, before the film gracefully ends. And I’ll admit, I was thrown off by Spielberg’s footnoted narrative act the first time I saw the film, but now, I think it is perfectly appropriate.
The Pledge (2001)
Sean Penn’s The Pledge tells the story of retired cop Jerry (played to perfection by Jack Nicholson) and his inability to let his final case rest unsolved. Months after a little girl is murdered and her killer remains unfound, Jerry has moved on and fell in love with a nice woman (Robin Wright Penn) who is mother to a little girl. Suspecting the killer is still hanging around, Jerry uses his girlfriend’s daughter as bait to lure the killer in. The plan goes to shit, with results in Jerry’s girlfriend packing up and leaving him. So, in the end, we have a mumbling and disoriented Jack Nicholson sitting in front of a shitty gas station, talking to himself about his failure at life. He rambles on and grows more frustrated before the camera cuts to a wide shot and the credits cue. It’s so amazingly grim.
David Milch’s masterful HBO show, Deadwood, must have one of the most controversial series endings in television history. The third and final season leads up to a massive showdown between George Hearst and everyone else in Deadwood. It’s going to be a real fuckin’ bloodbath, but right before it takes off, Deadwood Sheriff Seth Bullock tells Hearst to leave the town once and for all, or else. Which, much to our disappointment, Hearst does. And that’s that. No blood, no sweat, no tears. The first time I finished Deadwood, I was furious that Milch didn’t let his audience have the payoff of one final fight. But then I realized, most argumentative situations in real life don’t actually lead to violence. It’s a hell of a lot of talking, without a lot of walking. It’s also no secret that HBO screwed Deadwood over and cancelled the show without letting Milch finish it appropriately. Oh well, as it stands now, I’m content with Hearst riding off, smiling with deceit.
Miami Vice (2006)
Of all the films on this list, the end to Michael Mann’s Miami Vice is the one I have easily defended the most. I just love the simplicity of it. I love Jamie Foxx perking up as his love slowly comes back to life, I love Colin Farrell gently waving goodbye as his woman is shipped away, and I LOVE Mogwai’s “Auto Rock” peaking as Farrell rushes back into the emergency room to check on a fallen soldier. There’s an effortlessness to this ending that crushes me. It may be anticlimactic, but it works for me on every level, period.
The Prestige (2006)
Once Christopher Nolan moved his career into the world of blockbusters, the endings to his films have been scrutinized endlessly. Many people detest the fact that he concluded The Prestige with real magic and shifty science, but I’m simply wowed by it. I’m generally not a fan of science fiction films, but I gladly admit that I was fooled from frame one by this movie. And damn if I didn’t love being betrayed.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
I’ve always felt the ending for No Country for Old Men was extremely appropriate given the film’s title. Sure, it’s a little off putting that the movie subtly switches narratives to focus almost solely on Tommy Lee Jones’ character in the third act, but the movie is, above all, about him. It’s about his failure to comprehend and adapt. Those dreams he’s describing to his wife… well, I’ll leave it to the philosophers to pick them apart. Sure the ending is obscure, sure it’s unusual, but damn if it isn’t Cormac McCarthy and Co. at their finest.
I mean, what the hell is the big deal? Whether Dom is dreaming or finally awake, the point is that he has his children back, and nothing else matters. For the record, I’ve never once thought Dom was still dreaming, but that’s just me. But, again, that really isn’t the point here.
Since Flight was released in November, I’ve gotten huge amounts of shit for being one of its most ardent defenders. And here’s why. I’ve known people like Whip Whitaker. I have friends who have known people like Whip Whitaker. I know people who have sat down with their fathers and tearfully asked them to explain why alcohol and drugs has made them the way they are. And I know fathers who have had to tell their sons just that. You may not think it makes for compelling or climatic cinema, and that is definitely you’re right. But believe me, the conversation that concludes this film is very real, and very devastating. To me, anyway.
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