CONFUSING MOVIE ENDINGS EXPLAINED
Christopher Nolan’s genre-spanning hit film left audiences’ minds spinning as much as the top in the final shot. Just when it looks like the top is about to spin out and tumble, the screen cuts to black. We never know if the final shot, in which Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is reunited with his children, is the real thing or if Dom has decided to live the rest of his days in a dream. The thing about this is that it’s kind of the whole point.
We’re not supposed to know. The ending of the film is meant to be ambiguous. Or, to put it another way, it’s a choose-your-own-ending kind of movie. If we want to believe that Cobb is living in a dream world, that’s fine. If we want to believe that he finally has his children back, that’s okay too. It’s up to us, and we’re right either way.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
And sure, when Alfred sees Wayne in Florence, it’s exactly how Alfred describes it to Wayne earlier in the film. But that’s not a dream—there simply isn’t a better way for Wayne to show his well-being to Alfred other than playing out the dream in reality. Moreover, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is there, wearing Wayne’s mother’s pearl necklace, which she steals at the beginning of the movie. While Alfred briefly meets her in the beginning of the film, he doesn’t know that she and Wayne could potentially become an item. Alfred quits long before she and Wayne team up to save the besieged Gotham City. And besides, if Wayne is really dead, where does the new Bat-Signal, discovered by Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), come from? It’s not until after the discovery of this new Bat-Signal that John Blake, aka Robin, (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) discovers the Batcave and inherits the mantle of the bat. So Wayne has got to be alive.
Alejandro G. Inarritu’s film about a washed-up actor trying to make a comeback on Broadway earned nine Academy Award nominations (winning four), as well as scores of other award nominations, and was featured on no less than 46 top ten lists. And it did all of this despite the fact that it has a rather strange ending. In the final scene, Riggan Thomas’ (Michael Keaton) daughter Sam (Emma Stone) enters Riggan’s hospital room to find his bed empty and an open window. Sirens and talking can be heard coming from the street below. Initially, Sam looks down, but she slowly turns her head to the sky and a smile appears on her face. This could mean that Riggan, who has been shown to have powers throughout the film, only to have them later be explained as hallucinations, actually has powers and has flown away, and his daughter is happy that he found a way to escape his dreary life. But that’s not so.
What really happens is that Riggan has successfully committed suicide, which he failed to do the previous day. In order to cope with this tragic event, Sam enters a hallucinatory world of her own. It stands to reason that she does this because her father hallucinates throughout the film. It could be a hereditary trait passed down from father to daughter. And the fact that she has bird tattoos on her arm and the her father played a superhero with bird-based powers suggests a strong connection between the two. Also, she herself is a recovering addict, so there’s another potential hallucinatory explanation. Regardless, Sam disassociates with the real world and enters a fantasy world where her father lives, soaring above the clouds. The film is subtitled The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance after all, and here, Sam choses to ignore reality.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007)
Plainview realizes that he has gone too far. During the film, he commits a number of horrendous acts. He threatens to cut one man’s throat while he sleeps. He adopts the son of one of his dead workers in order to look like a family man. He sends this adopted son, H. W. Plainview, away to a school for the deaf. He murders a man, with no witnesses to the crime. And toward the movie’s end, after his adopted son returns, Plainview disowns his son when H. W. announces that he’d like to start his own oil company in Mexico. Plainview even mocks H. W.’s deafness. So this time, with Sunday’s blood literally on his hands and his butler as a witness to the crime, Plainview realizes that he has overreached himself, and he, and his business, will suffer repercussions. Finally, Plainview is simply tired. After the life he’s led, he doesn’t want to continue on anymore. This doesn’t mean that Plainview is suicidal. It just means that he’s done.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007)
At the end of the Coen Brothers’ blood-soaked, neo-Western, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) waxes philosophic by relating to his wife two dreams he has about his father. In the first dream, he loses some money his father gave him. In the second dream, Bell sees his father holding a torch, riding ahead into the darkness of a snowy mountain pass. It almost stops the movie dead, except for two things.
One, shortly before Bell tells the stories of the dreams, he tells his wife that his father died young, and in a sense, his father will always be a younger man. Two, throughout the movie, Bell ponders the violence in the area where he is sheriff and, since he is rather close to retirement, wonders whether or not he has become too old for the world in which he lives. The title of the movie is No Country For Old Men, and Bell is one of those old men. It has become too violent too quickly for someone of his age, and he can no longer cope. The world needs someone younger, like his father, to light the way in the ever-growing darkness around it—exactly like the second dream Bell describes.
BARTON FINK (1991)
The end appears to show Fink, at the end of his trials, finally reaching his reward and a place where he feels safe. But in fact, the scene signifies that he has learned the truth about the dangerous world in which he now exists.
PULP FICTION (1994)
This one may not seem a likely candidate for this list, but it is. With its non-linear plot, we all know that Jules will retire from his life as a contract killer, while Vincent Vega will continue to work for Marsellus Wallace until he is killed with his own gun by Butch. So why end the movie with the two hitmen walking safely out of the bar?
It’s because the hero, or heroes, need to live. Though they’re professional killers, by the end of the movie, Jules and Vincent have won our hearts. (Admit it, you feel disappointed every time you see Vincent die.) So for all intents and purposes, they are the movie’s heroes. In fact, in the final scene, they have performed a heroic deed. They, mainly Jules, have spared Pumpkin and Honey Bunny’s lives and hopefully turned them away from a life of crime, giving this violent movie a peaceful resolution. Jules and Vincent have essentially redeemed themselves, or put themselves on the path toward redemption. If that doesn’t earn them the right to live at the end of the movie, what does?