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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

When Good Movies Have Bad Endings

"Lincoln" is among the films that has been criticized for its ending. (Disney-DreamWorks II)

“Lincoln” is among the films that has been criticized for its ending. (Disney-DreamWorks II)

Several of this year’s Best Picture nominees have been drawing criticism for their finales.

“Life of Pi” has a somewhat ambiguous conclusion that asks the audience to decide what the truth is.

“Lincoln,” “Django Unchained” and “Les Miserables” seem to end multiple times.

Steven Zeitchik, who writes about film for the Los Angeles Times told Here & Now’s Robin Young that audiences want to feel satisfied at the end of a film.

“[That] doesn’t mean it has to be neat, doesn’t mean it has to be purely historical, but it has to encapsulate what came before – maybe open up a new can of worms – but certainly leave viewers with a certain sense of satisfaction,” Zeitchik said. “For a lot of people, ‘Lincoln’ just didn’t do it.”

Some movie endings fail by trying to both surprise the viewer and provide closure, Zeitchik said.

“I think there’s an expectation now that endings have to do several things at once,” he said. “More often than not, when you try that hard, you pretty much fail.”

What movie endings do you take issue with? Let us know on our Facebook page.


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  • anon

    A Boy and his Dog has one of the best endings with a suburb twist in the final 30 seconds. Just a recommendation.

    • http://twitter.com/dryfoo G.L. Dryfoos

      I think it was more of a “desolate post-apocalyptic wasteland” than a “suburb”, really. But yes, clever ending.

      • anon

        lol I see wut you did there damn t9

  • Birckcmi

    Bad endings: Django Unchained. I don’t understand why this film has been seriously considered for oscars, other than the acting, which is good. It’s about a half-hour too long. It seems to end with the death of one protagonist and the primary antagonist. The end? NOOOO. The sole purpose for the extra half-hour seems to be to put the remaining protagonist in possession of a new weapon, with which he wreaks vengeance on…a house? The horrendous violence is stupidly overdone, and the last half hour is a waste of my time. Other than that, it wasn’t bad.

  • Donvaughn

    “The Fugitive” is typical of modern dramas that have endings that make no sense. When Dr. Richard Kimble finally confronts the mastermind behind the drug therapy scheme that killed his wife, sent him to prison and put him on the run after his escape, he confronts a former colleague: a highly sophisticated, successful professional.  He confronts him at  a professional meeting in front of his peers.  The ending of the movie then consists of these guys violently  brawling through a skyscraper’s back rooms and spaces!  Huh? Where did that come from?  It’s completely unreal that this sophisticated professional doctor would have the personality to instantly switch from urbane to viscious.  There was no development of this character as other than a slick manipulator and conspirator.  In fact when he first shows up in the movie he helps Richard!  It makes no sense and was just and excuse to use cops in helicopters and have a fist fight.  More and more dramas on TV and in movies are using completely unreal resolves, where characters go completely out of character to end the story.  You can’t even call these screen play endings clever twists.  They’re not clever, just twisted. 

  • Boxcar

    When “Titanic” came out first, one of my freshman college students told me she really, really liked it — everything but the ending. “The ship sank!!!!” she said.

  • Bernard Farrell

    I think American audiences want neat and tied up endings. I’ve watched a fair number of european and asian movies, and the ones I’ve watched tend to have more ambigious endings. I think that gives a lot more room for thought. Don’t get me wrong I like a neat Hollywood ending, but the ambiguity works also in many cases.

    One example that springs to mind is the movie Shower from China. It revolves around an aging father who runs a traditional Chinese bath house and his high tech high energy son who has to come back and help him. Wonderful story with challenges throughout. Summary on Wikipedia is here:

  • Paul in Wisconsin

    Unlike your guest, Mr. Zeitchik, I thought the ending of “Lincoln” was very well done. In fact, if Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (one of the most important orations ever) had not been included, something vitally important to the entire film would have been missing: Lincoln’s view of the terrible war as a righteous punishment from the Almighty for the terrible injustice of slavery. Without that scene (which IS how the movie ends), I think the film risked reducing Lincoln to a mere kindly father figure. 

    In addition, I thought the manner in which the film depicted Lincoln’s assassination, as a live report on stage interrupting a play in a theatre, was very artfully done. For a moment at least, who in the film audience did not think we would witness the assassination itself? This echoed the beginning of the film, when we heard accounts of the Gettysburg Address rather than seeing Lincoln deliver the address itself.

  • http://twitter.com/jhayesboh James Hayes-Bohanan

    I heard this story yesterday and then watched the 1937 seafaring film Captains Courageous, which turns out to be another excellent example. Neither the writer nor the actors or director seemed to know what to do once the ship returned. It would have been much better to cut the landward scenes, roll credits, and let viewers imagine their own futures for the young lad.

  • Leslie Brennan

    I’m in agreement with your guest about bad endings. Lincoln, for example, although I do agree with the comment about the importance of the 2nd inaugural and the importance of including it. The ending I’m most disappointed in right now is Downton Abbey Season 3. I don’t want to give it away to those who haven’t seen it, but I’m so angry with this ending! I can’t see any justification except that of a standard tv cliffhanger: “Stay tuned for the next season!”

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