Let's Discuss: Movie Endings, Specifically 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' And 'Warrior'

Warning: The following article contains spoilers regarding the ending of the movies, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “Warrior”.

You’ve watched a movie that is so marvelous, you can barely think of what is coming around the bend because you are so absorbed in all of the events that are being portrayed. The movie has you enraptured, deeply within its grasp and then…it ends.

Not just any ending though, a completely ‘Where the heck did that come from?’ ending. Sometimes the movie does not even give you that, it just ends abruptly with the screenwriter expecting you to finish where they left off and make up your own ending.

This can culminate in hours of frustration and obsessive bristling whenever the film is brought up or mentioned, in the future. At first, you remember it fondly until, your mind warps back to remind you of the hauntingly unfinished ending that permeated the rest of the film.

Watching Elizabeth Olsen in her breakout performance in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” was a captivating film experience. The story followed the troubled mind of a young woman who had escaped a cult by fleeing to her estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson).

What was Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) hiding? Who was she running from? For 1 hour and 42 minutes, the engrossing mystery would be all-consuming. What was so horrible? What is going to happen if the cult catches up with her? What exactly happened while she was in the cult?

Some of these questions would be answered but the film had begged too many. When the brutal truth is revealed to the audience, it feels like the jump start to a climax. That would not be the case. After believing she has seen one of the cult members at her sister’s party sends her into a full blown breakdown, Martha is sent to treatment.

On her way there, a car follows the one she’s in with a possible cult member inside. As Martha keeps looking back, the movie ends. That’s it, the end.

There are ambiguous endings and this was literally not an ending. The movie just stopped. There was no satisfaction or closure whatsoever. The audience had been strung along enough to warrant an ending.

It could be understood and be given absolution in terms of creative significance, if writer/director Sean Durkin’s point was to say that, in the end, she will never truly escape the cult and her life will always mean looking over her shoulder. However, the movie could have gone about sharing the message in a more constructive way. It was a brilliant film, until its most crucial moment.

Now we turn to the ending of another film. Written and directed by Gavin O’Connor, 2011's “Warrior” told the parallel story of two brothers, Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton), both battling the wounds of a broken family, as they train and compete in an MMA tournament.

Anchored by the spectacular and emotionally charged performances of Hardy and Nick Nolte, the film is ravenously engrossing. As the film unravels the brothers' respective struggles, it is Tommy who emerges as the exceedingly more sympathetic of the two.

Coming on the precipice of the film’s climax is the revelation of what’s behind Tommy’s rage. His reasons are justifiable and one of the sources of that anger is the betrayal of his brother/competitor. By the time, the film is at its conclusion; Brendan had lost any of my personal sympathy.

The question of what happened to Tommy became the sole focus. The answer is that he ends up being beaten by his lousy brother in a past credulity victory. Afterwards, he is presumably arrested (long story). No happy or clear ending for him. Meanwhile, the other brother makes off with the prize.

Perhaps many were satisfied with the forgiveness Tommy gave Brendan in the ring, a supposed resolution to their troubled relationship. But after Brendan had just broken his own brother’s arm to win, I wasn’t feeling it. Suffice it to say, there was a major disconnect, when the credits rolled amidst all of the turmoil for Tommy’s character. His story deserved the most resolution and viewers were left completely hanging.

Movies need to have actual endings and while there doesn’t need to be complete resolution; ending things in a way that brings about some closure would be appreciated. The reason a lot of audiences have noticed this trend towards “realism” is due to the amount of indie filmmakers that have broken into mainstream films. In the independent film-scape there is a desire to keep things authentic by leaving out the feel good ending. I have always appreciated that about their technique, it just needs some balance. The end.

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