following from a couple posts and the discussions that followed, I have tried to sort things out with a table. I haven’t included definitions of what constitutes a satisfying tragic or optimistic ending to a novel or a film, because, well, that would be too much work just now. And also, you can take yourself down to the rest of the discussion to see what was said there, if you’re really wondering. One other proviso: to say that an ending was somehow successful doesn’t mean that the whole novel or film was without flaw. The converse is also true: a flawed ending can sometimes be forgiven if the rest of the work is strong enough. And of course this is all a matter of opinion and interpretation.
Because I’m working with little space, I didn’t include author or screenwriter, and I’ve color coded novels and films. Many novels and films won’t fit into any of these categories, of course.
Saving Private Ryan
Here’s one that I can’t get to fit neatly in the table: “Monster’s Ball”. I could not, and still cannot, reconcile myself to the way that movie ended. Sure, you can class it as optimistic – the main characters have had their epiphanies, reconciled their pasts, and preparing to go forward, together, to a better life. Certainly the narrative progressed carefully and logically to this point; it’s not gratuitous. But I struggle with, because never have I encountered two characters who ‘deserve’ this kind of ending less than this pair…
Meredith, that’s exactly how I feel about *About Schmidt* — all the steps are there, but in the end I haven’t got even an ounce of empathy for the character (or any of the characters, even), and I can’t be satisfied with the ending.