Wednesday 6 June 2012

Pondering - Unhappy Endings

Dark Pondering Image

I’ve liked unhappy endings in the books I read, the films I watch and anything else story driven for sometime now.

My earliest memory of enjoying one was an old episode of the Outer Limits. A human was being held captive by aliens and a woman in the cell with him was being slowly changed into an alien. She was upset and he confided in her that the rest of the human space fleet was beyond x planet, ready for another push. She stood up and thanked him, and the door immediately opened as she was led from the room. As she left she said, or he realized, I don’t remember which, that she was an alien disguised as a human all along, and she was reverting to her natural form. He’d just fucked the entire human race. The episode ended a few moments later.
I was about ten at the time, maybe a little older, and that has stayed with me to this very day. I think it was the first thing I had seen that ended on such a sour note that it shocked me.

So why do I like unhappy endings? I think some of it is that life is more variable than the hero always winning, and so an unhappy ending often feels more realistic. In any typical action film full of peril, the hero might do one hundred leaps, jumps, falls, dodges etc. If that was real life, he or she would probably be dead after dodge five. Or if they survived longer, something at some point would occur where their luck would run out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing for films or books to be the height of realism, I do like my physics bending, special powers happy endings too. It’s just that they don’t stick with me as long as the bitter ones do.

Another reason I prefer the darker ending is that it pays more homage to the people who may have died along the way. How many times have we seen hundreds of people killed in the course of a story, but when everything ends with laughter and parades, its suddenly all okay again, and we don’t need to think about them any more. A dark ending doesn’t mean everyone has to die, but you can bet that the ones that do will be remembered by the ones that didn’t.

On a purely gratuitous note as well, its nice to see the monster/demon/or whatever actually win for a change, instead of always being foiled at the last moment.