3 Classic Movies That Desperately Need an Epilogue
My brain is broken. Some people can watch a movie and, when the credits roll, say, "Oh, fine movie, I wonder what else I can do with my life now that the movie is over" (or however humans talk). I, on the other hand, say, "OK, fine movie, but what happened later? What happened to Spider-Man the next day? And the day after that? Hey, after Danny Ocean performed his third giant heist, was it hard for him to go back to a life that was comparatively very mundane? That must have been like Michael Jordan retiring. Was it? Ask Danny Ocean if it was. How does the little girl from E.T. eventually die? What about everyone else in every other movie? How does everyone die? I need closure on everything."
Don't get me wrong. I can understand and appreciate ambiguity in movies. I don't need to know whether or not the top in Inception falls for the same reason I don't need to know the ending to The Lady, or the Tiger: The uncertainty is the answer. There's an art and a beauty to that, and it's fine.
But I'm also a lunatic who lives for pop culture, so whenever a movie ends in a way that isn't intentionally ambiguous for the purpose of making a statement, I want an epilogue. I want to know where all the characters ended up, because I just spent two hours turning those fictional characters into my friends and I want to make sure they're OK. I want every non-Inception movie to end with a Sandlot-style voice-over, where the narrator goes through every character one by one and tells us their life stories.
I'm saying I won't be able to sleep at night until I know how every character in every movie I've ever loved died.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Three high school friends -- Ferris (the exciting and bold extrovert), Cameron (the shy and repressed introvert), and Sloane (the Girl One) -- all play hooky and spend an entire day going on a wild adventure all over Chicago. They go to a baseball game, a museum, and a fancy restaurant, and they even drive around town in a fancy car that belongs to Cameron's cold father.
Anyway, blah blah blah, after Cameron crashes the car (whoops!), Ferris has to run through town to beat his parents home because they still think he's sick in bed! He's on a race against time while he runs to a soundtrack of wacky fun music, and even though he'll be DOGMEAT if his mom and dad catch him playing hooky, he still has time to flirt with a couple of chicks who are sunbathing in their clearly wooded, clearly shady Illinois neighborhood.
Maybe Ferris was imaginary, but we believe these two were real.
Ferris makes it home right in the nick of time, fooling both his parents and that silly school principal who was chasing him throughout the whole movie. Good job, Ferris, you're the best!
The Missing Epilogue
Five more minutes. That's all I need. Just five more minutes to see what happens when Cameron's dad gets home. His oppressive father, the guy who is so cold and distant that he's turned Cameron into a socially broken train wreck. That guy.
The most interesting thing about Ferris Bueller's Day Off is that it isn't about Ferris Bueller. His best friend Cameron is the hero in this story. Cameron is the one who goes through a journey. Cameron is the one whose story has an arc, the one who grows and changes by the end of the film, the character who actually learns something. Let's compare character arcs for Ferris and Cameron using this fancy chart I had a scientist friend of mine work up:
I guess "arc" isn't the word for what Ferris goes through.
Ferris is obviously the more inherently dynamic character, and he's lots of fun to watch, but Cameron's path is infinitely more interesting. Ferris is silly and superhuman; Cameron is real.
Now what the hell happens to him??
The fact that this movie ends with Ferris dispensing some stupid life lesson about stopping to smell the roses always felt like a slap in the face to me. I'm not going to take Ferris' life advice because he's magic, and magic people have different problems from me. That might be an OK takeaway moral for you, Mr. Silly Man, Mr. Clownshoes, Mr. I-Shit-Gold-and-Everything-Works-Out-for-Me-Always, but the truth is, at the end of the day, there are more Camerons in this world than there are Ferrises. The last time we saw Cameron, he crashed an incredibly expensive car through an incredibly expensive window, both of which belonged to a stern-bordering-on-abusive father who terrifies Cameron. Cameron's father is going to come home, and maybe Cameron will finally become the hero of his own story, or maybe he and his dad will bond and finally become friends, or maybe his dad will straight murder him -- we'll never know, because John Hughes decided to drop the thread of this amazing and heavy moment and instead focus on Ferris sprinting home so his mommy and daddy don't find out he was faking being sick.
Fight Club is about a club where men fight one another with their hands and feet.
It's also about consumerism and conformity and addiction and identity, but mostly it's about fighting. The movie follows our unnamed narrator and his new friend Tyler Durden, the co-founders of the first-ever fight club. The club grows in membership and cause, and under Tyler's guidance it eventually becomes a continent-spanning terrorist organization bent on spreading chaos and overthrowing ... khakis? Something. When the neighborhood fight club evolves into Project Mayhem, our narrator decides he needs to stop the out-of-control Tyler before things go too far.
For example, Tyler was implementing radical reforms to the health care system.
By the end, we learn that (SPOILERS) there is no Tyler Durden; both the narrator and Tyler are dissociated personalities in the same body. The narrator tries to thwart "Tyler's" plans to erase global debt (by blowing up a bunch of buildings), but he is too late. He shoots himself in the cheek, which somehow kills the Tyler part of his brain while keeping the narrator part safe and in control, then his new girlfriend Marla shows up and they both watch on as all of the buildings that contain debt information explode and collapse around them.
The Missing Epilogue
I really love the ending of this movie a lot. The narrator says, "Everything's going to be fine," a second later everything blows up, and the last thing we hear is the narrator admitting, "You met me at a really strange time in my life." It's pretty beautiful.
But holy crap what happens next?! Will Project Mayhem continue, but without leadership? Is the narrator going to get arrested forever? Did "Tyler" successfully erase all debt, or was that always a really stupid plan?
Shoulda also bombed Visa's garage, where they keep their floppies.
I want an epilogue not just because fictional characters are my best friends and I'm obsessed with finding out how they're all doing even when the movie's over, but because I see Fight Club as a super compelling origin story for our narrator. He starts off dull and directionless and numb, and by the end it's like he's finally realized something deep and important, he's finally found his purpose. In my head, the epilogue to Fight Club would be all about the aftermath. Without a central leader, Project Mayhem splits into a bunch of smaller fascist/terrorist/anti-khaki organizations, and it's up to our narrator to travel all over the world thwarting and shutting down these mini Mayhem clans. That's his purpose. He and Marla need to slay the monster that Tyler created and introduce order to the chaos, making our narrator both Batman and the Joker.
Or maybe he and Marla just lie low for a while and live happily ever after. That'd be fine too, I guess.
The Breakfast Club
I sure am stickin' it to John Hughes this week.
In The Breakfast Club, a brain, a basket case, a jock, a criminal, and a princess all end up in detention one Saturday. This group of people who would otherwise never hang out in high school are forced to spend an entire day in a confined space. They play truth or dare, avoid their grumpy principal, argue, cry, laugh, smoke some weed, and do the things that John Hughes assumes high people do (choreographed dances?). They get real. They learn. They grow. Some even find love.
(Well, the pretty people find love. The socially awkward brain does everyone's homework and goes home. Alone. As he lived and will eventually die.)
Although the chance to narrate a film's closing voice-over may well be worth death and despair.
The Missing Epilogue
Did they remain friends when they went back to school on Monday? Or did they immediately return to their respective social circles and continue ignoring each other? The brain character, Brian, actually raises this point in the movie when he accosts the rest of the group because he assumes they'll go back to ignoring him when school starts up on Monday. Was he right, or did everyone change? This is important to me, because it can turn The Breakfast Club into either an amazing movie or a shitty movie.
If the kids show up to school on Monday and form a new clique that breaks down social barriers and challenges conventional high school's idea of archetypes and popularity hierarchies, that makes The Breakfast Club a piece of shit movie. If the jock and the brain become best friends and the criminal and princess start a relationship and have a family and a million babies, we'd lose the realism and honesty that was present throughout all of The Breakfast Club's non-weed-related moments. The Breakfast Club was great because it was just a slightly heightened version of reality. Throwing in a big huge happy ending makes The Breakfast Club a cartoon.
Probably a Saturday morning musical spinoff.
The right ending would have the kids all going back to their own cliques, because that's how you survive high school. The criminal goes back to being high and making fun of the brain, the princess goes back to ignoring everyone, and the jock continues doing whatever popular jocks do in high school (probably some cool, outside-the-box sex act that I still know nothing about). That ending makes The Breakfast Club heartbreaking and real and kind of a perfect movie.
"Happily ever after" kills this movie, "tragically ever after" saves it, and "super ambiguous ending" gives us nothing.
Daniel O'Brien is Cracked's Head Writer and Creative Director of Video. He is the pop culture expert for History Channel's Your Bleeped Up Brain, and if you hate TV and the Internet, you can watch him do stand-up live this Tuesday in Santa Monica.