Endings are always tough in movies. When I try to think of the perfect ending for a film, I always think of ROBOCOP, when Dick gets fired, allowing Robocop to shoot the hell out of him. And if that’s not enough, the CEO calls after him, “What’s your name, son.” And Robocop, who’s spent the whole movie trying to figure out who he was, calls back, “Murphy”. It all just comes out of nowhere, but it’s been there all along. And, most importantly, it leaves you with this shot of adrenaline as you’re ready to leave the theater. It’s great.
I can’t think of a recent film that’s left me with that kind of satisfaction, even if I’ve seen some good films. Sure, Robocop has a happy ending (well, Murphy’s family’s still gone. He’s still a robot), but even a nice dark ending can leave you with satisfaction if it’s done well.
I’m not sure why endings are so hard, but they seem to be difficult for novelists too. Novels are usually not as stuck to plot as a film is, so they can sort of just meander on to their endings, maybe have the narrator contemplate what happened, and it’s fine. For a film, where the plot and the time are so crucial, that ending really has to rise to the occasion. But it almost never does.
As I’ve said, I’m working on an action film now, and I think I finally figured out the ending. It’s a pretty good ending, but it’s not up there yet. It doesn’t have that moment you remember. Hopefully, as I write it, it’ll come to life and I’ll have some more ideas for it.
It’s different for me, too, as I’ve mostly written artier films which have more ambiguous endings or endings that don’t end every story and theme that came before it. I got a lot of criticism about the ending of CHASING SLEEP because it didn’t answer every question, but I thought it was pretty clear that it wasn’t meant to. The ambiguity was supposed to leave you questioning your own feelings about the story and your sympathies to the character. I’ve had people who’ve seen the film explain it back to me better than I’ve ever explained it, so I know that it works if you let it. It’s true, it doesn’t deliver that feeling of satisfaction that I’m talking about here.
Maybe the reasons that so many endings seem unsatisfactory are because writers are more comfortable asking questions than answering them. Or maybe it’s because they are lazy.