After sitting through 120 minutes or more of plot, you typically expect a movie to answer the questions it laid out. Whether these answers lead to a happy ending for the hero or villain, doesn’t matter; it’s that you were given some sense of catharsis.
In a completely straightforward world, this might happen, but not all film makers want you to leave the theater feeling like you saw a complete story. Sometimes an ending poses more questions than you already had. Other times, there are so many factors at play that what you think you saw wasn’t actually the case.
The point of an ambiguous or confusing movie ending is that it keeps you talking about the film long after you’ve left the theater. Although it might not be a favorable conversation, it still sticks with you in the way the creators had hoped. Here are 5 times movie endings did just that.
Christopher Nolan is without a doubt the king of ambiguous movie endings, so it’s only reasonable that the ending of his dark Batman series would follow that trend. However, it didn’t. What you see at the end isn’t a dream or wishful thinking, it’s actually happening. Alfred goes back to the cafe he had previously mentioned to Bruce and actually sees him and Selina sitting across from him.
It’s easy to see why this might be a trick, considering the film had pulled a few switcharoos leading up to this point. However, it also does a good job at leaving plot breadcrumbs. The most important one being that the autopilot feature on The Bat had been repaired. Meaning there was no need for Bruce to fly the nuclear bomb out over the bay.
The bomb did provide a convenient way for Bruce to put an end to his alter ego Batman. This allowed him to go off with Selina—who Alfred never met by the way—and live the rest of their lives in peace.
Whereas people try to make The Dark Knight Rises ambiguous, they also tend to try and place a finalized ending on John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt. From Father Flynn’s first sermon on the nature of doubt, the viewer is being instructed on how powerful of an emotion doubt is.
It goes on to delicately play out the possibility of abuse. A boy is seen pulling away from the Father. Then, Donald, an altar boy, returns to class visibly upset and with alcohol on his breath after spending time with Flynn. While it was explained that Father Flynn caught Donald stealing communion wine so he was dismissed from his altar boy position, the doubt has already set in for Sisters Aloysius and James.
By the end, you might be expecting the story to unwind and show what exactly happened, but there is never any actual evidence provided to point out whether Father Flynn is innocent or guilty. The point is that the smallest act can allow obsessive thoughts to build and build and create doubt, even when there is actually nothing going on. Sister Aloysius might have done the right thing by lying to get Father Flynn to leave the parish, but without tangible evidence, she might have also potentially ruined a man’s reputation.
It’s really no surprise that the ending of Total Recall causes some head scratching. From the get go, one new twist after another is introduced. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character Doug Quaid is having a dream, where he’s on Mars with an attractive brunette. This ongoing dream has made him so desperate to experience a new life that he decides to head to Rekall — a tech firm that implants vacation memories.
Once he goes under for the implantation, you’re never fully sure if what you’re seeing is in fact real life or a fake memory. You’re led to believe that Quaid has had his mind wiped by The Agency and Governor Cohaagen of Mars after his former self, Howser, defected to the planet’s rebel cause. His trip to Rekall triggered the release — ehem, Total Recall — of his actual memories and now he has to get back to Mars and the woman he’s been dreaming about.
Only when Quaid gets to Mars, he receives a surprise visit from Dr. Edgemar, who tells him that none of this is real and he’s still at Rekall experiencing a schizoid embolism. If he takes the red pill, he’ll fall asleep in his dream and wake up in real life. However, if he doesn’t, he’ll be stuck in permanent dream state, but in the real world, he’ll be lobotomized.
In the end, Quaid shoots the doctor. The rebel leader dies and lots of other surreal plot twists go down that lineup almost perfectly with what Edgemar said would happen if Quaid decided to stay asleep and continue with the delusion his memory package was turning into. However, none of this actually matters by the end of the movie.
While many people get hung up on whether what is happening is real or not, you have to consider what memories are. Fake or not, you are shaped by the memories in your life. If Quaid wakes up after things go to white, these memories are now a part of him. Just because they possibly didn’t happen doesn’t mean he wouldn’t register them as real.
For the most part, The Graduate is a pretty straight forward movie. Benjamin Braddock comes home from college and doesn’t really have any idea what to do next. His parents’ married friend seduces him, and they have an affair. Later, Benjamin is encouraged by Mrs. Robinson’s husband and his parents to take Elaine Robinson out on a date, and he does despite Mrs. Robinson’s private demand not to go through with it.
Fast forward and Benjamin has fallen in love with Elaine, but Mrs. Robinson told Elaine about the affair — or actually stated Benjamin raped her. Elaine leaves for college and Benjamin follows in an attempt to tell her the truth, although she never seems to believe it. After Benjamin repeatedly proposes to Elaine, her father shows up to take her away and have her marry a previous boyfriend.
After Benjamin figures out where the wedding is being held, he rushes to the church and screams, “Elaine!” right as she is pronounced married. However, Elaine reciprocates with her own scream of, “Ben!” and after a short fight to get to each other, they flee from the church and jump on a bus together, where it appears they’ve gone on to live happily ever after. Only you slowly start to see their elated smiles fade to looks of disbelief.
It might seem like this ending doesn’t make sense because they’re getting what they want after all. However, like Benjamin, Elaine probably had no idea what she wanted. They were both in these stages of their lives where they were being forced to check off the typical American life boxes — go to college, get a good paying job, get married, buy a house, have kids, etc. — and through unique circumstances, they found life could be different.
In the exact opposite direction of straightforward, there’s American Psycho. This surreal horror movie depicts Manhattan investment banker Patrick Bateman going on a murder spree in the 1980s. He appears to have gone off the deep end and is now killing everyone from his fellow yuppie coworkers to homeless people living outside his building.
If you look a little closer, though, you’ll notice all is not as it appears. There are subtle signs in the beginning that Bateman is hallucinating, and as the film goes on, the flags are practically waving at you to notice this man is having a psychotic break from reality.
The movie never comes right out and says this, which is why many have come to the conclusion that Bateman’s horrendous crimes were covered up by someone protecting him. If it hadn’t jumped so far to make the delusions apparent, it could be plausible. However, director Mary Harron has stated she wished she had left the ending more ambiguous like the book instead of making it clear to the viewer that killings were figments of Bateman’s imagination.
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