Recently I saw a thriller at the theatre that ran from twist to turn. However, after the movie ended, the number one comment I heard from the exiting audience was how awful the ending was. While the movie is being lauded as being Oscar-worthy, my disappointment has deepened. Why?
First the ending didn’t resolve the main conflict. A bad relationship remained bad. Neither of the main characters undertook a journey of discovery. Yes, layers were peeled off revealing who they were, but they never evolved. The characters at the end were who they were at the beginning of the movie, except the audience now knew who and what they were. The characters didn’t even appear to make a decision to stay the same, which may be more a hallmark of a literary work.
Although my personal preference are romances with the ‘happy ever after’ ending, I know that’s not necessarily true for other genres. However, so long as the internal conflict and motivation are spot on, I can accept the less than happy ending. Ultimately all the movie’s twists and turns may have kept the audience guessing, but for me they didn’t lead to lessons learned and the conflict resolved.
So what makes a good ending? Here are my thoughts.
First, ask what is the main conflict? Not every issue or subplot has to be tied up in a neat bow by the conclusion, but the main conflict does.
The foundation for the resolution must be referenced or foreshadowed earlier in the story. No new characters should be introduced in the last moments. The protagonist should apply what has been learned to defeat the external conflict and thus earn the right to be the ‘hero’. Even if the hero loses, he’s still learned a lesson and hopefully will move forward.
Respect the reader. Don’t get lazy. They’ve stayed with you throughout the story’s journey. If the milestones have been laid out with solid dramatic questions, the ending should be organic and satisfying rather than yet another manufactured twist that comes out of the blue. Leaving a question for a reader to ponder is good. Surprise endings are great, but they must feel right, natural. The reader’s reaction may be at first, “I didn’t see that coming’’, but with reflection she/he will realize the skilled author has woven the references throughout the story.
This leads me to ask: What was one of your favorite endings to either a movie or book and why?
J Carol Stephenson
Justice At All Costs