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Monday, July 5, 2010

Movies: The Happy Ending?

Monday, July 05, 2010 Posted by Unknown , No comments
Just finished watching Up in the Air, and the ending definitely got me thinking about America's understanding of endings. More often than not, American audiences expect a happy ending at the end of their books or movies or comics. It could be because of the Disney-fication of our media or even the "pursuit of happiness" being a fundamental value of American society, but regardless of the root cause, most American's expect their mediums to give them a happy ending.

Recently, I've had a chance to watch There Will Be Blood, The Wrestler, and Up in the Air. All three great movies, but all three don't give that happy ending I came to expect, and it got me wondering if the problem was with me or with the movies. I came to the resolution that it is my fault that I expect Mickey Rourke's character to end up with the girl or Daniel Day Lewis to be happily reunited with his son. The problem with this "happy ending" logic is that it alters the organic nature of each character, and in doing so, ruins the overall impact of each movie.

In writing classes, you're always taught to follow the growth of the character and write the most organic story as possible. If Rourke or Clooney ended up getting the girl, then the struggle for identity that both men suffer from would be happily resolved but in a way that isn't true to each character. Rourke's wrestler suffers from a severe loss of identity but at the heart of that man is wrestling. He IS the wrestler and the fans, the ring, the whole experience is what gives him life. To end that film with him hugging Marissa Tomei and have them walking off into the sunset would have been a cop out and a Disney ending that movie viewers didn't pay to see. They want to see the rise, fall, and eventual (up for debate), death of that man but it his death that we praise because for him dying in the ring would be a warrior's death.

I think the reason why these Academy nominated films don't have happy endings is because of the real message they give the audience members once the credits role. In There will be Blood, we are taught a very dark message of what power and money can do to a man. In The Wrestler, we see how coming to terms with one own's identity is absolutely necessary before one receives closure even if that identity isn't a happy family man identity that we all expect because of a Disney-fication of media. In Up in the Air, we are shown the hard realities of life and similar to The Wrestler, we are shown how very real characters define their families and their homes. All three of these films don't give us the great ending that makes us feel all warm inside, but what they do give us is real characters that we can relate to. More importantly, when those credits role, each of these films/characters gives us an ending we need rather than an ending we want.