Happily Never After
I am a sucker for a good happy ending. It provides good closure. The bad guy gets caught, the hero and damsel end up together, and all is well. This is true for anything, in my opinion. Books, TV shows, movies-- whatever. No matter how rugged and rough the journey is, a happy ending always wraps up the loose strings and leave you with a strong sense of satisfaction. Happy endings seem perfect, but in reality, they are far from perfection. Tragedies. Now that's where it's at.
Tragedies never turn out right. That's the very definition of them. They leave you feeling deprived with a hole that can't be filled. But that deprivation is something we yearn for, as human beings. The best selling books, movies and plays in the world are tragedies. Andrew Laeddis doesn't stop hallucinating. Cobb's totem doesn't stop spinning. Romeo and Juliet don't live happily ever after. There's always something small that gets in the way of the happy ending, turning the entire story sad and creating a large hole. Since that hole, which would usually be filled with the closure of "happily ever after," can't be filled by these movies, we go about trying to fill it in different ways.
Most commonly, we try to fill the hole by analyzing. It's what your brain wants to do. The human brain wants to think and have something to dissect or work through. For that same reason, people do crosswords and Sudoku's and riddles. However, analyzing a movie or book doesn't have to be that formal. No one normal sits down during a movie with a pen and paper to write the events, themes or motifs, or to jot down characteristics of the main characters so they can later go though and properly analyze this piece of fiction. Yet all of us analyze movies and books constantly. It tends to start with question of, "Why?! Why didn't that work out?!" and most of us probably think that's where it ends because we continue analyzing so subtly. But, let's be honest, the thoughts never stop at asking why. They will always try to answer why and to find meaning.
And finding meaning is what humans really want. Even the couch potatoes want to think and find meaning. No one has ever sat down and said, "I hope I think so little today that my brain actually withers." As they lounge on their couches, they still think about the show they're watching. Their mind keeps track of the story line of each individual show. Their mind mulls over the characters to find likable traits and connects with the characters. Their mind uncovers the puns and jokes that make the shows watchable. That's where the genius of tragic movies and TV shows come in. Everyone can watch and enjoy and dissect until they can find a lesson in the tragedy that a happy ending just can't provide. Happy endings already have all the loose ends tied. They don't leave you wondering. They leave you satisfied. What kind of a lesson can you draw from that?
For an English class I took in high school, we read a play called Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. It's a tragicomedy about two men, Vladimir and Estragon, who are waiting by a tree to meet a man named Godot, who said he'd meet them there later that day. Vladimir and Estragon waste their day talking to two travelers who pass them and talking to each other, until at the end of the day Godot sends a little boy to tell Vladimir and Estragon that he won't make it that day, but he'll be able to meet with them tomorrow.
The next day, Vladimir wakes up to find than Estragon has changed overnight. He's much more scared and he can't remember anything that happened the day before. Vladimir tries to write him off as being crazy and forgetful, until the same two travelers pass them again. The travelers are also different, acting completely the opposite of how they had been the day before, and they show no memory of having met Vladimir and Estragon. Similarly, Estragon doesn't remember meeting them. Only Vladimir remembers anything that happened the day before, and only he remembers that they are waiting for Godot by the tree. Vladimir is concerned about this, until night falls again and the same little boy comes to tell Vladimir and Estragon that Godot won't make it today, but he'll be able to meet with them tomorrow. Vladimir gets excited to see this boy and begs him to say that he remembers coming the day before, but the boy doesn't remember anything of the sort. It ends with Vladimir thinking he's gone mad.
After we read the play, we had to write a paper about what we thought Godot was supposed to represent. Many people in the world believe that Godot is supposed to represent God, but when asked about that in an interview, Beckett responded by saying, "If I had wanted Godot to be God, I would've called him God." I took this to mean that Godot couldn't represent any one thing, and ended up writing that Godot represented anything you wasted time waiting for. Given this, Beckett is showing the world that you can't wait for your life to be handed to you, and you have to go out and make your life happen. Beckett is saying you should be proactive, not reactive and that it's absolutely necessary to make your life your own, instead of living for someone else.
Now, had Godot showed up in the end and made everything right for Vladimir and Estragon, I would have never been able to draw that meaning. Had this not been a tragedy, I would have had nothing to write about. Similarly, lessons are harder to draw from happy endings. You can still find a moral, sure, but they aren't as effective. When it comes to teaching life lessons, scare tactics are much more prominent. From happy ever after, you learn how your life could turn out. You learn how perfect your life could be. But people will settle for less than perfect, as long as they'll still be happy. From happily never after, you learn how easy it is to mess your life up. You learn how you don't want your life to be and what you have to do to avoid that kind of miserable nightmare.
I am a total sucker for happily ever afters, but I don't like them. I much prefer to be left with loose strings dangling in my mind.
The end. I got an A, and my professor wrote, "Interesting thinking. I like the way you set up the idea and then moved into Beckett. (That play seems perfect for what you're discussing.) One question: do you like unhappy endings more because they create a sort of poignant feeling of loss, or more because you see what not to do in your own life? (In other words, is it the catharsis or the lesson you're after?)" He also wrote, regarding the part where I talk about the mind uncovering jokes and puns, "Do you think this is conscious? It's an intriguing point."