More often that not when a person starts a film they expect to receive all the answers to their questions by the end and if they don’t, they feel cheated. If they come across an ambiguous ending they get frustrated because they’ve invested all this time into…what? All of the mysteries they’ve pondered over are left unsaid. All of the questions, secrets, and situations are still up in the air and that’s not what the audience asked for. They didn’t want to come all this way to find out they’ve been walking in a circle; they wanted a proper ending with problems solved.
I understand that, I do, but I’m here to defend the ambiguous ending. I love ambiguity. I’m the type of person who can defend the finale of Lost until the day I die. I was glad that every single mystery wasn’t bluntly answered and handed to the audience in a neatly sealed envelope. I find it more realistic to not answer all the big questions because in life do we rarely receive any vindication. For me, the ambiguous ending represents the idea that all of the world’s answers will not be given to you; there will be no signs with big flashing lights banners being strung across the sky. By all means, search for that closure if you need to, but realize that it may not come in the form you want and it may not arrive at all. As overused as the saying is, the ambiguous ending really is all about the journey rather than the destination. I find it important to see a character pulling through despite all the nagging mysteries huddled around them. I like to see a character find their way in the dark, just as clueless as the audience, and to see that character come to their own version of the destination or to continue searching.
What I mean by an alternate destination is that once and while with an ambiguous ending a character will come to a conclusion that strays away from the initial inquiry.The ending is still ambiguous because the audience still doesn’t have answers to the original questions. Viewers still get upset over this type of ending because questions are being answered or brought up that they didn’t want. But does having every situation summed up at the end neatly and perfectly really come across as satisfying? Think about it. Isn’t half the fun coming up with solutions for yourself? We really take on the role of the detective when we watch these films or read these novels and while we want a reward for our hard work as investigators, all the excitement vanishes the second those answers come. At least with a few mysteries left unsaid, you’re free to debate and scout until you run out of breath.
Now, you might say ambiguity is lazy writing because it seems like the author didn’t care enough to finish the story, but I would whole heartily disagree, I find the ambiguous ending courageous because these authors know people will hound them about it and yet they do it anyways because sometimes a story is too large to be neatly wrapped up. For this reason I have great difficulty in enjoying anything by Charles Dickens because he loved to tightly seal every situation up at the end and inform his readers where these characters would be years from the story’s last page. The truth is, I don’t want to see all of these events magically work themselves out. If they can be easily fixed then it makes me wonder how dyer these circumstances were in the first place. The ramifications seemed to be nothing a good can of frabreeze can’t fix and I wonder if these characters have learned anything at all. I feel like they’re pulling a Scoobey Doo and after this mystery conveniently works its way out, the characters will go back to riding around in their van with any inkling of character development erased until a new mystery appears and then the cycle will repeat itself time after time just in a different format.
I realize that I’ll need to apologize to all the Dickens and Scoobey Doo fans out there, but I’m not saying either story is bad; I just love stories that leave off. Imagine an episode where in the very last minute Scoobey and Shaggy find themselves in an abandoned warehouse. They hear footsteps behind them and when they turn around Shaggy says, “Scoobs, is that-?” and then a black screen – credits. Meanwhile the rest of the gang is in turmoil somewhere, maybe one is trapped in the Black Lodge, who knows? And that’s it, that’s all there is. I know that’s too dark for a kid’s show, but this is the type of ending that leaves an audience thinking. In one of my classes I read “Crying of Lot 49” and the ending made me fall in love with Thomas Pynchon. He ends the story at the climax with his protagonist walking into a room where she’ll (supposedly) find the answer to the mystery she’s been investigating throughout the novel. Once she gets in the room the book just ends. I don’t know if she dies, if she finds her answer, or if it’s nothing more than a dead end. The book just ends and I loved it. I remember in class the next day we had a discussion about the ending and one guy mentioned that the novel would be ruined for him if the mystery was solved. It would be ruined either because he would have seen the solution coming or because it wouldn’t of been as grand as he imagined.
What reals us into these stories is the mystery and to have that mystery still linger afterwards, keeps us hooked. The story stays with us because we’re still trying to figure it out or we’re wondering what it all meant. In most cases the neatly sealed envelope ending is forgotten. Everything is wrapped up and finished and we forget because there is nothing left to get us thinking. The ambiguous ending holds more meaning and symbolism than we can scramble to find and keeps us searching. There’s always a new Easter egg within it to pick up on, there’s always a hint, a foreshadowing, a note, anything that makes us see how enormous the picture actually is. Nothing is frabreezed, it’s just “this is how it is. What does it mean? Does it mean anything? Go.”