This is not an exit – a discussion on endings
(This is not an exit is the final line in both the book and film of American Psycho.)
To me, endings have always been a big deal. They don’t necessarily have to be a cute little summation of everything I’ve just watched or read, however they need to be memorable. This is, after all, the last part of the piece you’ll be consuming, and the bit that will stay freshest in your mind, so it needs to be good. I’m going to take you through a few endings now, saying what I do and don’t like, and what I’d do differently.
I am Legend
Whether you’ve seen the film or not, you’re most likely clueless as to the title. I am legend? Who is legend? Will Smith? Why is he a legend? Precisely. In the film, Robert Neville gallantly sacrifices himself, saving both the cure and the people he’s with, allowing them to escape and save the world. You might call that pretty legendary? I call it bullshit. I’ll walk you through the ending to the novel on which this and many other films are based, and you can tell me which you think is better. Here’s a hint; it’s not a difficult choice.
In the book, Neville is the boogeyman. He sleeps at night and during the day when the vampires sleep, he goes in to their homes and kills them. He’s what the vampire parents tell their vampire kids about. He’s whispered about around campfires, he’s the terror you can’t hide from, can only hope you’re lucky enough to avoid. Eventually he’s caught, and taken to hospital to have his wounds healed, before the vampires crucify him. They’re going to kill him, and put the stories to rest. However, before they can, the nurse assigned to him, who sympathises, gives him cyanide pills so he can go out on his own terms. There’s a magnificent bit where he stands up and looks out the hospital window, at the crowd awaiting him. As the vampires notice him, they start screaming; they’re absolutely terrified of him. He takes the cyanide pills, and thinks these final words to himself. I won’t make comment, as they speak for themselves.
“A new terror born in death. A new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.”
Now you tell me which ending is better?
American History X
If you haven’t seen this film, drop everything and go watch it now. It stars Ed Norton as a new Nazi, and follows the trials and tribulations of his young brother while Norton is imprisoned for murder. The basic gist of the film is that whilst in prison, Norton is frequently visited by the black principal of his brother’s school, and he is gang raped by a white gang he refuses to join. These elements combine to make him realise that race doesn’t matter, people are people no matter the colour of their skin. Upon his release from prison we have Norton emerging from the shower, looking at the swastika tattooed on his chest with great regret. He is no longer a Nazi, or a racist.
However, sadly the redemption is too late. His brother is murdered at school by a black kid, one he’s had frequent problems with, and who’s connected to the two black men Norton murdered. It’s a heartbreaking ending, the image of Norton holding his brothers corpse, screaming, will stay with me. As endings go, it’s a solid 9/10. I did used to think it was a 10/10, until I heard about the original ending, which was cut after it didn’t test well with audiences.
In this ending, the film is the same except a couple of minutes longer. What we see is Norton shaving his head. This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s hugely symbolic. After his brother is murdered by a black kid, Norton becomes a racist again. Everything he learns goes out the window, pushed out by pure hate.
This is the kind of ending I like; a bad ending. I don’t mind the odd happy ending, but I find they’re too easy. Of course this isn’t a happy ending for Norton; his brother is dead. But as he’s no longer a racist, some good has come out of it all. In the alternative ending, it’s all been a waste. Norton murdered, was raped, and saw his brother die. For nothing.
The Dark Knight Rises
Speaking of happy and sad, easy endings, I couldn’t write this without mentioning Dark Knight Rises. It’s a film I very much enjoyed, pure action porn in its simplest form. That was until the ending, which left a very bitter taste in my mouth. Like American History X being a few minutes too short, this film was a few minutes too long. I thought, “Woah, Batman’s dead! That takes some balls, good work, Nolan.” Until, of course, the scene in Italy where Alfred sees him the the restaurant, with Catwoman, very much alive.
Talk about bottling it. Killing Batman would have been huge, and so unexpected it would have been remembered for a long time. And talked about for a long time. Instead what we got was a Hollywood friendly, oh look he’s actually alive ending. You might have liked it, but it’s not for me.