by Gina Capristo-Gajdosik
“It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past, those moments in life that are over.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Zahir
As 2016 comes to a close, I thought it would be appropriate to write a piece about endings, (since I just recently finished teaching a ten-month screenwriting course that took my class from the beginning to the end.) Unlike real life, screenwriting comes with rules that help guide you on navigating your characters through obstacles and pitfalls; every ending points to a new beginning as the script continues with another scene and another, until the final scene of the film. With parting words and visuals, you have one last chance to entertain and impress your audience and no matter if an “up ending” or a “downer” the audience feels a sense of relief.
This is also what many experience at the end of one year and the start of a new one. 2016 has been especially intense with a presidential election, one of the most divisive in our history. I, for one, am happy to see the end of 2016, yet as always I’m wondering about the future, and what the United States will look like in 2017 and beyond. What will the world look like at the end of this administration’s term? There have been so many ideas proposed, both radical and impractical. God only knows what’s in store for us in the next four years, what Donald Trump’s final image will be.”
In the movie The Sixth Sense you may remember how much of an impact the final revelation had with worldwide audiences. Yet, it is interesting to note that M. Night Shyamalan did not set out to write that particular ending for this movie at the start of his process. This is quite often the case with screenwriting. Screenplays seem to have a life of their own and it is often within the fourth or fifth draft when breakthroughs occur. Mr. Shyamalan realized that his film would be much more profound if the psychiatrist was dead. (Actually, Shyamalan instinctively knew that his star needed a profound role worthy of his talent and his price tag. On the surface the character played by Bruce Willis, “Dr. Malcolm Crowe” is seen as a highly compassionate doctor, troubled by a past client he was unable to save and this has gotten between he and his wife. All of this is still there in his new profile, but there is a profound reason why he feels this way and he doesn’t know it’s because he is dead. I once read that otherwise unimpressive movies could be saved and elevated to stature with a phenomenal ending. (ex. Planet of the Apes) It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
Below are the final lines from the movie American Beauty, another one of my all-time favorite films. In the opening scene, we were told by Lester (via his voice-over) that he “was going to be dead in a year, but in a way, he was already dead.” By this, he means that he was extremely unhappy. So the question of the movie is “Can Lester find himself and be happy?”
At the end of the climax, Lester is shot and killed and as he looks at a picture of his wife and daughter, he feels happy, for the first time in a very long time. At the conclusion of the movie, this short scene plays along with the rest of Lester’s voice-over and it answers the question.
From American Beauty:
We’re watching the video Ricky showed Jane earlier, of the empty white plastic bag being blown about. The wind carries it in a circle around us, sometimes whipping it about violently, or, without warning, sending it soaring skyward, then letting it float gracefully down to the ground…
I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me…
but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the
world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s
too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst…
EXT. – ROBIN HOOD TRAIL – DAY
We’re FLYING once again over Robin Hood Trail, ASCENDING SLOWLY.
…and then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it,
and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but
gratitude for every, single moment of my stupid, little life…
(amused) You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure.
But don’t worry…
Fade To Black:
LESTER (voice-over) (cont’d)
You will someday.
So, at the end of American Beauty Lester is dead, yet he sees so much beauty in the world that he can hardly contain his happiness. He is grateful for the life he had and for his beautiful family. Now, that is a profound ending, but it also answers the question poised at the beginning of the film. Lester is finally happy, despite of, maybe even because of the fact that he’s dead.
It goes without saying that we all have dreams and aspirations for each and every year of our lives. Some years are better than others in terms of holding our resolutions, reaching our goals or acquiring our personal desires. A beginning is a gift from heaven and can only come after the close.
Just ask Lester.