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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

That’s all I get for my $14?

By Margaux Froley Outhred

Dear Wavers,

The weekend has come and gone, and like many of you, I ventured to the movies. And like the theater snob I am, we ventured to the Arclight cinemas where tickets might cost a tad more, but you get the pleasure of a reserved seat, less people bringing their babies, and generally a better theater-going experience. (Seriously, what is up with people bringing their babies to theaters?)

So, after I forked over my (well, my husband’s hard-earned cash), we expected to get a simple evening of entertainment out of it. I am hesitant to mention this, but we saw the new Coen Bros. flick, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Before all of you diehard Coen fans or Cormac McCarthy nuts jump down my throat, the movie was perfectly lovely. Brilliant cinematography made seeing this on the big screen very worthwhile. Javier Bardem is an Oscar shoo-in. Perfectly acted, and seamlessly written, I highly recommend this movie. BUT (you knew there was a “but” coming), we left the movie unsatisfied.

I am not a McCarthy nut, and personally, find his writing to be slow and long-winded. I know many consider him to be a genius and he’s a good match for the Coen sensibility, but it’s a style that is lost on me. This blog entry, however, is not as much about this particular movie, and frankly, I’m scared to discuss it too much since I’m bound to be against popular belief. But, for $14, I felt cheated out of any emotional satisfaction from this movie going experience. Especially for a film with a running time over 2 hours, it’s a letdown to leave an audience hanging after they bothered to get invested in the movie’s world and characters in the first place. I know there are many defenses, i.e., it’s the genre, for my complaints about the ending. But, that’s not quite the point here.

Is it our obligation as writers to give every reader and audience member a happy ending? (Insert any applicable sex joke here)

No, every movie does not have to end with a Happily Ever After. However, I expect a movie, especially one that didn’t go straight to DVD, but one that some company deems worthy enough to release in theaters, to be entertaining. I was entertained during the first 85% of NO COUNTRY, but, when you leave me with a vague non-ending, all those moments of brilliance and enjoyment get sucked away too. In the series finale of THE SOPRANOS, audiences were PISSED that David Chase left them hanging. Yes, questions are great and creative types always seem to enjoy hearing outside discussion of what occurs in a fan’s vision of the world created, but at a certain point, shouldn’t these people do the work and give us some closure?

I know, I’m dissing THE SOPRANOS and the Coen Brothers; I expect death threats tomorrow, but come on. These creative film or television gurus have the eyes and ears of so many people willing to follow their lead…and they leave us hanging? You can send any message you want out into the world through the powerful medium of TV of film, and you leave it just dangling out there? Ambiguous is almost giving that emotion too much credit. To edit for the more polite Rouge Wavers, but it’s like the Happy Ending that never culminated. The ultimate cock block.

I used to not like the film THE SQUID AND THE WHALE because it made me feel so horrible emotionally. Now I at least give it credit for making me feel something rather than just a stunted and unresolved investment that will never pan out.

I’m willing to take the hit on this one. I probably just missed the entire point of the Coen Bros. film and I never read the book it was based on. Also, maybe being a late-twenties lady doesn’t quite set the stage for me to really identify with Tommy Lee Jones and some long-winded monologue about his father and death. It truly is a country for OLD MEN. That said, I’m a reasonably intelligent individual, especially when it comes to films, so if I can’t understand your movie, you’re leaving a lot of audience in the dust.

Does every movie need to leave me with a specific emotion? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that for $14, yes, dammit, it should.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

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The Other Pete said...

No, Margaux, you're not alone. In fact, I wrote a very similar thing after I watched "Junebug." While I understand what people mean when they say "life doesn't have neat little endings, so why should movies," my response has always been "if I wanted life, I wouldn't be sitting in a movie theater. Entertain me, dammit!"

Nope – you're not alone at all.

Yoda said...

A couple months ago, when I sent the rough draft of my first screenplay to my readers, some of them reacted to it exactly that way. I'd left one of the four plotlines unresolved, and though I thought it worked leaving an ambiguous ending for those two characters, they didn't. So, I rewrote it with a more satisfying ending and an odd thing happened: It tightened up the whole story!

I'm with you, though: I don't need a happy ending, I just need AN ending.


Kevan said...


I remember when entering into a cinema experience was something special with a surprise built-in. I think you got that surprise. You didn't see the ending coming despite being a very intelligent person.. Sometimes down endings are good. They're good for the soul; they remind us we're human with all our faults and frailties. I like to be reminded I'm human because sometimes I forget. I forget what it is to love and be loved. I sometimes forget what it's like to lose someone dear to me but also that sometimes people have such capacity to share and be giving. And I sometimes forget that it is easy to forget all these things but most important of all we need to remember that sometimes a "down ending" reflects our humanity and the cost was only $14.. You've inspired me and now I very much want to see NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN because you've given me hope that there is a place, in the scheme of things, for down endings too...

Anonymous said...

no Kevin, Margaux said the ending was unresolved, "dangling". Not "down"...different topic.

Steve Holt! said...

This mentality helps explain why there are so many cookie cutter screenplays (and films) littering the film industry.

It's infuriating to me when you project an artistic vision and get notes back to the effect of, "Every script needs to have this, this, and that or it isn't a satisfying film."

Oh, really? For your $14 you should get... exactly what the filmmaker wants to give you.

How many albums do you return because for your $14 you didn't get precisely four ballads, six hard rockers, and one orchestral pop tune?

How many meals get sent back to the kitchen because for your $14 you didn't get a starch among your side dishes?

This is the mentality that has turned an art form into a brainless exercise in connecting the dots to please everyone and fit a precise formula.

When did it become required that a film must satisfy every single viewer in exactly the same way?

Julie Gray said...

Now, now, Steve. Be nice or no cupcake for you. And I really mean it this time. Differing movies, like differing opinions, are what makes life interesting...

annabel said...

I am a mother of four. The last two movies I saw at a theater were The Game Plan and Fred Claus. Let me tell you about feeling robbed! That is 3 hours and $120 I will never get back. LOL

Tavis said...

Perhaps films with "down" or "unresolved" endings should charge less for tickets while big, happy movies should cost more. Then you'll know what you're getting walking in. And isn't that what we all want?

JPS said...

I expect to see "No Country for Old Men" this coming weekend, but I do disagree on the final episode of "The Sopranos", having very recently sat down with my wife to watch the entire six seasons, not having seen a single episode when they were first broadcast.

I thought we'd been set up for this ending right from the earlier episodes, where Tony talks about death as being "just...nothing. Everything goes black". And this is repeated, with variations, throughout. So the ending spares us the inevitable death (and by now the "family" is basically reduced to Paulie, Tony and a comatose guitarist with Springsteen's band, so we know it's just a matter of time) and leaves us with the possibility of things going on as usual, but also leaves us knowing that this really is the end. It's not going to be pretty, and it happens in front of the family--the hit men have already entered the diner--and we're spared that. In a way, it leaves the ending up to the viewer. You can have either way and still can be satisfied.

I will say this comes from a writer who drove his first agent insane by submitting two or three novels in a row in which the main character died on the last page. (Okay, I was a lot younger at the time.) My rationale was that, well, the book's over, so why spare the protagonist?

Once I caught on I wrote a novel in which the main character actually narrated the story and within the fiction had an agent who kept complaining that he was killing off his protagonists. That one was published.

And that pleased my agent very much.

DougJ said...

I haven't seen NCFOM yet but I have read the novel and it sounds like the Coen's have made a faithful adaptation.

Reading the novel, the ending was somewhat of a letdown dramatically, but it made sense (can't really explain why without spoilers) and was ultimately satisfying, perhaps in a way that only works in the novel format.

I suppose the Coen's could have changed the ending to fit a more conventional dramatic structure, but then they would just be angering a lot of Cormac McCarthy fans. If this movie gets a wide release, we'll be reading a lot more opinions like yours: appreciative of the acting, cinematography, etc. but let-down by the ending.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'd have to lean toward Steve's viewpoint (Okay, it's not really a guess, I do lean toward toward Steve's view) on the "That's all I get for my $14?" question.

Truth is the guy or girl doesn't always end up happy with the object of his or her affection, good doesn't always triumph over evil, Summer Redstone, Les Moonves, and Nick Counter, aren't the greedy jerks they appear to be (okay that last one is true, they are the greedy jerks they appear to be). Sometimes though, like real life, there shouldn't be a neat or clever ending, just ambiguity.

Artists shouldn't be in the business of making art easy or comfortable. Maybe that's the problem with modern film, it's become predictable. Audiences know how the movie ends: they know the guy and girl will end up together, that the bad guy will get what's coming to him, and the AMPTP and the WGA will kiss and make up and they'll be revenue sharing for all (well, okay, that may be a fantasy. We'll see).

The point is, sometimes clarity at the end of a film isn't required. Sometimes films just end leaving the audience to ponder what it all means. And maybe that's the point of art. And make no mistake film is art. Mystery is a good thing, it keeps us interested but it doesn't always satisfy. Such is life, y'know?

BTW Cupcake Girl, I'm actually thinking of taking you up on your offer of "guest blogger." I was involved in a conversation today, that gave me food for thought and I'm in the mood to share.

The Original IM Anonymous

Julie Gray said...

You know where to find me, babe. I know people. People who can make your dreams come true :)

Julie Gray said...

p.s. Annabel - that is hysterical! Well, hysterical in that way where like, you laugh really hard and then you start weeping and people stare at you. :)

Anonymous said...

Annabel: At least you get to keep your dignity and only lost a few dollars. It's not like you wasted three hours and spent $120 on a bad date with Vince Vaughn.

Cupcake Girl: Well, I know where to send an email anyway. If I knew where you lived I would've had my cupcake all ready. ;)

The Original IM Anonymous

Chris said...

The first rule of understanding the layers of a Coen Brothers' movie is no one talks about understanding the layers of a Coen Brothers' movie.

the other pete said...

I really am a bit mystified by Steve's reaction. There's absolutely no reason that simply having an ending to your story should become some huge limiting factor – aside from the fact that writing a satisfying ending is a deceptively hard thing to do. That's where everything you've done wrong throughout the first 100 pages makes itself obvious.

An audience that wants closure is hardly a sign of the Hollywood Apocalypse. It's human nature and railing against it is an even bigger waste of time than trying to empty the ocean with a teacup.

Kurt summed it up best: I don't need a happy ending. I just need an ending.

Anonymous said...

I was extremely excited to see this movie in Imax theater on the opening weekend (never been in Imax, nor had good reasons to.) On the way to the show I got a call from a client who dropped the contract I'd been working so hard for. Talking about mood! The whole movie was just a flash on a giant screen with a guy with a bad hair cut after something, violent deaths, and oldmen languidly conversing.

I have to say I want to see this movie again when my crisis is over. It can't be bad! because the Coens and McCarthy can't do no wrong in my book.

Hanging ending is meant for interpretation. I guess you don't like CACHE either. For $14, I want the movie sticks around and tickles my brain.

annabel said...

Julie: Welcome to my life! :)

velysai said...

The first story I completed was a novella I wrote for my high school senior year creative writing course. It was along the lines (in a very basic way) of "City of Angels", which actually came out the following year. But in all honesty, I had seen "Wings of Desire" because of my parents before I wrote it.

Anyway, the ending was left up to the reader to decide. She wants him, the angel to stay, but is afraid that he will grow to resent her. He tells her to ask him anyway. So...she asks. And then that's the end. My teacher loved it (I got an A+ and didn't have to take the final, woohoo!) and tried to guess the way I thought it went in her notes to me. She got it right.

I think an ambiguous ending is okay as long as there's an inkling (based on character development) about the way it probably would go.

I haven't seen this movie yet, but I want to.

kingseyeland said...

I saw NCFOM the night it opened, and I'm still thinking about it. I guess sometimes a satisfying ending is having something to think about later.

If all films satisfied me, I wouldn't be satisfied with that, so I'm glad for the occasional jolt that leaves me wondering what the filmmakers and/or author and/or screenwriter intended.

I went home and found the script online. I read TLJ's ending monologue again and again, then looked at the opening monologue again and again. I'm still too thick-headed to get all of it, but I know there's something more there, so I keep thinking.