Monday, February 4, 2008

Why I Hate Happy Endings -- A Mild Existential Rant

We’re making an attempt at church to laugh more.  Hence, Friday Movie Night.  For our debut, we screened <em>Something’s Gotta Give</em>.  Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Keanu Reeves.  Love triangle.  Clever dialogue.  Mild inoffensive symbolism and metaphorical subtext.  Some partial nudity with energetic overacting.

Funny, yes.  Which surprised me.  My sense of humor is usually skewed toward biting and vulgar, sweet and vulgar, cerebral and vulgar.  I mean, I’m the girl who confessed that my sacred moment this Christmas was watching a Santa suit-clad Billy Bob Thornton -- drunken and half-dressed -- crawl up a driveway in a hail of gunfire to deliver a blood-splattered stuffed elephant to this kid he’d been trying to rob for most of the movie.

So surprised, yes, that I laughed.  Until I got pissed off.  And what pissed me off was the Hollywood ending.  See, Diane falls in love with Jack against her better judgment -- against her will even -- and even though he’s in love with her too, he can’t admit it, articulate it, express it.  They separate.  She gets involved with Keanu (smart, funny, adoring) Jack has an anxiety attack/faux heart attack and changes himself into a man worthy of her. Tracks her down to Paris, finds her with Keanu.  The three share dinner -- lots of flirtatious bonding and emotional poignancy between Jack and Diane -- and then, THEN, Diane kisses him goodbye -- awkward and tender -- and she gets in a cab and he stands on a bridge as the snow falls in the Paris night and says to himself, “Now who’s the girl, huh?”

The end.

I wish.

No.  Of course not.  Diane screeches back in her cab and says I never really stopped being in love with you and he says you have just made my life.  Big embrace.  Cut to warm-hearted montage six months in the future -- family dinner, granddaughter on knee, laughter and Italian food.  Tasteful rich furnishings.  Paul Simon playing.

The end.

Phooey.  The whole point of the movie was that pain makes you.  It beats open your heart, beats it bloody, and in that empty broken space -- tilled now, fertile -- something grows.  And that something is you.  And you are finally true then.  That’s the gift of pain, that cracking open.  And to suggest that that’s not enough -- that somehow there must be a happy ending -- is a violation of the principle.  It cheapens the experience, makes it about the feel-good and not the feeling.

I remember disagreeing with a friend once about the movie <em>Garden State</em>.  He wanted it to end with the girl sobbing in the airport phone booth, the love of her life on a plane back to California.  I liked the real ending better -- the guy rushing back down the escalator, saying no, I’m not going, that was a stupid idea and I’m not doing it.  I told my friend it had grown on me, that ending.

It think it was because THAT ending was about the rejection of big ideas that sound really Wise and Profound but are, nonetheless, stupid.  There is no template for life, no script.  Stay or go.  Win the girl, lose her forever.  It’s a moment, not a scene.  It may not make sense or be fair or foreshadow a significant epiphany.  It may not be part of something bigger.  It may just be, but that’s the most important thing of all.

So maybe I've changed my mind about <em>Garden State</em> too.  Maybe I want him on that plane, tears behind and tears before.

I’ve grown disillusioned with stories as ways of making meaning.  Life has no arc.  Its symbols are accidental and haphazard.  The character development isn't clear, isn’t progressive, isn't always satisfying.  Our brains crave stories, have evolved to process patterns and linear narratives and make meaning from them.  We get confused and lost without our stories.

But sometimes life refuses to make a story.

I wanted that movie to end with beautiful black night and new snow and all alone with nowhere to go.  I wanted that to be enough, I really did.