Since last week’s blog discussed “Beginnings,” it was natural that this week’s follow up blog would be called “Endings.”
Starting a script is a hard task but finding just the right line to end things on can be just as tough. While your audience may have started watching or reading with a feeling of expectancy and excitement, chances are that come the conclusion, they are anticipating things to be neatly tied up. Sometimes this happens and sometimes it doesn’t.
“Beginnings” are much more structured than “endings.” As I discussed in the last blog, you have certain protocols that insure you are off to a good start. You have to have interesting seeds in order to continue properly with your story. However, with an ending, it can be the author’s last chance to grab you by the ears and eyes for a last wrap-up moment. In some cases, mostly in Europe, things just end—you don’t have the comfort of a tied-up set of circumstances.
The other day I watched a 2013 German Film entitled Freier Fall (Free Fall) on Netfix. The three principal actors gave exceptional performances in my estimation. The film is being heralded as Germany’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. It provides a poignant portrayal of what happens when life plans crumble and no way is left to fulfill the needs of the people you love. Just as with Ennis in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, Marc in FREE FALL suffers from society’s stings.
The difference between the two films is one is Hollywood and the other is European. The Tinsel Town film had closure, sad as it was, but the German film lets you decide what will happen. So, we have concluded that in the USA, we like Hollywood endings. We prefer resolutions in our films if at all possible but we’ll settle for answers. (In other words, we prefer and expect resolved plot points.)
In both BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and FREE FALL our film makers are forced to choose between continuing the life the characters have created for themselves, or throwing caution to the wind and go with the love they were meant to have. So when the German film ended, the audience did not know which way the hero (main protagonist) would evolve. He had a very worried look on his face, blackout, final screen credits. I really wanted the film to make a choice but it didn’t. In BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN things did tie up pretty neatly even though it involved a sniffle or two.
In a way, you can say American films close down the imagination and that we have an urge to explain until all mystery is solved or eliminated. Heroes must be heroes and villains clearly villains. Hollywood needs clarity. Anything irregular or slightly out of whack must be straightened out.
Europe, on the other hand, opens up the imagination. They love the absurd, the contradictory and the always air of uncertainty and mystery. They leave room for ambiguity and the unknown. British irony and understatement, for example, are well known in their comedies. They don’t mind at all leaving you hanging. Just let a film do that in the USA and the critics will jump on it viciously.
Our thought in the USA is that Life is depressing enough and we pay our money to be uplifted in some way. In Europe it’s possible to leave the theater more depressed than when you arrived there.
So, I as an American viewer felt cheated at the end of FREE FALL. It was a great film for me up until the end. I guess that even though I lived in Europe for 10 years, I still prefer my Hollywood endings.
Many times the last lines of our Hollywood films are very memorable. Here are a few that I think you will remember and they neatly tie up the entire film.
- GONE WITH THE WIND: Rhett Butler tells Scarlett, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” He then walks away in the fog and definitively leaves Scarlett standing there for the rest of her life. This isn’t a happy ending necessarily but it is a positive one. Rhett finally comes to his senses as far as Scarlett is concerned.
CASABLANCA: Rick (played by Humphrey Bogart) says, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Claude Rains, the French police chief, has just made it possible for Rick to escape. So, off flies Rick to freedom without even a letter of transit and we, the audience, are happy as larks.
- ALIEN: Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver says, “This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.” This means she survived, which is a Hollywood happy ending and we walk out of the theater in high spirits that she managed to outdo all those savage critters.
- SILENCE OF THE LAMBS: Hannibal Lector played by Anthony Hopkins says as the last line of the movie, “I do wish we could chat longer, but I’m having an old friend for dinner.” With tongue in cheek, we love an inside joke like this one—and to use this sort of ending as the tag line is hitting it outside the ballpark.
- L. A. CONFIDENTIAL: Kim Basinger plays world-weary Lynn Bracken, who says, “Some men get the world while others get ex-hookers and a trip to Arizona.” This means she’s going straight and to the small world of Arizona living. It means she’s changing her life for the less exciting but at least for a cleaner world. Now, there’s a real Hollywood ending: repentance!
- GANDHI: Ben Kingsley as Gandhi is heard saying as the curtain of the film is falling, “There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it, always!” Now after three hours of sitting, here’s your big payoff: Crime doesn’t pay. Hollywood at work first class.
- KING KONG: Robert Armstrong in the 1933 film about a giant ape in his most showmanship type voice proclaims, “Oh, no! It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.” Well, the beast is dead and all are safe in New York City. Everything is just fine except Robert in uttering the line left out the word “that.” The director was afraid that Robert couldn’t do a second take that was as good as the first one, so he let the sentence stay as mis-uttered—and it has become a classical last line in Hollywood.
SOME LIKE IT HOT: Joe E. Brown as Osgood Fielding III utters this perfect last line when Jack Lemmon takes off his wig and declares that he is a man. “Well, nobody’s perfect.” The audience laughs its head off and Hollywood history is made.
- IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (Featured Picture): Jimmy Steward’s young daughter utters, “Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” This is Hollywood at it’s most sobbing and syrupy in the happiness department. This movie has been shown during the Christmas season over and over for the last fifty years and it just wraps up how much we really like to feel good after seeing one of our movies.
- THE WIZARD OF OZ: Judy Garland says the favorite line of all Americans, “And oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home.”
- SUNSET BOULEVARD: Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond goes bonkers on Hollywood shtick and says, “All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my close-up.” This is Tinsel Town at its quintessence.
- CINDERELLA: The Walt Disney Company was on the verge of going bankrupt in 1950 when they brought out this film that embodied everything Hollywood meant to the viewing public. When the prince put the glass shoe on Cinderella’s foot and it fits perfectly, the narrator of the film says, “Cinderella and the Prince celebrate their wedding and live happily ever after.” The studio made kazillions and did not go broke. “And they lived happily ever after” in the process became the spine of the Hollywood film industry.
So, when you write the last line of your latest effort, first target your audience: American or European? There is a difference and making the choice could save you and your film project when you submit it.
If you have a favorite last line for a movie or book, share it with us in the comments section below.
NOTE: The results of the “BEGINNINGS” CONTEST will appear in the November 6, 2014, blog. So, we’re still accepting your submissions up until November 3. Time for a couple more—especially from those of you who haven’t contributed. Cheers and best to you.