As most of you know, we at this blog usually write about (1) mysteries or (2) writing or (3) mystery writing. And when the subject is writing, I've noticed that it's usually about either our own creations or about what it is that makes fiction (stories/novels/movies) effective and interesting and entertaining. (As if we know.)
Today I want to talk about stories that don't have happy endings. Movies, specifically. There are of course many of those, and some have endings that aren't just sad, they're downright depressing. Yes, I know, that might not be a good topic to focus on right now, during these uncertain times, but hey, I needed something to post today. Velma, our secretary and first-sergeant here at SleuthSayers, gets grumpy if I don't turn in my column.
I once heard there are two words that come to mind when the subject is depressing endings: foreign films. That of course isn't always true, but I had to throw it in.
With regard to downer endings in general, I think they come in several flavors:
1. The death of the hero
Cool Hand Luke
Thelma and Louise
Saving Private Ryan
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Bonnie and Clyde
The Wild Bunch
2. A continuation of the disaster/crisis
On the Beach
Night of the Living Dead
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
I Am Legend
3. An unresolved ending
No Country for Old Men
The French Connection
2001: A Space Odyssey
The Blair Witch Project
The Florida Project
4. A surprise ending
Planet of the Apes
10 Cloverfield Lane
NOTE: In my opinion, some of the above (Shane, No Country for Old Men, Seven, The Wild Bunch, Fail-Safe, etc.) were extremely good movies and some (The Happening, The Room, Love Story) were not. This isn't about good or bad or my idea of good or bad; we're just talking about endings.
Not that it matters, but I think the movie that had the most depressing ending ever was The Mist--probably because it was both tragic and needless. I enjoyed the story, but boy that ending was a punch in the gut. If you've seen it, you know what I mean. The odd thing is, the Stephen King novella from which it was adapted wasn't as bleak at the end. (On the flip side, the movie Cujo ended happy and King's novel Cujo ended sad.) The second most depressing ending I can remember was to one of the most depressing movies I've ever seen: They Shoot Horses, Don't They? But it was also satisfying in that it explained with crystal clarity, in its final thirty seconds, its mysterious title.
One more observation: Some movies with depressing subjects have upbeat endings (The Shawshank Redemption, Deep Impact, Ghost, Oklahoma Crude, Stand By Me); some fairly upbeat movies have depressing endings (Somewhere in Time, Titanic, King Kong, Million Dollar Baby); and let's face it, some depressing movies have depressing endings (Leaving Las Vegas, The Road, They Shoot Horses, The Elephant Man, The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream). Something for all tastes.
How do you feel about all this? What are some of your favorite downer endings? Which are the worst? Have you ever seen an otherwise good movie whose ending ruined it? Ever seen an otherwise bad movie whose ending saved it? How about those that started bad and went steadily downhill? Have any of your own stories and novels ended with a letdown?
I suppose, since I have nothing positive to add, that's the way I'm ending this column.