Fade to Black
Movies generally come with one of two endings, the definitive resolution or open-ended. Which do you prefer?
Obviously, this one has to be laced with a spoiler alert. It's right there in the title.
And just a word about the so-called "spoiler alert." The value of endings changes with context. The films I'm discussing below - Pulp Fiction and Go - are not films whose ending is the whole shebang. There's no big reveal of Keyser Soze's true identity, no sudden realization that we've known all along that Bruce Willis was... (well, you know), and neither film ties its entirety together with a singular object or device, like Charles Foster Kane's childhood sled (you know, the one that stands for innocence lost).
My point is: Movies are not like baseball games, insomuch as knowing the ending sort of negates the need to see what came before it. If I know the ending already, I'm probably still going to see the film.
About a week ago, there was a terrific posting about movie endings on John August's screenwriting blog. (Despite some hack leanings as his career waned on, my hat is still off to John for a criminally underrated little film called Go, which will forever be remembered by me as the film that was able to reconstruct the method of Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" jumbled time structure without slagging off like a royal fop or, simply veering into fanboy territory.)
The posting included this quote about movie endings by John Gardner (probably best known for his 1971 book Grendel, which told Beowulf from the perspective of the monster):
"[Stories] can end in only one of two ways: in resolution, when no further event can take place (the murderer has been caught and hanged, the diamond has been found and restored to its owner, the elusive lady has been captured and married), or in logical exhaustion, our recognition that we’ve reached the stage of infinite repetition; more events might follow, perhaps from now till Kingdom Come, but they will all express the same thing–for example, the character’s entrapment in empty ritual or some consistently wrong response to the pressures of his environment.
Resolution is of course the classical and usually more satisfying conclusion; logical exhaustion satisfies us intellectually but often not emotionally, since it’s more pleasing to see things definitely achieved or thwarted than to be shown why they can never be either achieved or thwarted."
And I make the John August-Quentin Tarantino connection to note that I believe Pulp Fiction is the exception to this rule almost by technicality.
The film's finite actions do take place: Jules announces that he's leaving the hood life and then does not appear at Butch's apartment, presumably because he has begun to "walk the earth"; Vincent is killed by Butch while waiting in the same apartment, apparently because he was rude to Butch earlier - but also to accentuate the fact that Jules has made a wise decision; Butch leaves on his motorcycle having squared his lot with Marcellus, presumably heading to Knoxville to collect his dirty money and leave the states for good; Mia's evening of heroin horrors dies with Vincent, as they successfully kept the tale from entering gangster mythology among the "sewing circle" of crooks under Marcellus's command.
All of these conclusive endings to each main character's story are known, and yet the films' "ending", as it were, not only precedes the fate of two of the four characters - because it is out of sequence - but could easily be construed as the latter type of ending described by Gardner (repetition infinitus), simply because the characters leave the coffee shop for whereabouts KNOWN, whereabouts that conclusively satisfy each character's resolution, whereabouts of which we realize we are already aware. (I'll stop here before I begin gushing over how effective this is in allowing us the casual breathing room to simply enjoy these characters for who they are, as if we're merely overhearing them in said coffee shop.)
Go, on the other hand, is merely made in the spirit of Pulp Fiction, falling, as it does, into Gardner's former category, eschewing the multi-perspective route at close, instead opting to tie the loose ends together for you.
August's characters in Go are not nearly as entertaining as those in Pulp Fiction, so this ending makes more sense. There's no reason for us to enjoy an episode in their lives - like the coffee shop banter and subsequent reversed strongarm attempt by Jules in the last 20 minutes of Pulp Fiction - that has nothing to do with the central narrative.
And that's not to say that, since the characters aren't as interesting, this is immediately a negative. Quite the contrary, in fact. August seems to know that Go's malleable central narrative exists merely to serve the delight it takes in upending its own construction. The film is merely an exercise in entertaining us from a different angle.
And I think that's what I like about the quote. It's like a mold. Or like one of Plato's "Forms". It seems to suggest the idealistic version of an ending from the point of view of a screenwriter's scientific process. Like the rules of cinema, it begs to be defied. It begs to be turned upon its head.
What are some of your favorite endings?