Edited By: Swarnima Mishra
[DISCLAIMER: Movie Spoilers Ahead]
The Climax; The Last Act; The Pièce De Résistance; The Finale; The End
The culmination of everything the movie has worked towards, the fruit following a gruelling two hours, the climax is an aspect that decides what we take away from a film. As the famous saying goes: the journey is more important than the destination; yet here, it is the end. The right conclusion can make an otherwise mediocre movie 'worth the watch', while a bad one can leave us feeling thoroughly dissatisfied after what could otherwise have been a masterpiece.
We all know the spectrum of grey between black and white, that is to say; endings cannot be particularly good or bad. More often than not, the finale generates mixed reactions. Loved by some, hated by a few and misunderstood at times too.
Thus, I would like to discuss a few kinds of endings from my perspective (since we all take different things from a movie), especially my favourite style, the ambiguous ones.
1. THE FULL CLOSURE
Endings wherein everything makes sense. No questions are left unanswered. Plotlines come to an incredibly satisfying end (happy or not).
Take the Machinist, for example—a movie where all events prior make almost complete sense after the revelation of the suspense.
This type also includes your typical old-fashioned Bollywood ending. An ending where every arc comes to a (mostly) happy conclusion, all characters are 'put to rest' (not literally, unless we are talking GOT), all the puzzle pieces fit together. You leave the theatre (or your tv screen in these trying times) feeling content. The ending is given to you nicely packaged with a ribbon on top.
Cons To Happily Ever Afters: Life isn't rosy, which makes these films lack resonance. It sets unrealistic expectations and standards. How many perfect endings can our lives take in real? After a point, you stop running after trains waiting for your Raj to extend his hand or missing them like Jeet and start setting early alarms.
2. GOOD AMBIGUOUS ENDINGS
Analysing the Inception, Shutter Island, American Psycho, Andhadhun kind. Each of them a masterpiece whose debatable end keeps you discussing, reading 'ending explained' articles and theorising. The ambiguity doesn't take away from the essence and beauty of the movie. If anything, it adds to it.
Regardless of whether the totem falls or not at the end of Inception, Cobb gets the end he wants, and the movie continues to remain one of the best cinematic experiences of all times.
In American Psycho: Is Bale a psychopath or just psychotic? Did he commit any murder? Some? None?
Does Shutter Island's Teddy Daniels (Di Caprio) relapse into insanity or merely fakes it. "Which would be worse- to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?"
Can Ayushman Khurana see at the end of Andhadhun, or is he just pretending to be blind?
That is for the audience to decide. Does not having a definitive answer make the movie any less remarkable? No.
If you have seen any of the films mentioned, or similar ones, you might have had these debates and probably have chosen your ending. What an exhilarating experience! To get to choose what you take away. And even better, to take away various things after every re-watch.
These movies provide the audience with all the information required to make conjectures and draw their conclusions.
It is an active experience with lasting impressions.
3. LESS CLOSURE MORE CATHARSIS
Catharsis refers to the emotional release felt by the characters or the audience.
Some movies end with less closure and more realisations. After the first watch, the ending might confuse you and make you desperately wait for post-credit scenes hoping for a Marvel Miracle or sequels. Anything to explain what just happened.
These post-credits are usually followed by various introspection and google searches. Give me answers, tell me what just happened? Then come epiphanies and the 'ohhhhhhh' moments, where things start coming together, albeit hazily. In the second viewing, subtle hints, and differences are duly noted, it's when the conclusion is usually philosophical.
To explain this ending, I will take the example of Inside Llewyn Davis (spoiler alert).
The movie takes us through the life of struggling folk musician Llewyn Davis as he faces failure after failure in all aspects of his life. Typically, such movies end with the protagonists getting their "life-changing moment", the one gig, or one event that explains all the suffering as they fulfil their dreams and destiny. Not for Llewyn.
The movie ends with the opening scene; hence, the film comes 'full circle'. Llewyn is playing a worthless gig at a small bar just like he always has and is applauded. Llewyn, however, doesn't get his glamorous end. What he does get is increased self-awareness; his version of 'catharsis'. He realises against the backdrop of Dylan's 'coming to the scene' that he is not going to 'make it'. It is, in a way, a hollow, depressing ending. But the deeper you go, the more you understand the philosophical conclusion and its haunting similarity to real life.
Such cathartic endings tend to happen a lot in movies dealing with mysteries related to life, and questions one cannot answer.
4. NO CLOSURE AT ALL
There are some movies which to many make no sense at all. Movies whose endings are equivalent to no endings. The entire experience is puzzling and feels like a massive waste of time.
Films without conclusions, without catharsis. Movies whose endings would need way too much justification and analysis to even begin to understand what went down.
Some of these films, like say A Serious Man by the Coen brothers are still watchable because the movie, in parts, is funny and doesn't feel taxing to watch. But the ending is one I don't personally buy as it is challenging to realise and understand. Throughout the movie, nothing is clear. Maybe that's the point of the film. Not all actions and moments have explanations. Perhaps I need a couple more viewings to appreciate this movie more. But for now, my verdict remains, the end was unsatisfying, it gave me no closure or catharsis.
These movies fail to fulfil the viewer's expectations emotionally by offering neither a good climax nor an emotional relief.
Keeping all that I've said aside, the best part of watching movies is that there can be as many interpretations as viewers. These were mine. Maybe the next time I watch these movies, I'll come to different ones. What conclusions did you reach?