Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Good Ending

Last night my son Eli was watching a movie - The Ant Bully. This kid gets shrunk to the size of an ant, and early on in the story he is at risk of getting trampled or sprayed or something. Anyway, Eli is a sensitive kid, and he started to get scared, like he usually does when he watches movies. (Elmo in Grouchland scared him, and he was five at the time of the viewing.) So Rich and I said what we always say, "Don't worry, Eli. It's going to work out."
And Eli responded with, "I know. It wouldn't be a story if it didn't have a happy ending."

Well, not exactly, we told him. But in a way he's right.

No matter what kind of book, movie, or television show you're enjoying, you know the main character is going to make it out alive if he/she encounters trouble early on.(Psycho and Scream are the two examples I can think of that contradict that.) Wouldn't it be interesting if audiences had no idea what the length of things will be until after they were done? Twenty minutes in and the main character could kick it, and the story would be over. Or it could go on for hours, and we'd have no idea of when the ending would come.

It would make stories more like real life.

I'm not advocating for this. As an English teacher, I cover the plot diagram with my students every semester. Every story has exposition, an inciting incident, rising action, a climax, and a denouncement. There should always be a conflict, and the events of the story should have a causal relationship. It's what makes them stories, rather than incidents. And, if it's a good story, some sort of truth is expressed through the fiction.

Actually, I'm very picky when it comes to endings. I'm a big fan of Jennifer Weiner, but the ending of Good Night Nobody really frustrated me, because her main character never made a choice over a conflict that was central to the entire plot. Same is true for Jodi Piccoult's My Sister's Keeper. 

Conversely, I have never loved an ending more than Wally Lamb's I Know This Much is True. Somehow he managed to summarize all the themes of this huge novel in one paragraph, and he eloquently revisited all the emotions that both his main character and the reader experienced on this amazing journey. I still pull the book out and read the last page every now and then.

Another great ending is in the movie Dead Poet's Society. Also, I love the last few minutes of Little Miss Sunshine. I won't go into detail in case there are readers who haven't seen them yet. But people who have seen them might understand what I mean when I say I was moved. They captured this emotion in me, where if I could have leapt into the screen and been a part of the action, I would have.

I think Eli felt that way at the end of The Ant Bully. He was practically doing a victory dance along with the ants on the screen. Now that's a good ending.

However, if there are any movies you wish had different ending, you might try visiting this site my friend Brett told me about. It's really funny!

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