Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ambiguous Endings

Have you ever gone to the movies and walked out after it was over, unsure about the ending. The movie Inception comes immediately to mind, with its spinning top. Does it fall, or does it continue to spin? Reality, or simply another dream? My friends and family have hotly debated that one on multiple occasions, and no matter how much we argue, we've never once been unanimous in our final verdicts.

However, Inception is far from the first movie that’s ending left me questioning. Here are a few (of the many) that I've thought about over the years:

The Graduate:
The ending of this movies is one of the most debated of all time. Their fading smiles as the bus drives away from the chapel haunts movie goes world-wide, making them wonder what happens after the final scene? Will Elaine and Benjamin stay together, or is their relationship already doomed? 
The Breakfast Club:
Ah, The Breakfast Club. It's one of those movies that appears to end on a high note, but in fact remains quite unclear. What happens the following Monday at school? Will the Breakfast Club remember what they learned about each other and what they shared, or will they revert back to their original behavior? 
The Break-Up:
I can't say that this movie affected me the way the others did, but as I had a debated the ending the other day with a family friend I thought I'd include it for consideration. When Brooke and Gary run into one another at the end of the film, is that an implication that they'll get back together,or is it merely an act of closure?
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:
I've spent a great deal of time thinking about this movie since I first saw it my freshman year of college. And I've wondered over and over again, what happens after the credits? Do Joel and Clementine repeat their original mistakes? Are they doomed to the same fate they forcefully removed from their memories?

I couldn't even begin to guess how much time I've spent thinking about these films, wondering, re-watching for clues, debating. What about you guys? What are your thoughts on these five movies? Do you also find yourself questioning what happens next? Are there any others that you would add to this list? 

*** For the record, my answers are:
Inception: Yes, the top falls (meaning it’s real).
The Graduate: The realize they've made a mistake and leave one another.
The Breakfast Club: As Claire suspected, they revert back to who they were before their emotional breakthroughs.
The Break-Up: No, they don't get back together. In fact, from the bags he's holding and his general demeanor, I think Gary is in a relationship with someone else. 
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: They’re doomed to the same ending they originally had. 


  1. my brother and I have often debated Inception's ending. I say it's real because I need a happy ending.

    In the Breakfast Club I like to think they all remain friends but I suspect in real life Claire's prediction would come true, sadly.

    As for the others, I've only seem them once or not at all so I'll have to watch again before deciding.

    The Usual Suspects come to mind as well.

  2. I've seen Inception, but fell asleep towards the end so I'm fairly certain I missed something crucial, and that's why it didn't really make sense to me.
    Pan's Labyrinth is a good one, I had to watch it for university and me and my friends spent ages debating whether the girl was crazy or she actually was a princess from another land. (I'm going with princess, otherwise I'd just be really depressed).

  3. Great topic, particularly given some of the discussion of Requiem's ending. I like some ambiguity in the end, even though I know in U.S. culture we like a neat and tidy ending. I still like it to feel like an end though.

  4. Pan's Labyrinth is a good example, but my answer would be slightly different from Laura's two options! I don't think she was hallucinating or anything - I think she was just a lonely, imaginative girl who made up this fantasy world to escape how oppressively dark her real life had become. So I don't think it was real, as depressing as that is. (I'm a glutton for tragedy.)

    On the other hand, for Inception, I am pretty insistent that the top fell - it started to wobble, dammit! I mean, Cobb had decided to accept it as reality and be happy either way, but it's fun to debate.

  5. With The Breakfast Club, I imagine they reverted back to their old ways.
    With Inception, I believe it was reality, because the top does wobble and he sees the faces of his kids, something he couldn't do in the dream.

  6. I saw an interview with Nolan at some point where he said even he didn't know about the ending. He just put that in there to keep the ending questionable. To him, it didn't matter one way or the other; he just wanted to screw with the audience.

  7. I felt the same way about the ending to "Dead Poets Society." Thought it was a great movie up to the climax. Didn't feel like the story built up a good enough reason for him to do what he did (not that the reasons for such are ever "good enough," but you know...).

  8. That's why ambiguous endings are awesome - you've been thinking about those films for years! Do you do that with films that wrap everything up nicely? Maybe not so much. That's why I love reading, watching and writing ambiguous endings! I really need to watch Eternal Sunshine again... it's been far too long.

  9. Although I've enjoyed these films and I agree I tend to keep thinking about them, I prefer a more finite ending. I guess that makes me a little boring. =/

  10. Eternal Sunshine has to be one of my favorite movies of all time. I'm a stubborn optimist...of COURSE they stay together and live happily ever after! Right? Right!?

    Sarah Allen
    (From Sarah, With Joy)

  11. One of my favorite ambiguous book endings is The Giver. I always thought they actually had died. TURNS OUT, it's no longer ambiguous, thanks to the sequels.
    I personally LOVE ambiguous endings. Not that every ending should be ambiguous, but the occasional one is good exercise for the brain.