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Happy Endings

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Oct. 3, 2020
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Who doesn't love a happy ending?

Eh, there are a good few people I've met that just turn their noses up at happy endings, because apparently according to their opinion, happy endings are for the weak.

But for all other normal people, a happy ending is a good ending… most of the times.

What makes an ending happy?

I watched a series where the main character achieved what he wanted, but in the process he lost his family, his friend, and his lover. The final scene is of him walking towards the camera in determination and triumph as the bad guys' HQ gets sabotaged and the people riot against their occupiers as he wanted them to.

Is that a happy ending? I would say no- that kind of ending is bittersweet, despite the character managing to achieve everything he wanted. Bitter for losing things that are important to him/her, sweet because he/she finally managed to see whatever goal they had actualized. For the audience though, it might be a happy ending- the greater purpose has been achieved in spades.

I also saw another series where the two main characters die while fighting for what they believe, and walk off together to the underworld, forever together and fulfilled from their lived and how they exited them.

Is that a bad ending?

I'd still call it bittersweet. But this time for the audience. We don't like to see characters we care about die, even if we're shown that they are happy on the other side. It's a visceral thing. So it's bitter because we don't like them dead, but sweet because we know they're together, and feel accomplished.

What is, though, a happy ending? A purely happy one?

It's one where all the ends of the plot are tied off in a constructive, positive outcome that pleases both the characters and the audience: the prince marries the girl; the war is won; the lost find each other again and vanquish whatever it was that separated them.

Disney (used) to be really good at happy endings. Not only was the main set of characters happy, but also everyone on the side of ‘good’ found some sort of happiness that felt organic and a direct, natural result of how the plot resolved itself.

And this is, I think, the caveat: you can't force a happy ending to the story, not, at least, in the wholesome Disney-esque way. You either build up to it through the plot, without resorting to forcing characters to do what they wouldn't, or the happy ending feels forced and fake.

If the happy ending comes across as fake, then the audience will not be happy with it. I do think that audiences prefer the ‘natural ending’ to whatever plot they're watching than a shoehorned ‘happy ending’ that wouldn't make sense.

Above all, a happy ending is one that gives catharsis, one that closes up the open circuit that is the plot, and sends you off feeling fulfilled of emotions and experience for having watched it.

Sometimes the death of the main character IS the happy ending… or it is the proper ending.

What do you think about happy endings? How do you define them for your stories?

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comment

anonymous?

bravo1102 at 10:03AM, Oct. 3, 2020

Spoofed quite well in the classic "Fifteen minute Hamlet" where the five minute version is everyone coming on stage,saying a line and dropping dead.

bravo1102 at 10:01AM, Oct. 3, 2020

Hamlet is actually as easy as having the other sword in the end duel not be poisoned so Hamlet survives. Ophelia doesn't die and comes to her senses upon seeing Hamlet again. Happy ending no less contrived than the "everyone must die" of the tragedy.

bravo1102 at 9:58AM, Oct. 3, 2020

Happy endings were written for most of Shakespeare's tragedies during the 18th century. Romeo and Juliet is pretty easy as the tragic ending is admittedly forced and artificial. That Scottish play (still superstitious) does have a satisfying ending with Macbeth's death and the triumph of the rightful king. Having Macbeth survive would be hard to take. Othello or Hamlet would be weird but they were written and performed.

PaulEberhardt at 8:58AM, Oct. 3, 2020

Fun fact: a forced happy ending, irrespective of whether it makes any sense is called a "Vienna ending". It's because in the late 18th century the Austro-Hungarian emperor decreed that all plays staged in the royal theatre have to end on a happy note, so as not to depress his subjects. This made for rather weird versions of Macbeth, say. When he died his successor scrapped this law first thing.

skreem at 8:00AM, Oct. 3, 2020

Endings? This is madness, comics don't have endings... just a complicated bit with a scientist that brings everyone back to life/resets the plot. annnnd then it's back to the high jinks, just in time for tea and issue 2.

Ozoneocean at 7:43AM, Oct. 3, 2020

Love a good happy satisfying ending :)

usedbooks at 4:37AM, Oct. 3, 2020

(I would also like to note that stage musicals clearly don't directly translate to screen musicals well, especially in terms of endings. Sweeny Todd ending would have been excellent on stage. It just isn't a proper movie ending. )

usedbooks at 4:24AM, Oct. 3, 2020

Most people I know disliked the ending of Into the Woods because it's sad. That's not the reason I disliked it. I disliked it because they broke the theme. It was a tale of loss. The ending characters walk off together having each experienced a terrible loss. For it to have been a *good* (not happy) ending for me, it needed another character. Near the end, they kill a giant. Then they discover the giant has a mother who is very upset. They kill her too. But she would fit the theme. She should have lived on with grief like the others. That would have made it a satisfying (albeit still tragic) ending for me.

bravo1102 at 4:20AM, Oct. 3, 2020

A lot of this goes back to the Hayes Code and major studios in classic Hollywood. There was a certain formula to endings. The guy gets the girl, bad people get their comeuppance and audiences must be satisfied. Certain characters and actors just won't be accepted by the movie going public as doing certain things. And wring doing must be punished. Run petrol to the Japanese in China? Doesn't matter how heroic the character becomes later, still has to die-- but very heroically.

usedbooks at 4:01AM, Oct. 3, 2020

Some of my less enjoyed endings include The Princess Bride, which doesn't even conclude anything. Really lame. And Sweeny Todd, not because of who lives and dies but because it just stops without any conclusion or postscript for the characters we got to know. While I understand they wanted to end with the artistic and dramatic imagery and fade to black or whatever, it isn't satisfying. Good art is not always good writing.

usedbooks at 3:57AM, Oct. 3, 2020

Corpse Bride is another favorite ending for me. Somewhat unexpected too. It's just very satisfying for all.

usedbooks at 3:52AM, Oct. 3, 2020

Btw, Erased is on Hulu and Netflix. If you aren't into subtitles, it is available dubbed in English (very well-dubbed imo). I've seen it both ways twice... and bought the DVD.

usedbooks at 3:43AM, Oct. 3, 2020

I am most satisfied when a writer can realistically wrap up all ends and make things good. One of the absolute best endings I have seen is the anime Erased. The story starts with the main character's mother murdered. The murder occurs because of a serial killer in the man's childhood who was never caught. So he goes into the past to solve the case and prevent his mom's murder. That alone would have been a satisfying ending, especially with the very dark events (the killer murders small children). But holy cow, the actual results are beyond expectations, cleverly and realistically reached, and the protagonist's character is revealed as being superlatively heroic. So, give it a watch before I drop spoilers on you. Just be prepared for some dark themes along the way. (Another good time travel anime happy ending is Stein;s Gate. In both series, you feel a bittersweet one in the makes, but they happy it right up and do so very well.)

Andreas_Helixfinger at 2:50AM, Oct. 3, 2020

Well, to me the definition of a happy ending basically plays out as follows: "The main characters comes to terms with who they are and with the world the way it truly is." Wether or not they manage to get what they want in life, they still manage to discover/obtain or preserve what is necessary in life. In the end something has been gained for the characters and for the audience that is of satisfaction. Bittersweet to me is when it comes with a large prize that leaves the characters somewhat overtaxed, perhaps a dear character was sacrificed, which comes off as less satisfying then the audience would have wished. But no matter how things end it indeed has to mesh with the context and setup of the story. Kratos from the video game "God of War", a walking tradegy rather then a hero, shouldn't have a "happy ending". A man who has taken so many lifes, including the ones of his own wife and daughter, in murderous rage, is too unlikely to have happy things coming for him in the end.

hushicho at 2:24AM, Oct. 3, 2020

More often, it's pretension that brings forth claims of hating happy endings or, worse, satisfying ones appropriate for the narrative. If I want a story with no point and no hope or optimism to it, which ultimately comes to nothing, I'll read the news. It seems rather meaningless to seek that in entertainment that someone has gone to great effort to craft and direct. A story should have meaning. Art should, in my opinion, always have some meaning, so that the conversation is completed by its enjoyment or understanding.

hushicho at 2:17AM, Oct. 3, 2020

I'll start off by saying that it is almost never a good ending, nor a satisfying one, if the hero dies as the ending. People are just not good enough writers to ever pull that off consistently. I do think it's important an ending be fulfilling, even if it doesn't end up being an archetypal "happy ending". If you look at Suspiria, for example, the ending is happy in some senses but very much not in others, yet it is an extremely satisfying ending and rather cathartic. To use a well-known example, though, in contrast, the original story of The Little Mermaid is miserable and has a terrible ending that isn't at all appropriate or satisfying, but Disney made it much more satisfying and, what's more, appropriate to the story they told in the time they told it.


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