Everybody loves a happy ending. I’m talking about in entertainment, not massages… No, you know what, I’m talking about both. The thing is, a happy ending isn’t as simple as it seems, massages not withstanding. There are plenty of films out there that purport to have a feel good ending that flies in the face of serious thinking, and plenty of ‘heroes’ who cause more pain and misery on their way to their happily ever after than the villain ever did. So what, exactly, is happy?
I’ll issue the standard spoiler warning. I obviously can’t talk about happy endings without talking about endings. Here’s a list:
Back To The Future I & II
Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog
If you have not seen any of the above, and don’t wish to be spoiled, then tread carefully through this post. For the rest of you, read on.
Sometimes an ending is only happy if you don’t think about it too hard. Look at Back To The Future. In Part II, they are trying to restore the 1985 they are used to after mistakenly producing a hellish one by allowing past biff to get his hands on a sports almanac. Happily, they succeed. Now look at the end of part I. Marty returns to a 1985 where his parents, and even his enemies, are fundamentally different. He brought about the very same corruption of the timeline that he sought to reverse the second time around. Everyone he knew or loved, his entire native reality, is either wiped from existence or utterly unreachable. His new parents are yuppies, Biff is now a subservient lackey (Who might I add has still got a devious streak, since he would eventually be the one who went back in time to deliver the book.) This is a “happy” ending, though, because it worked out well for Marty and Doc Brown.
In discussing the Back To The Future issue with a friend, he suggested that it was a happy ending because Marty, in conversation with his Principle, said that “History is going to change.” And since he indeed changed history, the ending his happy because he achieved his stated goals. I’ll freely admit that achieving your goals is something to strive toward, it doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. Dr. Horrible (of Sing-a-long Blog fame) wanted to be accepted into the Evil League of Evil. Generally, what with him being a villain, we would consider any success in that regard to be a sad ending, but he’s a villain protagonist, so we’ll call success in his goals a happy ending. Except, in defeating his arch-nemesis, he killed the woman he loved. That ending SHOULD be bittersweet at best, but he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, so if goal fulfillment is the only criteria for a happy ending, then it was the absolute best possible outcome.
Taken is a film where our hero has his daughter… taken. He gives her good advice, and she and her mother mindfully ignore all of it and pay dearly. When the time comes for Daddy to fix everything, he calmly states his intention to kill everyone involved with the abduction. Sure enough, he does so, and the daughter is safe. Now, I love this movie, and I won’t argue that this ending wasn’t happy, but our hero cuts a bloody swath through the underworld. He is a murderer many times over. First degree murder, in fact. He flat out said he would do it. Sure, he was killing bad people, but he killed and injured far more people, and damaged far more property, than he had to. He rescued one girl, a girl who was doubtlessly already psychologically scarred, and killed half a gang to do it. In essence, the only thing that made that this a happy ending was that, this time, the bigger psycho was on our side.
Then there’s Signs. A Pre-“Went Completely Insane” Mel Gibson plays a holy man who has lost his faith. Then aliens attack. Aliens who mysteriously attacked a planet which has a surface over two thirds submerged in a substance that is lethal to them. A planet with a high atmospheric content of said lethal substance. A planet inhabited by creatures who are 80% composed of said lethal substance. A planet where this liquid, which is lethally corrosive to them, literally FALLS FROM THE SKY at regular intervals. Aliens who wear not even the simplest protection… okay, I’m getting off track. Aliens attack and an impossible sequence of coincidences allow him to save his boy. At the end, he his seen putting on his collar once more, faith restored… But wait. The bible doesn’t say anything about aliens. Hell, it barely says anthing about demons, for that matter. The very presence of this threat should have wiped away every last shred of trust he had in his own religion. Sure, he could have become convinced that there is a higher power beyond his understanding who is working for the greater good, but he’d still have to concede that the Christians at the very least did not have the whole picture. That collar makes the ending not happy, but confusing!
I love a happy ending, and I don’t even mind if they are subversive. I only ask that, if your happiness is going to be dubious, maybe toss in an acknowledgment. Maybe have Mel start his own version of Christianity that casts aliens as demons. Maybe have Liam get hauled away to spend a commuted sentence and smile in jail and say it was worth it. Give us a hint that you know happiness is relative and subjective. Otherwise we’re liable to think you are crazy.