The Importance of the Perfect Ending

It’s satisfaction we’re looking for; not perfection.

Editor’s note: This post pretty much gives away the ending to the first Rocky movie and the finale episode of Lost.  If that matters to you, please don’t read it.

When it comes to movies and TV series, if the ending isn’t satisfying, I typically label the whole thing as “not that great.”  Movies like Quarantine and Vantage Point could have been so good, but the 90th minute proved the other 89 to be a waste of time.  On the other side of the token, movies like Cast Away and The Social Network could have totally had a lame, pointless, or predictable ending; but instead, the events leading up to the finale were brought together in a way that had me leaving from the theatre thinking, “good job, movie makers” instead of hearing a collective, annoyed gasp from the audience at the ending of another M. Night Shyamalan film that we all tried to give a chance.

Of course a good ending doesn’t always mean they all lived happily ever after, but at least that the characters learned from their experiences and became better people accordingly.  Like the first Rocky for example; by the end of the movie we realized we didn’t truly care whether or not he actually won the fight.  The point was that Rocky was given the chance to fight someone out of his league, he fought a good fight, and that Adrian was there to support him no matter what happened.  It was a perfect ending, even if our expectations were assuming he would win the fight at the end.  “Perfect” endings don’t actually have to be perfect; they just have to be worth the ride.

I have come to the realization that one of the reasons I am a movie enthusiast is because watching good movies is a fun way to (metaphorically) download lessons on social situations into my brain and to become more “life experienced” without having to actually live through those experiences myself.  Sure, a major part of life is learning from your own mistakes.  But most of the time, I prefer to learn from other people’s mistakes- and I don’t care whether or not it’s someone I actually know in real life or a fictional character in a movie.  I think it’s such a wonderful bonus that in addition to the character building experiences I already learn from everyday life, I can extract this knowledge from stories shared through the seemingly petty vehicle of entertainment.

To me, no ending will ever be better the finale episode of the TV show Lost, where the characters reunite in the afterlife to reminisce their shared years of life on Earth together, despite the fact that by that point (not the entire six seasons) they had all been dead for decades or even centuries.  It was unique and extremely creative in that it superseded the limited perspective of the human lifespan.  Despite acknowledging that while what we do here on Earth does indeed matter and yields eternal consequences, it reminds us that one day this life does indeed end.  And whether or not we fully understand The Smoke Monster or why Walt was so special or how long Hurley and Ben Linus ended up staying on the island, the point isn’t that we get all our questions answered in detail.  And whether or not you’ve ever seen an episode of Lost to understand those bizarre references, the perspective of looking back on the meaning of our lives from an post-life view is pretty interesting; it reminds us who and what truly matters to us.

No matter which side of the parallel between real life and the entertainment world I am on, I am still wired to want the perfect ending.  I have to believe that in real life I will live a long and happy life with my family.  Simply, I just want a realistic and satisfying ending, with a few pleasant surprises thrown in for good measure, since I know there will be unpleasant surprises disguised as necessary plot lines.  A perfect ending isn’t always defined by all the ends being tied together when the credits roll.  Instead, it’s knowing there is meaning behind it all- that is satisfaction.


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Would You Define Your Life as a Comedy or a Tragedy?

The same question goes for the movie Garden State.

I have struggled for a solid ten years trying to figure out what makes things funny. Universally, seeing someone fall down (who doesn’t get hurt) is always funny, but I don’t know why. Defining what humor is, is almost impossible to simply and briefly put into words. What I can do is make a judgment call on whether something as a whole is a comedy or a drama.

One of my college professors taught me there is a clear way to distinguish between the two: Comedy involves a protagonist who in the beginning of the story is standing outside the borders of his society and by the end of the story is accepted into it. Therefore a tragedy is when the protagonist in the beginning is accepted as part of the society but by the end is expelled from it.

To test this theory on comedies, I will take Adam Sandler for example: Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Water Boy, The Wedding Singer, and Big Daddy all involve a character who starts out as one or more of the following: incompetent, poor, lonely, selfish. By the end of the movie, Adam Sandler’s character is accepted into the fold as these previous attributes are resolved. So I can see how the definition of a comedy works here.

For tragedies, I will take some horror movies for example: The Blair Witch Project, Skeleton Key, The Strangers, Quarantine, and Carrie. The protagonists end up either dead or in a really bad situation by the time the credits roll. So I can see how the definition of a tragedy works here, as death or loss of freedom is a way of being ousted from a society that the protagonists were once a part of.

The end of a movie ultimately defines it as a comedy or tragedy. Garden State, which is more a drama than anything, ends with Zach Braff’s character being able to overcome his dependence on his doctor’s/father’s misdiagnosed prescription of anti-depressants and feel alive for the first time as he moves back home to New Jersey, making new friends and finding love: That’s a comedy.

Using this theory, these other genre-vague movies would also be considered comedy: Fight Club, Forrest Gump, and Elizabethtown. And these would be tragedy: Into the Wild, Vanilla Sky, and One Hour Photo.

Life is comprised of rotating moments of comedy and tragedy. Times where I’m on the outside looking in and I get in (comedy) and times where I’m inside but am pushed out (tragedy). In ways big and small. But a person’s general perspective will cause him or her to see it ultimately as one or the other:

If life is comedy-in-progress, then life is me trying to figure out how to be normal enough to succeed in being accepted by my immediate society, eventually dying satisfied, knowing I’m surrounded by those who love me.

If life is tragedy-in-progress, then life is me already having everything I need and want in life but having it all taken away from me in the end, eventually dying sad and alone.

Big decisions, big decisions. I’ll go with comedy-in-progress.

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