The ending to any story can make or break how we feel about it, and sometimes the ending is so powerful that we are left with the final images etched in our subconscious. Artists are often asked about the ideas that inspired their own work, and we are often tempted to check out those sources because the philosophies behind that art become something that we enjoy.
Endings are specific, special moments in stories, and I think these moments encapsulate everything these stories are supposed to show us, as a good ending should do. Here’s a list of most of the endings that have stuck with me, endings I believe influence the art that I make today. I know exactly which ending is my favorite of all time, and I am going to present that one as a separate blog post.
I’d like to hear about your favorite endings. Feel free to share in the comments section!
Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan
Not only does Ricardo Montalban show up with the body of a pro wrestler, but the dude is waxing poetic, setting up a Shakespearean revenge tale that has multiple themes. Arguably the best film in the Star Trek franchise, it features one of my all-time favorite villains. Khan is an attempt to give the Greek ideal immortality, extending it deep into the galaxy…
In the vein of a true Shakespearean tale, the conclusion allows tragic flaws embedded in the characters to come full circle; Spock’s sense of “logic” also serves as a neat parallel to Khan’s emotionally-charged performance, especially since Khan is still spitting literary flame when he’s at the console of his ship, half his face gone.
Okay, the movie is getting retconned and people hate it. Let’s move on.
While I’m not going to explain why the film should not be retconned (pretty sure Ripley is going to die in the new film anyway, and Newt gets to have her very own Alien trilogy…), the ending to the film brings the entire story full circle. I guess I am defending Alien 3 a little bit.
The first Alien film was a horror film. Got it. The second was a hoo-rah action film. Got it. The third film was horror again. Beloved characters were killed when the film starts, and nobody in Alien 3 is safe. Ripley develops a relationship with a doctor who is killed off, a situation that is hardly different than the fact that characters we liked in the previous films were also killed. Nobody is safe in the Alien franchise.
That doesn’t make the movie good. I understand the film’s failings. I have seen the Director’s Cut, and it’s almost a completely different film. But why was the ending so great? And which version of the ending…?
I am going to pick the original Alien 3 ending. I like the fact that we have a three act story of films that brings the mother metaphor full circle. The third film sees her SEEMINGLY stripped of femininity, but that does not stop her from falling for a man (and seriously… she was right… she was in outer space A LONG TIME without getting laid). I love the idea that she actually experiences the Alien emerge from her, and she has the ultimate decision to take it away from the company after everything they have done to get it. And then, of course, the final recording from the Nostromo at the end.
I don’t like the “I’m not an android” line from Bishop in the Director’s Cut, because it seems contrived and silly, and I don’t like this “You’re crazy” line before Ripley falls. However, I do think it’s neat that Ripley does not have to suffer the alien birth.
I still don’t remember much of this movie and probably won’t watch it anytime soon. I just remember the final scene was the bad guy picking up a ring and laughing. AND THERE WOULD NOT BE A SEQUEL (maybe they wanted to do one?). That, ladies and gentlemen, is awesome.
The ending to the novel and the film are pretty similar. We are not offered a great literary revelation or change. We are not given any kind of closure, because there isn’t anything. Just as Patrick Bateman does not change, the world does not change; there will always be killers, and society will turn a blind eye to not only the evil of the celebrities that is believes in, but society will allow the crimes of its government to continue without any real lessons learned. History repeats itself.
The ending is even deeper than that. I think I love Bateman’s final attempt to just admit to someone, face-to-face, that he is a killer. He is desperate for some acknowledgement that he is a human being, that there is some unique trait that helps define a human bag of flesh from the rest of the world. And what does the audience want by this point? Does the audience read the whole book, only to hope that Bateman is killed Scarface style (and it almost happens during the book!). Do we, like Bateman, hope for capture? Do we want him to find some kind of spiritual salvation? Do we want him to stop killing?
We get none of it. Nothing. We get the same thing Bateman gets.
The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell
As a short story, I think this is piece is as masterful as it gets. Indeed, it is predictable, but that’s because the author’s use of foreshadowing gives us all the knowledge that our protagonist does not have, a classic example of the author rewarding the audience. The story constantly asks readers to infer specific plot points and character motivations, which provides a lot of depth to the characterization without shoving it into the audience’s face.
The ending stays true to the story’s structure. We have to infer that Rainsford kills Zaroff, but you have to appreciate the story’s last line, which won’t be impactful without context (so I’m not going to drop it onto my blog).
A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Next: The Greatest Ending Ever!
Share your favorite endings in the comments section!