Warning: Certain spoilers ahead so please approach with caution!
I’ve just been looking over some classic films as of late, some of my personal favourites even. And some of them made me remember how the ending of some films completely went against my expectations. Usually we can get a good, predictable understanding of where a film goes near the end by what transpires between the first two acts. Specifically if it’s a romantic comedy or an action movie. But sometimes we get such a gut punch by the end of the film it can be sometimes devastating, but also incredibly smart decision-making on the filmmaker’s side.
By now everybody knows one of the biggest and shocking moments in cinema comes from Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) being killed in the shower is not only iconic in terms of horror and cinematic experience, but the fact that the leading woman was killed halfway through. Up to that point in cinema it was almost unheard of for that to happen. But that gut punch of a feeling was felt even worse as Hitchcock had made his audience side with Marion and hope that she pulled through. But in the end it all circled down the drain (fuck it I used a pun so shoot me) as the camera focused on her dead eyes on the bathroom floor.
Although that was iconic in itself, it also makes me think of all the times the bad guys won over the protagonist. Take Park Chan-wook’s iconic revenge thriller Oldboy (2003), which sees a man locked in a room for fifteen years suddenly released and has just days to figure out why. When the film reaches its climax, and everything has been revealed, the audience is left almost devastated to learn the truth. Which is soon followed by the suffering and inhumane position that protagonist Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) inflicts upon himself. It is a haunting and disturbing ending to a film which built up expectations as we wished the protagonist to inflict his revenge. But as we are so used to the clichéd ending of all those expectations, this ending leaves a much longer lasting effect.
This has not always been the case however. Although Scott Pilgrim Vs the World (2010) has two endings, the cinematic release I felt was the weaker of the two (although that can be up for debate). But that also can boil down to American marketing decisions from producers who do not give their audience enough credit. However thankfully within the last decade or so they have begun to wane from this form of thinking.
The point I’m trying to make is that sometimes audiences need a gut punch of an ending for them to truly experience the effect of cinema. It is easy for the nerdy guy and the pretty girl to get together because that is what people expect. But that isn’t always real life. What if he doesn’t get the dream girl? I’m not saying we should start making Rom-Coms where everyone ends up sad and alone in the end I’m just using that as an example. I feel that outside America we tend to get more endings that shock us and leave us with more of an impression.
Take Catch Me Daddy (2014), a highly recommended film about doomed and forbidden love. Throughout the film I rooted for the good guys, and knew that somehow they would escape with all odds stacked against them. In the end however I felt soul-crushed as what I experienced wasn’t a fairy tale ending but the crushing realization that this is real life. If it had been a happy ending, I would have forgotten the film in time. However, because it worked perfectly against my expectations, it still stays in my mind to this day, making a lasting impression not going anywhere, anytime soon.
Not every film should adapt this model as it can leave some audience members with a very sour taste afterwards. But sometimes that gut punch can be very effective and can make us remember that not everything about film is fantasy. That there are some parts of the world who deal with situations that have no happy ending. But what films do you remember more for not going in the direction you thought? Did it shock you more? Intrigue you more? Make you second guess yourself more? The possibilities are endless. Just try not to be too cynical like myself that wishes most Rom-Coms end in a nuclear holocaust. I’m not the only one who thinks that though am I? Probably yes.