"When I ask producers what they're looking for in a script, I consistently hear "A great ending" as one of their answers. The reason is easy -- the ending is what audiences remember most. And it is what usually causes BUZZ around a movie." Hal Croasmun.
"The most important ten minutes of the script are the first. The most important ten minutes of the movie are the last." - Dean Devlin
No Country for Old Men has initiated a great debate all over the web about the ending. Andy of Shooting Screenwriters said "I think what's most interesting about the film is how much it divides those who see it, from the passionate 'but it's just like real life' defenders, to the equally passionate 'they don't know how to tell a story' decriers". It emphasised to me just how important endings are.
There will be spoilers.
I do understand the naysayers as I too was challenged, confused and made to think by No Country for Old Men but rather than hate the experience I enjoyed it as it's so rare. Usually the only thinking required with thrillers is guessing how the hero and baddie will lose their weapons so they can have a fist fight.
The film is currently rating 8.6/10 at both Rotten Tomatoes and the IMDB, which is odd as at first glance the story choices were alienating and anti-populist. Clearly there is an audience that craves ambiguity and doesn't mind having to do some work for themselves.
Dave, the Mystery Man on Film, has a good explanation of the ending but warns "don't try this at home" (as does Danny's less positive review). It's a very difficult thing to do successfully but if someone has the same capability as the Coens, then why not?
The weirdest thing is that I find myself arguing for something I've always disagreed with. Psycho also has the protag being offed before the end and I have called that film 'wrong' and denied it classic status for that reason. But it was me who was wrong. The film works so I should get over it.
I can be a slave to paradigms and the rules as it makes life easier and you're more likely to get a better reception for your script and a bigger audience. However, No Country for Old Men made me realise that the rules are there to serve our stories, the stories should never be slaves to the rules. Usually our stories will be better by following audience expectations but sometimes you can tell a better story by thwarting those expectations.
Expectations count a lot when seeing films. The audience expect a certain genre and as long as a film stays in genre, the film-makers can do what they want, as far as I'm concerned. There were complaints that the Coens didn't deliver what they promised. But I didn't feel like they promised me anything.
We may assume something is a set up for something further down the line but if that doesn't happen it's our assumptions that are wrong and not the film. I don't like a family drama turning into a vampire rom-com musical half way through but surprises within genres are kinda cool. It's by the Coens, it's based on a novel, all I expected was a arthousey thriller and that's what I got.
I saw Over Her Dead Body - or was forced to see it, more like - and I could predict every single beat from beginning to end. So I make no excuses for defending and admiring a film where I didn't know what the hell was going to happen next.
Clearly for some people the story doesn't work or in fact wasn't even a story. There was an over-emphasis on the theme or the theme was obvious and not worth exploring in the first place. All valid points as long as it is acknowledged that McCarthy and the Coens are entitled to tell that story and none of us should be limited in the types of story we can tell. I needed the jolt of No Country for Old Men to ditch my prejudice against novelistic style storytelling in the cinema and set my imagination free.
In the unlikely event a producer reads my script and is emotionally engaged throughout, they aren't going to care about whether the rules have been broken or whether it follows a paradigm.
Just as having a profound ending doesn't necessarily make something a masterpiece, having a plot that ties everything up in a neat little bow with a happy ending doesn't necessarily make something entertaining or interesting (c.f. Over Her Dead Body).
But what's been forgotten in the debate is that there is more than one type of audience and all can be catered for. There is no wrong and right. We should tell the stories we want to tell and explore the themes we want to explore. If other people love it then that's a bonus. If no-one loves it, then maybe it's time to compromise a little - but not before.
Once we know and understand the rules, if we want to break them then we should have the confidence to go right ahead. Ultimately, the audience will have the final word.
"But I think finales are what give stories their meaning. The stories need endings because all of our lives have endings. So a death is such an important part of drama, so how can you tell a story that doesn't involve death?" Brian K. Vaughan (link has major "Y- The Last Man" spoilers")
The Big Finish
by Terry Rossio
"Here's my iron-clad rule for how a movie should end. (How's that for taking a stance?) A good ending must be decisive, set-up, and inevitable -- but nonetheless unexpected."
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