We live in an open-ended era with question marks hovering over our lives. So maybe it isn’t surprising that a quartet of current movies conclude ambiguously, leaving their characters’ fates not on the screen but in the minds of the audience.
We spoke recently to the filmmakers in question -- those behind "Rampart," "Like Crazy," "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Shame" -- about their cryptic conclusions. Needless to say, if you haven’t seen the movies (and, really, why haven’t you?), you’ll probably want to come back to this after you’ve first formed your own conclusions.
The ending: His personal life and career in tatters, Woody Harrelson’s LAPD officer Dave Brown drives silently through the night, lost in regret.
First choice or later decision: “Rampart” originally had a substantially different ending, centering on a now-removed subplot involving bad cops, gangbangers and Officer Brown. “There was a killing spree, followed by a getting-killed thing,” Harrelson says. “When [writer-director] Oren [Moverman] first showed me a rough cut, I was a little startled.”
“No. He was shocked,” Moverman says. Midway through filming, Moverman began to feel that the dynamics of Brown’s family life were becoming the core of the movie. The shootout ending, he says, felt too “routine.”
“I felt like we had the opportunity to go deeper and shed the things more familiar from genre movies and concentrate on the interior voyage we take with this character,” Moverman adds.
Leaving the door open: “That drive is clearly a metaphor for the purgatory that he’s going to be driving in for the rest of his life,” Moverman says, “no matter if the rest of his life is five minutes from now or the next 30 years.”
The ending: Immigration issues resolved, young lovers Anna (Felicity Jones) and Jacob (Anton Yelchin) finally reunite. It’s not exactly magical. They take a tentative shower together at Jacob’s L.A. loft while the film flashes back to more innocent times. The final shot of Jacob indicates resignation but no resolution.
First choice or later decision: “We had an extra scene that was on top of that, kind of a double beat with Anna and Jacob in the loft space on opposite ends of the frame,” says writer-director Drake Doremus. “But the shower scene ended up being so strong that we just ended the film right there.”
Leaving the door open: “My favorite films have endings where the rug gets pulled from underneath you and you’re stuck dealing with your emotions,” Doremus says. “That’s what I wanted to do here. Love stories are too often tied up in a nice, neat bow, and that’s not my experience in relationships. Love is gray. They don’t have conclusive elements sometimes. This is my version of that.”
“Martha Marcy May Marlene”
The ending: Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) believes that members of her old cult have found her. She's on the way to New York with her sister and brother-in-law when their car nearly hits a man walking across the street. Is it the same, familiar-looking man that Martha saw watching her swim earlier in the day? Martha looks back. The man is still there. She’s frozen in fear.
First choice or later decision: “We never talked about anything else,” says writer-director Sean Durkin. “I never thought it would be so discussed. People always ask me what happens. And it’s pretty equally divided. Half believe she’s paranoid. Half think they’re coming to get her. We tried to give as little information as possible. I was far more interested in creating the moment and having it feel true.”
Leaving the door open: “It’s the honest way to end the movie,” Durkin says. “It takes years to recover. She’s always going to be looking over her shoulder, thinking someone’s following her. The goal was to put you in her shoes.”
The ending: Brandon (Michael Fassbender) spies on the subway the same sexy redhead (Lucy Walters) he noticed on an earlier commute. They again lock eyes. She seems very open to the idea of cutting her subway ride short. Do they or don’t they?
First choice or later decision: “When I came to New York to start production, I had an ending, but I wasn’t happy with it,” says “Shame” writer-director Steve McQueen. “And it was one of those things. I was always riding the subway to work every morning, and the ending just came to me. It felt right to circle back to that woman he saw at the beginning of the film.”
Leaving the door open: “Does he change or does he stay on the train?” McQueen muses. “I’m not making a Disney film where he falls into the arms of his new love and lives happily ever after. That’s just not the way it is with addiction. It’s a struggle, and I hope that Brandon fights it in some form. But I don’t know if he’ll ever recover.”
-- Glenn Whipp
Photo: Woody Harrelson in "Rampart." Credit: Millennium Entertainment