With the final film in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy just out on DVD -- and the recent celebration of Tolkien Reading Day -- it got us thinking about story endings. Finding the perfect ending to a story can be a hard nut to crack, especially as many people would happily debate just what it is, exactly, that constitutes a "perfect ending" to their favorite shows and series.
Still, when a story wraps up on exactly the right note, it's a moment of satisfaction for the book-lover or film buff that has few equals. Read on to see four of our favorite, most powerful endings.
(Minor spoilers ahead.)
-- Fight Club (the film)
"Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate
so we can buy stuff we don't need to impress people we don't like."
When Fight Club was first released, I went out of my way to avoid seeing it. A movie about a bunch of guys beating each other up didn't sound like my type of flick, to say the least. But then I was assigned the film as part of a college class syllabus, and I found myself stuck with watching Fight Club whether I wanted to or not.
There wasn't much to recommend it to my sensibilities, either, as I watched the Narrator (our unnamed main character) have his typical, materialistic, button-down life interrupted by Tyler Durden, a nihilistic anarchist who starts up underground "fight clubs" as a way to connect men back to real meanings in their lives. Of course, when you're convinced that there is no meaning, such a plan is bound to be twisted, and the Narrator is caught up in a plan of increasingly horrible and dangerous consequences.
That is, until the story's end, when we discover who Tyler Durden really is -- and what our Narrator can do to defeat him. With Tyler's message ultimately rejected and destroyed, our Narrator is free to live a new life with his gal-pal Marla -- "new life" being rather more literal than normal. Tyler's true identity was a sucker-punch of an ending that I never saw coming, and it gave me an appreciation for a film I thought I'd never even watch.
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-- Star Trek: The Next Generation (the series)
"That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and
studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence."
The last two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation rarely reached the heights of excellent storytelling as seen in earlier episodes. But then came "All Good Things …," the two-parter series finale, in which Captain Picard is ordered to take the Enterprise to investigate an unusual spacial anomaly. Unfortunately, his orders are complicated when he abruptly finds himself time-jumping six years into the past (when the Enterprise was just about to undertake its first voyage) -- and some 25 years in the future, when he's retired and his crew has gone their separate ways. Splintered between three timelines, things look even worse for Picard with the return of Q, an all-powerful alien adversary who delights in picking on Picard whenever possible.
But this time, Q's motives seem to be about more than making things entertainingly difficult. In fact, Q is insisting that Picard is on the verge of making a decision that will wipe out all of humanity -- leaving Picard struggling to solve the puzzle across three different timelines before it's too late. What makes this episode so incredible, for me, is that the solution is unlocked for Picard in the same instant it's unlocked for the audience -- and it's a mind-blowing answer that could only work within the limitless bounds of the sci-fi genre.
It's worth mentioning that I'm not entirely alone in my assessment as to the power of this story. The two-parter earned the 1995 Hugo Award (given annually for the best science fiction and fantasy works and achievements of the previous year) for Best Dramatic Presentation.
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-- The Graduate (the film)
"One word: plastics."
"How exactly do you mean 'plastics,' sir?"
"Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?" It's the most famous line of the classic 1967 film, but The Graduate is about so much more than a recent college grad falling under the spell of an older woman. Benjamin Braddock has spent the last four years slaving away to earn his college degree, but now that he's got it, he's at a loss to find his next step. Utterly confused as to what he ought to try next or what he wants to do with his life, he drifts without purpose -- ultimately finding himself in the arms of Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father's law partner.
As Benjamin continues to drift listlessly, his parents pressure him to ask out Elaine, the Robinsons' daughter. Ben does what he can to get out of it, but eventually finds himself all but forced to take Elaine out for the evening. Initially determined to be as terrible to her as possible (and, therefore, end any chances of a second date), Ben slowly begins to realize he actually likes her. Here, at last, is a person with whom he can be wholly himself.
Elaine feels the same -- at least until she finds out that Ben has been romantically involved with her own mother. Horrified, Elaine dumps Ben immediately, leaving Ben determined to reunite with Elaine -- a future with her being the only future he can see for himself.
The last third of the movie strikes many fans as romantic (or stalker-lite, depending on your perspective), as Ben tracks down Elaine before he loses her forever. But while the film has a nominally happy ending, the last shot suggests that these new adults are still as uncertain about their future as ever -- which is precisely the feeling that most new graduates can relate to best.
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-- Secret Window, Secret Garden (the book)
"You know, the only thing that matters is the ending.
It's the most important part of the story, the ending."
When writer Mort Rainey retreats to his summer home on Tashmore Lake, he's just trying to get a little peace of mind (and some fresh writing inspiration) in the aftermath of a messy divorce. So when John Shooter shows up on Mort's doorstep and accuses him of plagiarizing one of Shooter's stories, Mort finds himself with one too many problems to handle.
At least the fix to Shooter's accusation seems easy enough. All Mort has to do is prove he committed no such plagiarism. But when Shooter's insanity starts escalating, the stakes grow increasingly personal -- and Mort suddenly discovers there's no easy way out after all. Especially when Mort discovers that Shooter is not at all who he claimed to be.
I discovered this story on audiobook, and listened to the rip-roaring, nail-biting ending while driving home alone at night in the middle of a deserted country road. Rarely have I had a more terrifying -- or pleasing -- horror story experience. Don't miss it!
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-- Post by Ms. B