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Badmovies.org Forum  |  Movies  |  Good Movies  |  Happy endings vs. sad ones « previous next »
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Author Topic: Happy endings vs. sad ones  (Read 5186 times)
Kooshmeister
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« on: May 26, 2007, 07:59:48 PM »

Over in a thread about remakes on the Agony Booth, a guy there commented about the ending to the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This reminded me that most reviews for the film I've seen seem to go out of their way to mention that the ending in which the authorities believe the hero was "tacked on" at the behest of the studio.

With regards to this, is this necessarily a bad thing? People praise downbeat endings like crazy and condemn happy onee. Everyone talks about the original Grimm's fairy tales and how morbid and grotesque they are, and makes fun of the watered down versions made for children; and both movie versions of Animal Farm so far have taken quite a pounding for not having the thoroughly depressing non-ending of Orwell's book. Why is the uncheerful and the unhappy critically praised above the cheerful and happy?

The age-old belief seems to be that studios know nothing about what makes movies, and therefore any decision made by a studio executive (or anybody other than the writer or director for that matter) is automatically a bad thing. But personally, I can't imagine Invasion of the Body Snatchers without the ending in which the hero is believed and thus finds at least some small peace.
« Last Edit: May 26, 2007, 08:03:40 PM by Kooshmeister » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2007, 08:03:09 PM »

Maybe because some stories, especially horror films, don't feel right with happy endings.  And the pessimistic side of me that's still bitter over screwing up dinner says that life is usually filled with sad endings rather than happy ones.        Hatred
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Kooshmeister
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« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2007, 08:05:45 PM »

That's another thing. People who argue in favor of unhappy endings and they say, "Well, life is unhappy most of the time, therefore it's realistic."

Well, forgive me for being blunt, but I'm all too aware how much life sucks so I don't need or want movies to be reminded of it when I'm watching a movie, the purpose of which ought to be to entertain me. That's why I, personally, generally prefer more upbeat endings. If I want to be depressed I'll try and pay the bills on time. BounceGiggle

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« Last Edit: May 26, 2007, 08:08:15 PM by Kooshmeister » Logged
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« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2007, 11:55:57 PM »

That's another thing. People who argue in favor of unhappy endings and they say, "Well, life is unhappy most of the time, therefore it's realistic."

Well, forgive me for being blunt, but I'm all too aware how much life sucks so I don't need or want movies to be reminded of it when I'm watching a movie, the purpose of which ought to be to entertain me. That's why I, personally, generally prefer more upbeat endings. If I want to be depressed I'll try and pay the bills on time. BounceGiggle

I'm cynical, but only to a point. I guess you could say, I'm cynical of cynicism. If that makes any sense.  Drink

I understand exactly what you're getting at.

If I may use an example of my thoughts....INDEPENDENCE DAY!

While it's fashionable to snark on this film now as it's "so-over-the-top, flag-wavin, Clinton era feel-goodness" is in your damn face for most of it's 160 minutes.  I still have a severe soft spot for it.  One, I'm a big alien invasion film fan...Two, the effects are still much more effective than the cartoon cgi s**t churned out in most genre efforts now(secret:  excellent use of model work!  Substance still trumps drawings!)...and Three, it's editing(particularly in the entire first act) is a masterpiece of tension winding and menace building.  Dare I say, you can spot it's influence on almost any major genre effort in the years following it's release.

In ID4, it's a forgone conclusion that the alien invaders will be vanquished at the end of the third act.  And it is quite ok to be happy with the victory over the invaders.  I especially like the people cheering on the bridge in Sydney with the alien ship in ruins behind the city. Sue me!  Wink

Happy endings are fine...what I would say is that in some circumstances a wee bit of tempering would probably satisfy both camps.  Call it 'bittersweet'.  Instead of one last chance for some cheap Will Smith fatherly/manly schmaltz, lets have a subdued look over the devestated cities...rescue crews slowly beginning to pick their way in there.

Would they ever have used that approach?...No way!  Does the ending have to be as nihilistic(read: realistic) as MIRACLE MILE to satisfy me...No.

I think what you're detecting, Kooshmeister, is the general exhaustion of many film-goers with the usual unrestrained "leave 'em happy" approach alot of studios appear to make mandatory.  It's less about them being 'unrealistic' as it is about them being so shamlessly pandering.  Too often, the curtain is flapping and the man can be seen pulling the levers...trying way to hard to appeal to too many people all at once. 

Michael Bay is master lever-puller!  Sure his films are as hollow as the plastic recorders we had to exchange germs with in third grade music class, but you can't say he doesn't know his s**t.  The carefully manipulative Zimmer-clone music, the brain assualt of .04 second shots, the ocular conditioning inspired editing frenzy geared to tense you up with eye stimulation overload rather than actual concern for the characters...the guy's a friggin' alchemist! With Jerry Bruckheimer's requesite sweaty man chests in there...it's sure-fire blockbuster material.

Personally, I 'd say this falls into that area of debate over whether, in fact, films(above most other story-telling mediums)are meant to be an escape or if they should say something/reflect an important truth.  It's a tough call.  I can't imagine ever finding a full answer. 
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« Reply #4 on: May 27, 2007, 01:52:03 AM »

I seem to recall the scene where Dante favors the end of The Empire Strikes Back over the ending of Return of the Jedi in the movie Clerks.
They go a little off topic, but it's still funny.   TeddyR

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« Reply #5 on: May 27, 2007, 02:18:38 AM »

I can answer this!  Really.

Movie critics, and people like me, get so wrapped up in the concept of film as art that we forget that most people just like to be entertained.  This is how we cope with having wasted our lives on the ultimately meaningless experience of cinema.  TeddyR  The "happy" ending is a direct assault on the artistic integrity of a picture.  It is a marketing decision made by some soulless studio slimeball in the interest of making money.  Bastards!  How dare they attempt to make a return on their investment!

It has become such a cliché that the mere existence of a sad ending evokes a feeling of untampered-with creativity.  A victory for the underdog!  "The Man" couldn't touch the director's soul!  Even in the odd event that an unhappy ending seems itself contrived, I cannot help but feel like the artist won.  I realize this is a completely illogical reaction, but as a film snob it is unavoidable.

Now, for horror movies, the opposite is the case.  A "happy" ending in a horror film demonstrates a flagrant disregard for future franchise opportunities!  Or not even a happy ending, but an ending at all.  My all-time favorite horror conclusion is the original Hills Have Eyes.  As soon as the protagonist rescues his baby, Craven cuts immediately to the credit sequence.  Action resolved.  Boom.  End.  No cliffhanger.  Brilliant!  The remake, which surely had godless test-screenings and feedback cards from Joe Citizen, replaced this with a "dududuuuuh" binocular P.O.V., announcing the villains' survival.

This isn't such a big deal in other countries.  I think the expectations of entertainment are idiosyncratic.  Americans enjoy a seat in the throne of the world, as well as the subtle nagging guilt that accompanies that position of power.  We like to be made happy.  We like to forget our troubles.  Movies are our jesters.  God we are superficial.  Haha.
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« Reply #6 on: May 27, 2007, 06:52:39 AM »

 I guess it depends on the movie,for me.I got real p**sed that Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry got hit by the train...cuz I was rootin' for them thru-out the movie...and yet when Polanski ran into the bulldozers at the end of VANISHING point...it seemed ok,like he had to go out that way. The original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE seemed to combine the both...the girl ecscapes,but you get the sense she has probaly gone completly bonkers,and Leatherface is still alive,as is the cook. Now a movie that the ending that totally throws me off was BLADE RUNNER (I FINALLY got a chance to watch it,after buying it aways back! Thumbup)...this was a directors cut. When Rutger Hauer conks out....I was really sad...I felt for the poor...guy(?)...and I couldn't quite figure out if Bladerunner was a robot or not...it's all very vague...kinda left me empty. But it IS a dam good movie! The original KING KONG left me very sad...but it's a very powerful ending...it hit the buttons. My little sister Wendy cried when Kong got wasted. But it made the movie the classic that it is...it hit buttons. Now on the WATERFRONT...that movie left me feeling that I could take on the world,and make it through anything...(if only for awhile at least) ...it hit the right buttons too.
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« Reply #7 on: May 27, 2007, 11:13:05 AM »

I think there is such thing as a bittersweet ending. Like the endings to FULL METAL JACKET, THE DIRTY DOZEN or APOCALYPSE NOW. These movies don't really have that happy of an ending, many of the characters are killed and only one or two make it out. These are hardly joyous outcomes to these movies.
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« Reply #8 on: May 27, 2007, 11:38:16 AM »

In some cases, when a film changes direction from its original source material, say it was based on a novel, and goes into "happy ending" territory, no doubt many fans of the original work will be highly offended as it can be seen as something of a slap in the face to the original work.
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« Reply #9 on: May 27, 2007, 11:40:31 AM »

Adding to the debate of happy vs sad endings is the element of dimensions....

Is the ending out-and-out happy? Upbeat? Hesitantly hopeful?  A tinge of optimistic?
Is the ending depressingly sad(Hello, LOVE STORY!)?  Tear-inducingly reflective?  The earth has just exploded nihilistic?  I want my damn 10 bucks back bad!?!

In some cases there are actual alternate endings either offered up in special video editions, or the filmmakers change an already established film to a version they supposedly had intended all along(BLADE RUNNER, BRAZIL) but couldn't because of studio tinkering.

One of my favorite films has one of those unique supposed alternate planned endings that never got past the production stage.  Yet, in recent years production test photos have emerged suggesting it was closer to reality than previously thought.

I'll assume most here a familiar with Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD.  The ending as it stands has the two survivors make it to the heli on the roof and make an escape.  The woman, Fran, is pregnant and unsure...Peter, says he's too tired of the apocalypse to go on and plans to shoot himself, but changes his mind at the eleventh hour and makes an endrun for survival.  Fran is very pregnant, Peter only has one or two weapons on him and the chopper has "not much" fuel, above a roof-full of polyester clad zombies the chopper swings away into the chilly haze of bleak wintery sunrise. 

Upbeat? Kinda.  Happy? Not really.  The final devestation of a third protagonist being killed in the biker/zombie mall assault, coming back as a ghoul and leading the undead horde right to the characters hiding spot requiring his dispatch by Peter has shown that, as far as the scales go for our heroes in the end, the cost has far outweighed the gain. 

Now, for years there had been talk of an alternate ending.  I've been a fan of this flick since the very early 80s when it finally made it to video.  Within a few years(after compiling every damn thing I could find on the masterpiece)I started to hear more and more about this 'downer' ending.  The way it shaped up was that Peter would in fact shoot himself in the head and Fran, with little hope for herself would pop her head into the heli's blade.  The end credits would then run over a continuous static shot of zombies milling around the whirring heli and Frans body until the last credit, at which point the chopper would sputter and die out, implying that they wouldn't have had enough fuel to make it anywhere anyway.   Bluesad

Romero, in interviews, has said that he did write that ending initially.  In the end though he said that he just woke up one morning and decided he liked the characters too much to kill 'em.  Interviews with others in the production have offered different thoughts on how the change happend.  Some say it was concern over a bleak ending seeming to copy the original NIGHT a little too much.  Some say it was that the Fran/chopper effect could not be done well enough to make the scene work.  Some say changing sensibilities about gender and race issues.  Romero himself has said that they never even got to the effects test stage, that he altered the ending well before that.

If you look around on the internet you can find what appear to be test shots of Fran's helicopter demise.  It's all very tantalizing to think how close the film may have come to having an ending almost 180 degrees away from the one it has, yet one that would work in the context of the film just as well.  I myself have never been able to decide which way I would have gone had the choice been mine to make. 

Though, truth be told....


...I'm a little too fond of these guys to have gone with the downer ending.  What a great bunch of people Romero worked with.


Sorry, that was(as the old Infocom games used to say) too verbose!  Wink
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Kooshmeister
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« Reply #10 on: May 27, 2007, 11:50:11 AM »

In some cases, when a film changes direction from its original source material, say it was based on a novel, and goes into "happy ending" territory, no doubt many fans of the original work will be highly offended as it can be seen as something of a slap in the face to the original work.

Well, I think some things just won't work well in a movie. For example, the ending to Animal Farm. I've argued against including the original ending in movie adaptations of the book. The story literally stops without much in the way of resolution, beyond the revelation that the pigs have become corrupted and humanlike in their behavior. Now, I'm not saying this means the book is bad. Quite the opposite. What I'm saying is that what's fine for literature may not always be good for the theater.

And while I'm on the subject of Animal Farm, I've never really understood why people think the endings of either movie are happy. Because the villains are defeated? This is incredibly naive, in my opinion. Yeah, the pigs are taken down, so it's "happy" in the sense that the bad guys get what's coming to them, but the awful things they did still happened, and the horrible situation they created remains, so it's going to be a long, hard road for the other animals to rebuild. Besides, both endings are a perfectly logical outcome of the situation presented in Orwell's novel: regimes like the pigs can only bully the population for so long before the people have had enough, or, more realistically, as in the case of the 1999 live-action film, it's perfectly reasonable for the pigs' regime to eventually collapse under its own bloated weight.


It has become such a cliché that the mere existence of a sad ending evokes a feeling of untampered-with creativity.  A victory for the underdog!  "The Man" couldn't touch the director's soul!  Even in the odd event that an unhappy ending seems itself contrived, I cannot help but feel like the artist won.  I realize this is a completely illogical reaction, but as a film snob it is unavoidable.

I look at it like this. Yeah, happy endings are cliche now, but soon they won't be any more if the downbeat endings keep coming. In about fifty years, maybe a little later, maybe a little sooner, audiences will start wishing for more cheery endings, due to everyone and their brother falling over one another to be original and making movies with downbeat endings. It's a vicious cycle, I tells ya!
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« Reply #11 on: May 27, 2007, 01:59:54 PM »

I rather like movies with a ambiguous ending.  Sort of like THE DEPARTED (2006).  It's Hamlet-esque in a way.  Everybody dies and you don't know how things will end up if the credits didn't decide to roll.  The Cronenberg eXistenZ (1999) has that weird ambiguous ending, too...As in how far down does the "rabbit hole" go.

Happy endings almost always seem tacked on.  Maybe that's because in real life things almost never end up the way you think they will  (i.e.- the ex-girlfriend seeing the errors of her ways and ends up with the hero she spurned earlier).  "Sad" ending as slightly more realistic...Make mine ambiguous because there's nothing I like more than discussing the ending of a film with my friends as we walk out of the theater....not pointing out the flaws in a happy ending.
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« Reply #12 on: May 28, 2007, 01:49:13 AM »

Well that depends on how well you tip your "masseuse".  TeddyR
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« Reply #13 on: May 28, 2007, 02:26:28 AM »

There are too many movies out there with an a-typical feel-good (read: predictable) ending. I personally find myself drawn to movies that have a sort of bitter-sweet ending. Donnie Darko is one, Donnie was happy (laughing) because he was going to die, but knew it would save others. I found that to be and ending that I felt bad for being happy about it. Another, Naked Lunch, when Bill has to kill Joan, for the second time, is that kind of ending, although I never could come up with an idea of what future was in store for him. Those types of endings to me almost always work well. I may be just too cynical to believe that a happy is realistic in so many situations.

I think it's tough to work that kind of ending into a movie, unless it's part of a series (ie, The Empire Strikes Back). People, or rather sheple, demand a happy ending to give them a knowingly false sense of hope that their miserable lives will some day get better. So much of today's cinema is governed by this, and while it appeals to the masses, it takes something away from cinema as a whole IMO. But we must keep in mind that WE ARE NOT NORMAL. . normal people do not intentionally seek out the worst movies available. normal people avoid them. f@ck normality. . .

The first time I watched "A Clockwork Orange", at the end, when we realized Alex was "cured" of the "cure", I thought "Oh crap, what have they done? What have they turned loose upon this world?" Gave me a sense that all was NOT well, and I hoped and prayed there would never be a sequil that would change that. Fight Club gave me a similar feeling, but only because I knew the idea of everyone's debts being erased because a couple buildings toppled was ludacris.  The cynical side of me enjoys the idea that Edward Norton's character wound up with Marla, the woman was a disaster that had happened, was happening, and would keep happening for a long, long time. Like a train wreck that takes place over several decades.

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« Reply #14 on: May 28, 2007, 02:47:49 AM »



The first time I watched "A Clockwork Orange", at the end, when we realized Alex was "cured" of the "cure", I thought "Oh crap, what have they done? What have they turned loose upon this world?" Gave me a sense that all was NOT well,



 the original book had a standard "happy ending", the film definitely did not. this is really rare for it to be switched that way, usually its the other way round with films replacing the sad endings of books with happy ones, for audiences.

theres some really good points been made in this thread though, I cant really add anything else.
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