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The Ending: Making or Breaking a Film

Jazzalo​ha

about 3 years ago

I don’t know about anyone else, about half way through watching a film, I’ll say to myself, “Everything is going to come down to the ending.” Great ending, great film. Bad ending, bad (or mediocre) film. I’ve had experiences where good films become great because of the ending. For example, Once was a film like that. I enjoyed everything before the ending of the film, and I could see the filmmaker’s difficulty with ending the film (the two get together=sappy and unbelievable; the two break up=too sad and disastifying; etc.). I sort of felt this way about Reign of Fire, except with the opposite results. I liked the film up until the end, but I found the resolution to be flat and bland.

I’d like to hear examples of films where the ending either made or broke a film. Have there been times when a film was largely terrrible or not very good, until the ending? That’s pretty rare in my experience. It did happen recently with the film, The Exploding Girl. The last minute (literally) raised the film from a 55/100 to a 71/100. I also recall feeling something similar to And Justice for All…. I told myself that I’d turn the film off it didn’t start getting better in the next several minutes (although I was about an hour into the film, I think). It got better and I ended up enjoying the film.

What about endings that ruined an otherwise good film? There must be ton of those.

cutey-c​at

about 3 years ago

i was at the Sundance USA screening of ‘my idiot brother,’ where the director was doing a q&a after the screening.

someone in the audience asked if there had been a reshoot on the ending, and the director just kind of sheepishly smiled and went “hah, was it that obvious?”

it was. :(

Jirin

about 3 years ago

I really depends how much the film’s appeal relies on the plot. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the endings of Battlestar Galactica and Lost, for instance, two series which heavily relied on the plot.

If Usual Suspects didn’t have such a great ending, I’d have a substantially lower opinion of it. If The Chaser didn’t have such a stupidly contrived ending, I’d have a substantially higher opinion of it. But, I don’t think any ending would have made me think less of Dogtooth or The Mirror.

Jazzalo​ha

about 3 years ago

@Jirin

Hmm, I don’t know if I can think of any film that would be impervious to a bad ending. (I’ll try to think of one.)

@Sensation

Ouch!

deckard croix

about 3 years ago

The ending of a film is incredibly important IMO, but that isn’t to say that a film that only has a great ending is itself great by association.

Of course, what represents a ‘great ending’ is subjective. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of ‘existential endings’ or films that (not to be confused with ‘ambiguous endings’; i.e. the ending of Blade Runner [Director’s Cut] which implies a continuation of the story beyond the audience’s conscience, and cryptic indications of doubt as to the future or past) “end” without a suggestion of possibilities. It’s like they attempt to reflect reality in that way, but you can’t, you have to begin the film somewhere and end it somewhere, there’s no way to follow the entire lives of every character (unless we start making 60+ hour films, heh), so a film that defiantly refuses to present it within a context or theme is pointless .. but I’m rambling at this point. ‘Ambiguous films’ are specific to the protagonist and presents certain possibilities, not simply “all possibilities.”

Or the ending of Brazil (Director’s Cut)? Another ambiguous ending: what is to become of the protagonist? His future is uncertain and the film ends with that uncertainty, unresolved, like a 7th chord. Stalker would be another example of this.

Most films are more definite and conventional in their endings, a resolution of the theme/plot is given, the story ends. Every film must end somewhere, so this separates it from reality. The context of everything that happens before the ending is also monumentally important as to its effectiveness.

An ending can be incredibly powerful and meaningful (full of meaning, intent, message, not just philosophical intimation), but if what happened before it is rubbish and uneven, then its weakened.

There’s so many great endings out there though, like the classic “tragic ending.” Peckinpah’s films often ended in extravagant tragedy (read: high character death ratio) and this heightens the importance of what came before it. Though such an ending could be less effective if one isn’t connected to the characters in some significant way. Or more recently, Black Swan which ends tragically – if it wasn’t so flawed I’d call it Shakespearean, ha.

A film like Winter’s Bone (I’ve been catching up on 2010 films, so I apologize for using a string of them) ends definitively, and I’d call a ‘conventional narrative ending.’ There is the lingering mystery of “whodunit,” but the immediate plot is resolved, conflict extinguished.

Or the vintage “climactic ending,” such as in Big Trouble in Little China (gotta mention this film every thread, heh) which ends at the height of tension. Sword of Doom is better example of this. It ends in the middle of a ferocious battle, such a peak of high emotion.

Not to imply the aforementioned films are great, but they’re easy examples to analyze various endings.

Jazzalo​ha

about 3 years ago

I wanted to mention another film, Kiarostami’s Close-Up. I found film a little slow and hard to get into. I perked up during the courtroom scene, but the the last scene (a minute or two) just knocked me out.

@Deck

A few quick questions:

What are some examples of films with “existential endings” or “ending without a suggestion of possibilities?”

Also, can you think of any films with a great ending, while everything else was either mediocre or terrible?

cutey-c​at

about 3 years ago

okay this was a whole post about repo man having an awesome ending but once again the board code boned me for trying to put things in quotes, i give up

this post: an ending without a possibility

Jack Lineman

about 3 years ago

“A talking Picture” has an amazing ending that makes you go back and think about the film that one might just think is average but then you realize thinks that you really were not paying attention to.

Jazzalo​ha

about 3 years ago

@Sensationalie

I don’t think putting quotes up are the problem. I think cutting and pasting from a previous another post is what screws up the post you’re typing.

cutey-c​at

about 3 years ago

nah, this one wasn’t cut and paste — it was me typing a couple lines of dialogue (from memory) and putting them in quotes. so the post just came up as the text of the first line, everything before and after obliterated.

Jazzalo​ha

about 3 years ago

Weird. My posts only get cut when I cut-and-paste from other posts.

Roger Kebler

about 3 years ago

The End Of The Departed made the film good for sure.. Up until that point it was just a guessing game and then boom it all comes together to make the film. Had it had a sucky ending the film would have been bad.

Jazzalo​ha

about 3 years ago

Dang, I don’t remember the ending of The Departed, but the film had an intricate plot, as I recall, so my not remembering doesn’t surprise me.

Here’s a film where the ending, for me, really hurt the film: Taxi Driver. I think it’s still a very good film, but I hesitate to put it in the great category because of the ending. (spoilers)

In my view the film ends, or should end, with the shot of the street filled with police and people (with Bickle ostensibly dying). What happens after that just seems wrong (at least based on my reading of everything that happened before that). The film seems to shift towards the examination of celebrity and the distortions of the media. The scene with Bickle and the Cybil Sheppard character just seems wrong, too. Imo, the scene feels like a Hollywood move to appease the audience and it also feels like the fantasy of every one who has been an outcast and “loser” in high school. The more I think about it, the more I feel like the ending almost ruined the entire movie.

Dennis...Brian

about 3 years ago

I doubt the ending appeases the audience. It is actually far more frightening that Shepard sees Bickle as someone to approach again just due to his hero status.

The best endings are not one of many (a film with more than one ending point is rarely good). The best films just stop (the station agent for instance)

Mr. Fuffcan​s

about 3 years ago

“Tombstone” had an awesome set up (seriously that scene where the cowboys ride in and gun everyone down at the wedding is a killer way to set up tone and setting) and a decent enough second act however its third act was just sloppy and its ending just didn’t live up to its opening as everything just wrapped up way too quickly.

And i’m in full agreement with Taxi driver’s epilogue as jodi foster’s awful reading of an awful letter sucked out all of the viciousness of the previous scene, and then on top of that we get a short scene where the director seems to want us to think that deniro may be able to come out of it and go back to normal. Hogwash and a terrible way to end the movie.

Dennis...Brian

about 3 years ago

American Werewolf in London has a last section that elevates the film by at least a star.
It starts off as a bad Scooby Doo episode with two bland leads (by the time the doctor is investigating I was losing interesting completely) but then the effects kicked in, Jenny Agutter gave a winning performance and the film gained some heft with its troubled star comtemplating suicide. And although I am against werewolves killing themselves (they cannot help the destruction they cause). I found the concept very interesting and skillfully handled by that point

Jazzalo​ha

about 3 years ago

Re: the ending of Taxi Driver

Well, I think in the dvd commentary, Scorsese (or someone) says that Bickle is a ticking time bomb at the end, so it’s ostensibly a darker ending. And, yes, the fact that Shepard’s character is drawn to Bickle because of his “heroism” is disturbing, but it doesn’t fit well with the film before it. Prior to that scene, the film seems to be more about Bickle as a person alienated and disillusioned by America—specifically the American Dream as well as the a deep disillusionment with American politics.

The commentary on celebrity just seems tacked on.

@Den

I’m not sure the audience would be as disturbed as you. I suspect some might accept Travis as a “hero” prima facie. It’s not far-fetched to read the ending as a fantasy for those that were spurned by the cheerleader in high school.

Ben.

about 3 years ago

Roger Ebert has raised doubts that we are seeing at the ending of Taxi Driver are really happening at all. He raises the possibility that what we are seeing at the end are Travis’ dying thoughts.

Jazzalo​ha

about 3 years ago

@Ben

I’d much prefer that reading, and there is some support for that. The way Scorsese shoots the cab ride (plus the saxophone score) makes the ending feel almost like a dream. But I still feel it takes away from the impact of the film. I must say that ending the film at the street scene after the shootout would have been pretty remarkable, in terms of the studio allowing this. I respect Scorsese as a director, but in my mind that is the right place to end the film.

Jirin

about 3 years ago

I liked the ending of Taxi Driver. I think it made a statement about the culture of violence. Bickle assumes up to that point that going on a murderous rampage will result in going to jail as a murderous psychopath. Instead, because he targeted people who are hated, he’s romanticized as a hero. I think this makes a subtle point about the thinness of the line between a person seen as a hero and a person seen as a psychopath.

I suppose no film is ‘impervious’ to a bad ending. But, the amount of it’s impact depends on the focus of a movie. If the focus of the movie is the events of the plot, a good or bad ending could raise or lower the score by 2 or 3 points, particularly in the sort of movie that builds up expectation for a payoff and then does not deliver. If the focus of the movie is more on the visuals, the cinematography, and the philosophical themes, a good or bad ending might raise or lower the score by only 1 point or half a point.

Jazzalo​ha

about 3 years ago

@Jirin

The statement about the culture of violence is fine, but it seems tacked on—as in the rest of the film doesn’t really seem to be about that.

I don’t know if I agree with your analysis of the impact of bad endings. Can you think of some examples?

deckard croix

about 3 years ago

Whoa, whoa, wait a minute …

The ending of Taxi Driver is pitch perfect. Why? Because it isn’t even happening (Ebert got it right for once, heh). How could Bickle become a hero after such an onslaught? Why would they allow him to be a taxi driver again considering he enters strange tenements and goes on a shooting spree? There’s a sudden lapse of logic at the ending and there’s only one reason for it: this is Bickle’s ending (what actually happened in the aftermath is uncertain).

Before the shootout, we only have Bickle’s voiceover to inform us his state of mind, which is decidedly askew. However, we get to see the real world and how people view him (with confusion, contempt, distrust, uncertainty) – only criminals and the unhinged confide in him (Scorsese’s cameo character who’s about to shoot his wife, the Keitel’s pimp).

After the shootout, we no longer hear Bickle’s voiceover we are seeing his state of mind. Shepard’s character suddenly regards him sympathetically and with trust (she never did the latter before) and they are reconciled. Why the reversed bell tone when Bickle straightens the mirror? Something is amiss and Scorsese is too subtle (in this point in his career) to bash us over the head with it.

And Jazz, if you end the film where you suggest, then it becomes “modernized” but utterly predictable. That’s a cliched ending IMO, tragedy simply for tragedy’s sake.

Oh and Jazz: Existential ending = Rabbit Hole, also, how ’bout Before Sunset.

meg 

about 3 years ago

Existential ending – Certified Copy
Loved the ending of Rabbit Hole – and so we exist, and here we are, existing ….

Jazzalo​ha

about 3 years ago

@Deck

Like I said, if the last scenes (the reading of the letter from the parent; Bickle meeting Shepard’s character) didn’t really occur, that’s the best reading I can think of, but how does this really enhance the film (versus ending after the shootout)?

I’m also not sure what you mean by “’modernized, but utterly predictable.” You mean, the ending is a dark tragedy with no larger purpose except to be dark and tragic? The response I want to say is: what’s wrong with that? You have to go back to what the film is about. Imo, the film is about Bickle—about the sense of alienation and disenchantment with the American Dream and American government/politics. And these feelings push him further into insanity. He reminds me of a 70’s incarnation of Holden Caulfield and Willie Loman. The fact that he plunges into madness and the film climaxes in a shooting spree just seems to fit the 70s. The dark ending seems to capture the times better. Again, what does delusional ending accomplish?

Re: existential ending

=open ended?

deckard croix

about 3 years ago

But Jazz, to go with that ending would be like ending Psycho at the death of Janet Leigh. Sure, intense and harrowing, but so what? IMO, that alone doesn’t make a film great (or even good). An aftermath is a wonderful, reflective thing and adds an extra layer to the film that would normally be absent (well a good aftermath would do that).

With Taxi Driver, it’s not the delusional aspect of it that’s interesting (we already know Bickle’s delusional before that point anyway), it makes it an even darker tragedy that he is forever lost in his delusions. The audience is completed removed from reality at this point (like Bickle) – this is a complete 180 degree turn here. The film is going into new territory (in respect to the film, not in cinematic history of course) and it ends ambiguously. More questions are raised from this and it invites the audience (if they even get the delusional aspect of it to begin with…) to ponder and discuss.

It’s like the endings of Blade Runner. Is it more interesting to simply end a film conventionally (by the way, going back to Taxi Driver, a tragic death is a conventional ending…Shakespeare did it ages ago and it was even done before that) or to suggest other possibilities? To reveal or hint at the revelation of some aspect of the protagonist(s)?

Is it more tragic to die in a hail of gunfire or to be caught in a never-ending series of artificial, self-induced paranoia/delusion? If the film ends with Bickle’s death then there’s nothing left to the story, nothing to ponder, it’s simply over.

Taxi Driver isn’t my favourite Scorsese film, but if anything he ended it right.

@existential ending: Open-ended, yes – I thought we already discussed this? heh

Jazzalo​ha

about 3 years ago

An aftermath is a wonderful, reflective thing and adds an extra layer to the film that would normally be absent (well a good aftermath would do that).

Jazzalo​ha

about 3 years ago

Dang, mubi cut my post! I’ll be back, as Arnold would say.

Jazzalo​ha

about 3 years ago

@Deck

But I don’t if the aftermath is so good in this case. For one thing, it allows the possibility that those events actually happened. (I recall reading one or two people involved in the film reading it this way.)—which would weaken the film, imo. Also, I don’t know if Bickle being trapped in his delusions are so much more tragic than him dying during the shootout. For one thing, while viewers may relate to Bickle, I wouldn’t say that he is a likable character—i.e. we don’t want to see bad things happen to him. (I don’t know if you’ve read Ethan Frome, but if you did, he’s not like Frome.) If we did care about him (the way one would with Frome), the epilogue would work better.

Moreover, I think the film works better the less it emphasizes Bickle’s insanity because this allows us to identify more with the character. I think Bickle is really interesting because he taps into many of the feelings that Americans felt at the time (and still feel)—the frustration and disillusionment with obtaining the American Dream—which includes “getting the girl” and the deterioration with the larger society (increasing crime, moral erosion, etc.) Tied to this idea is the disillusionment with government and politics—not only the corruption, but the government’s inability to deal with the social decay. When Bickle attempts to do something about this, I think that, too, taps into a deep feeling held by many Americans (in the same way that Howard Beale’s “I’m mad as Hell” speech did, too). This is all foreplay. The climax is the shootout. It is the Everyman going haywire and that just seems to fit with the times and the entire mood of the film up to that point. The aftermath is a different mood and vibe that doesn’t fit as well with the rest of the film—again, imo. (Dang, I might just have to watch this again.)

Fishine​ss

about 3 years ago

The ending of Million Dollar Baby turned it from a feminist story about an avant-garde girl boxing, into a harsh slap of reality.

deckard croix

about 3 years ago

@Jazz: But why does the audience have to identify with Bickle? As you say, Bickle isn’t really a likable character and I don’t think it was Schrader’s (or Scorsese’s) intention to try and make the audience relate to him. Personally, I don’t see a need to make a character sympathetic or relatable.

@Fish: She was an “avant-garde girl”?