6 Off-Screen Tragedies That Follow Happy Movie Endings
Everyone knows that Hollywood doles out more cheap happy endings than a discount bathhouse. The lovers embrace, the adventurer escapes certain death, and the superhero saves the world every time. It's delicious baloney in a sandwich of lies. But what most people don't realize is that happy endings exist not because of how they're resolved but when.
Take any given story and extend it past the credit roll for even an hour, and the logical series of events range from horribly depressing to downright catastrophic. Suddenly the most feel-goody finales become ironic pain processions and common "happy" endings are exposed as the tragic fib they really are. Whip out the Xanax, because I'm about to shit all over your hearts.
Every Child In A Sci-Fi Or Adventure Is Going To Need Therapy (Or Worse)
Terminator 2's ending isn't exactly a beacon of laughter and cheer, but (ignoring the eventual sequels) at least the world isn't ending, right? Sarah and John Connor successfully destroy Cyberdyne's CPU and robot arm, and Miles Dyson heroically manages to explode all his data so that no one can follow in his footsteps.
When really all he needed to do was wait for Cyberdyne to upgrade to Windows 10.
It's bittersweet, but the man becomes a martyr so his adorable children will live on killer-bot-free. Remember those lovable scamps?
"Complete, loving families are the best!"
Sure you do. Thank god they don't have to grow up in a nuclear universe and instead will live in one where their father goes insane and blows up his place of work. Because, you'll recall, no one will know why Dyson destroyed Cyberdyne. No one except his wife, who will either keep that to herself or be committed for screaming about cyborg Austrians. And so there is no circumstance where Miles Dyson doesn't leave a trail of psychiatry bills and confused memories. Just like how one day a man named Pinocchio will be constantly second-guessing the vague memory that he was once a bewitched puppet.
"He's having puppet and donkey flashbacks? OK, we're doubling his treatment sessions."
How much do you remember when you were Pinocchio's age? I'm guessing only what your parents told you. Now imagine that your parent is a 90-year-old woodworker insisting he assembled you from oak and a celestial pact with a sexy phantom. And these two cases are probably the best scenarios compared to what a kid like Tim Murphy will go through. He was the 9-year-old dinosaur fanatic whose hobby was twisted into a grotesque blackness forever inside him thanks to a weekend at Jurassic Park.
"Grandpa Hammond, can you please stop giving me that stuff for my birthdays?"
"Look, I've got millions in Jurassic Park merchandise sitting in a warehouse; it's gotta go somewhere."
The amount of emotional scarring that must have haunted this character is so over-the-top that someone made a spoof Twitter account for it. Not to mention the brief period of time between the first film and Lost World where Tim has no one to consult for his trauma, as InGen's cover-up means there are zero psychologists or peers that would think of him as anything but a compulsive liar or some kind of dinosaur-seeing schizophrenic. But hey, at least he eventually gets to tell his story, unlike Elliott in E.T. or that kid from Flight Of The Navigator -- both of which no doubt had to emotionally bury their touching alien encounters like some kind of cursed treasure.
Stopping The Apocalypse At The Last Second Isn't Actually Stopping The Apocalypse
There's a triumphant moment in the 1989 Batman where our hero saves Gotham by hooking onto The Joker's poison-filled floats and flying them out of the city.
"To New Jersey you go!"
Such heroism in the face of festive terror. Only nobody seems to pay mind to the fact that Batman just released a bunch of toxic clouds into god knows where. Eventually, some poor town outside of Metropolis will be overrun with death-gas while the Caped Crusader gets a misplaced pat on the back. Cut to 20-plus years later and the Bat is still pulling this shit.
"You either die the hero or live long enough to possibly create Godzilla."
Don't get me wrong: I'm not blaming Batman for saving Gotham at the end of Dark Knight Rises, but it's pretty weird that the coastal detonation of a fusion reactor is somehow treated like an all-clear moment -- as under- and overwater nuclear tests have been known to affect and contaminate from hundreds of miles away. One would think that the statue money they use at the end would be better suited for making what's left of their once-evaporated drinking water mutagen-free. In fact ... how is Gotham still a functional city after all of the harrowing terrorism they've endured? Sure they were saved by a nuclear bomb, but that was after all their sewer pipes, bridges, rail systems, and stadium exploded.
"Do- Do we still win? I mean, I did score."
It totally makes sense that films like Civil War and Batman V Superman are finally exploring this dynamic, but what always bothered me was how no one seemed to worry about this in the immediate moments following these cascades of 9/11-level violence.
"Hey, are anyone else's ears ringing with the screams of the innocent?"
At the end of X2, literally every single person in the world suffers from agony seizures at the same time -- no doubt causing an unfathomable amount of car, construction, and plane accidents. Not to mention all the infants, elderly, and sick people that flat-out died. Oh, and since mutants and humans are attacked in two separate events ... guess how many people were just outed for having special powers? Hint: It's fucking all of them.
Somewhere, Gambit just exploded a perfectly good card game.
It's hard to pretend like you've saved humanity when a huge percentage of it just fell into irreversible darkness. And that's what I'm getting at: Saving the world at the last second isn't saving the world at all. You can't explode Galactus after he's already been eating the world for five minutes and pretend like the entire ecosystem, orbit, plant life, and stability of the Earth hasn't been permanently compromised to the point of mass extinction. Did you ever think that's why we never got another Fantastic Four sequel? Because the world fucking ended?
OK, maybe THAT isn't why ...
Toppling A Futuristic Dystopia Is Just Going To Make The World Worse
Probably the more disastrous result than saving the world from a supervillain is saving it from itself -- something we love to see the hero do in countless dystopian revolutionary films like V For Vendetta, Avatar, Snowpiercer, The Matrix, Surrogates, and hell ... let's throw in Spaceballs -- the film where a planet of Assholes try to steal the air from another planet.
"Space is actually already full vacuum." -Neil deGrasse Tyson, Probably
What a fucking movie. For those who haven't seen it (you goddamn disgraces), the heroes blow up the villains' gigantic robot space maid before she's able to steal the air -- effectively leaving an entire other society of men, women, and children to slowly suffocate to death on planet Spaceball.
"Only life can pay for death."
This is the exact same situation in Avatar -- the heroes defiantly send the humans back to an Earth plagued by dwindling resources. Again, the dying planet is being represented by total dicks, but the idea that two groups of people can't peacefully solve the death of trillions shouldn't be seen through some victorious lens. No one wins at the end of that film.
Especially the audience.
But we haven't even gotten to the more literal dystopias run by machines or some kind of tyrannical regime or social disease. Films like The Matrix end when the hero manages to unhook everyone from the clutches of some false world around them, totally forgetting that maybe it's OK when compared to the bleak alternative.
"Thank Neo, my eyes are now open to the chilling void of reality."
Not unlike everyone who dies from being unplugged in The Matrix, the movie Surrogates is about a world where most people live through remote-controlled robot versions of themselves ... only to be simultaneously unplugged in the film's "happy" resolution:
You fools! This is why you never update iOS right away!
While no one dies from being unplugged, it's yet another X2 moment where planes are howling out of the sky in fiery blasts, the entire economy takes a big wet fart, and humans are suddenly forced to repair the damage without the emotional and physical protection of their surrogate machines. Chances are they'll spend most of their rebuild efforts simply trying to fix their safety clones and nothing will actually change.
Because while it totally sucks that we might someday live in some cold, deserted world where power is unbalanced and man is a slave -- the alternative of sticking a wrench in the system just wipes us the fuck out like at the end of Snowpiercer. Hey, grunge Chris Evans ... did you ever think that maybe derailing the last scrap of humanity isn't such a great idea? But sure, let's go ahead and pretend the man-eating polar bear is some kind of beacon of hope and not ... you know, a man-eating polar bear. Way to go, you derailing asshole.
"Oh look, humans! I haven't had one of those in a while!"
Whenever The Hero Willingly Continues His Adventures, It's A Cry For Help
One of the most soul-chilling endings of any series has to be when Doc Brown shows up in his time-traveling steampunk train at the end of Back To The Future III.
"Those who do not meddle with history are doomed to repeat it!"
This is horrifying for two reasons: 1) Doc has spawned two dead-eyed abominations with a woman who was supposed to die in the 1800s, and 2) the entire Back To The Future series is about how Doc Brown regrets tinkering with time travel, only to completely forget that and build a giant temporal "fuck you" at the end. And to make it worse, literally the last line of the movie is Doc saying that he's not using it to go to the future ... making this ending a precursor to the universe imploding on itself when Doc's flying locomotive blindly screeches through the past and ends up running over John Adams or some shit. Nothing about this moment is good, and to a lesser extent it happens all the time in movies.
If only that compass could point you to a decent sequel, Jack.
Every time Jack Sparrow fucks off to another adventure, we're seeing the start of countless deaths and a perpetual state of unrest for that character. When Ethan Hunt spends an entire mission nearly dying and being betrayed by his agency, it's a fucking tragedy when the film ends with him accepting yet another assignment. Every exciting sequel hook means that characters like The Avengers and James Bond and Batman are living in a world where they either can't have a normal life or are willingly unable to settle down. Characters like John McClane can be at the wrong place at the wrong time only so many times before the clear antagonist has to be God's vengeful will.
"I think the Bible is very clear about my feelings on the word 'motherfucker,' John."
The ending of Interstellar is Matthew McConaughey sneaking off the space station to find Anne Hathaway on the other side of the black hole he just burned 60 years exploring. Could the man who saved humanity not simply ask an expedition to go do that for him? Wouldn't we need to send a team anyway, since she's found a habitable planet? Why are we happy that a man who has to be suffering from insane trauma just runs away to space? That's almost as sad as the elderly Indiana Jones' unending pain-trek through countless magical adventures until he dies in some ancient ditch.
Or gets stabbed on a bridge by Shia LaBeouf.
Divorced Lovers Who Reunite In An Emergency Will Just Get Divorced Again
The most depressingly realistic moment of The Force Awakens is the revelation that Leia and Han are now separated after the events of Jedi, having built a relationship around constant danger and emotional extremism.
It's super easy to say "I love you" when the recipient is being turned into a dungeon ornament.
This is also why the first two Die Hard films end with McClane reconciling with his wife, but begin with him in the doghouse. To quote '90s philosophy, "Relationships that start under intense circumstances never last."
Especially if you can wiggle out of your contract.
But despite this seemingly obvious truth, disaster movies seem to pathologically double as a bringer of false hope for any joint-custody kid ... because every single one of them ends with an estranged couple getting back together.
I'm not a relationship expert, but if it takes a literal apocalypse to overcome your differences,
maybe you should see other people.
Let's go ahead and start with the fact that most of the time, this reconciliation comes at the cost of ditching some current lover through a breakup or, in the case of 2012 and San Andreas, horrible death. Someone gets shafted by this romantic miracle, which statistically speaking is not going to end well anyway. After all, it's not like an earthquake or volcano can cure emotional distance or workaholism, so the apocalyptic dust will settle to the sound of repeat screaming matches and slamming doors. It's turd sandwiches for the whole picnic, you guys. Disgusting turd sandwiches.
So why does this trope keep surviving? Slate actually has a pretty smart answer, theorizing that since these films are all about the collapse of society, the imagery of a nuclear family being repaired is an easy symbol for normality in the face of drastic change. Sure, the president of the United States was crushed by a goddamn aircraft carrier, but at least mommies and daddies will love each other again.
Are You A Horror-Movie Survivor? Congratulations, You're Going To Jail
It Follows is a fantastically terrifying film about a sexually transmitted demon who perpetually stalks its victims until fucking them to literal shambles. And while that predicament can easily be solved by flying to Japan and having an orgy, our characters are moneyless teenagers forced to come up with more creative solutions ... like just shooting the stupid thing in its demon face.
"How are we the first people to try this???"
This is from a scene where the group lures the invisible monster to a public pool and starts hucking lead, which results in one of them landing in the hospital with a gunshot wound to the leg.
"Oh, don't worry, movie bullets always miss your femoral artery."
It's actually the second time one of these kids goes to the ER, the first being when the main character drives a car off the road in a fit of panic. Later on, another friend is murdered by the demon in his own home ... that our hero is loudly breaking into at the same time.
You know what else follows? The evidence trail to a felony conviction.
So that's one gunshot wound, two hospital visits, and one grizzly killing all in the same circle of friends. Hey, uh ... what do you suppose the police think about that? I can't imagine that "invisible fuck devil" is a very good alibi. That's almost as silly as trying to frame a voodoo-possessed rage doll.
Right. As seen in the beginning of Child's Play 2, Chucky leaves a trail of dead bodies and incredulous police. And that would realistically be the result for every supernatural-horror film where the ghost kills actual people. The premise of the House On Haunted Hill remake is that anyone who stays the night in the spooky institution gets a million dollars, and the abandoned rewards are divided up among the rest. And so, when the film ends with just two survivors of an onslaught of ghost murder ... who do you think the cops are going to blame? The phantom house or the recent millionaires?
"No, we're telling you the truth! Just look at these bloodstained contracts!"
Every time the last survivor escapes from the scary French catacomb or flaming Antarctic research base, they become the prime suspect for whatever horror they just endured. So if you ever find yourself escaping some unimaginable forest monster that just ate your camping buddies, maybe just cut your losses and don't tell anyone. Because you really don't want your name sharing the same police report as the word "werewolf."
David makes sentences professionally. You can find him on the Twitter.
Which Sci-Fi Trope Would You Bring To The Real World, And Why? Every summer we're treated to the same buffet of three or four science fiction movies with the same basic conceits. There's man vs. aliens, man vs. robots, man vs. army of clones and man vs. complicated time travel rules. With virtual reality and self-driving cars fast approaching, it's time to consider what type of sci-fi movie we want to be living in for the rest of our lives. Co-hosts Jack O'Brien and Adam Tod Brown are joined by Cracked's Tom Reimann and Josh Sargent along with comedians David Huntsberger, Caitlin Gill, and Lizzy Cooperman to figure out which sci-fi trope would be the best to make a reality. Get your tickets to this live podcast here!
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