Magazine article Variety

Year of Fade to What?

Magazine article Variety

Year of Fade to What?

Article excerpt

Ambiguous endings leave some intrigued, others frustrated

Most filmmakers will tell you that endings are important. But for some of this year's hot indie writer-directors, the best form of cinematic closure is less a perfect cherry on a well-composed sundae than a suggestion of a course yet to come.

Ambiguous endings - and there will be spoilers as we discuss them - are seemingly everywhere these days. "Like Crazy," "Martha Marcy May Marlene," "Take Shelter" and "Shame" have sparked plenty of debate this awards season about what happens to their characters after the credits roll.

For "Like Crazy" director Drake Dorémus, unanimity of thought about his movie's ending - which imposes a big question mark on the fate of the story's transcontinental lovers - would have spelled disaster for him.

"I took a vote," says Doremus, referring to his interaction with the Sundance audience that first saw "like Crazy" back in January. "I said, 'How many people think they stay together?' And half the audience raised their hands. I said, 'How many people think they're done, and that their relationship has eroded?' The other half raised their hands. Then I screamed at the top of my lungs, 'Everybody is correct!' I really do feel like the audience is the final writer of the film."

Doremus believes audiences are much smarter than filmmakers give them credit for. "Audiences are really programmed to swallow digestible endings," he says. "It's too bad because I think some of the greatest movies ever made have ambiguous endings, like The Graduate' and 'Lost in Translation.'"

The Academy has been known to occasionally nod in the direction of an elliptical ending, if not give the film it comes from a prize outright. Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" caused heads to scratch, but scored big nominations. "MulhoHand Drive" provoked furious discussions amongst cinéphiles, but eventually landed David Lynch a nomination. And the notorir ously vague close to 2007's "No Country for Old Men" didn't prevent the Coen brothers' film from snagging the picture Oscar.

It can certainly be a fine line between activating an audience's imagination with an ambiguous ending, and infuriating their sensibilities with willful uncertainty. Helmer Jeff Nichols, whose "Take Shelter" has ignited controversy with a capper that suggests Michael Shannon's tormented character isn't alone in seeing apocalyptic visions, says of endings, "They're built out of the DNA of the entire story. …

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