Guilty pleasures. We all have them, even if we don’t want to admit it. I mean, that’s sort of the point of guilty pleasures. One of mine is watching movies with really sad endings. Like, if you don’t tear up during the film then don’t bother making me watch it. Then, as part of the guilty pleasure, I make other people watch them with me. Spoiler warning for some films I discuss today. Here are a few of my “go-to” guilty pleasure films:
- Me Before You (2016)
- Night of the Living Dead (1968)
- A Quiet Place (2018)
- Road to Perdition (2002)
- Avengers Infinity War (2018)
I know, I’m sadistic.
Before writing this, I started thinking about why I take pleasure in this odd activity. One reason is that I have no soul and can’t gauge emotions, so I want to watch other people when they’re sad in order to copy their emotions. Another reason I came up with is that I’m so depressed that I like to watch fictional characters in pain, this way I take solace that my life isn’t as messed up as theirs.
Maybe I just like realistic storytelling in my films and novels.
That’s right. Sometimes we don’t all live happily ever after. Sometimes the guy doesn’t get the girl in the end. Maybe the father dies at the end in order to save his boy’s eternal soul. Maybe everybody dies at the end of a zombie movie. Maybe the coach mercy kills the paralyzed athlete. Maybe, the bad guy wins and destroys 50 percent of all life in the universe.
Did I just spoil a bunch of films for you? Well too bad! Sometimes we have movie endings spoiled for us. Maybe you should have gone and watched them. Maybe… just maybe… we overuse the word “maybe.”
Now, know what you’re all saying. “But Jimmy, why would I want to go to the theater and watch a film with a sad ending?”
I completely understand. Look at the current “Infinity Saga” that Marvel just pumped out. Starting with Iron Man (2008) until Avengers: Endgame (2019), the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has produced 22 films. How many of those ended with a happy ending? Every. Single. One. Of. Them.
Again, I know what you’re saying. “But Jimmy, in Avengers: Infinity War half of all life was dusted. How is that a happy ending?” To answer that, I’d argue that Thanos the Mad Titan was the protagonist and the Avengers were the “bad guys” of the film. With Thanos completing his task, he achieved his happy ending.
Every MCU film is predictable. You know going into the film that the hero will win, the bad guys will lose, and that everything will be alright. It’s boring. Don’t get me wrong, I love each and every one of those films, but that’s why I have my guilty pleasures. For once, I’d like to see a hero fail at the end of an origin film. That would give the hero an excellent redemption arc in the second and third film. Why don’t they do it? Two words: Box Office. If the film doesn’t do well, then there might not be a second film. You have to perform well in the first film. Meaning a happy ending where the hero wins the day.
You know, the more I think about it, the first film is like a presidential term. If the first one doesn’t do well, there won’t be a second one.
Films that end happily are also a lie. Do you want to know the biggest lie in cinema? Here it is: “And they all lived happily ever after.” It trains children, and depressed adult male writers, that if they try hard and do all they can to overcome their obstacles then they’ll triumph in the end and live “happily ever after.”
Horror movies aren’t even exempt. In the film Dawn of the Dead (1978), the main characters are evacuating from the mall as it’s being overran by zombies. Two of the characters die and turn into the undead while the very pregnant woman gets into a helicopter. Because in the 70’s aircraft births were the thing. The last guy was locked in his room with a gun to his head. He was waiting until the zombies burst in before killing himself, because that makes a difference. At this point, I’m waiting for the film to end darkly. Then, for some reason, the guy has a change of heart. A song that’s reminiscent of the theme to The A-Team plays and the guy fights his way through the horde of the undead to board the helicopter. Together, they take off riding into the sunlight. Happily Ever After.
Again, I know what you’re going to say: “But Jimmy, these are fictional scenarios that’ll never happen. And you’re saying they need to be realistic?”
Here’s my conclusion (tip to all essay writers: never write that as your last paragraph. It’s tacky). Every story needs to have some realism to it. I’m not saying that every ending to every story has to be sad, depressing, or soul crushing. It’s my belief that even in defeat, lessons can be learned. Movies should have more endings where the hero ultimately loses but learns something valuable from the defeat.
Now, as to my mental health, I’m sure you’re all concerned. Because, if I’m being honest with you last week’s rant and this one was depressing. Don’t worry about me.
I’m sure I’ll live happily ever after.
Categories: Mastering the Craft