<<Spoilers for Minority Report & Total Recall>>
Who doesn’t love happy endings? We all love & savor happy endings. Often at times, we walk out of movies with a buoyant feel due to a happy ending. Directors feast on that & try to guarantee a happy ending on most occasions. Good defeats evil, the hero get the girl & they live happily ever after, the lone warrior/ranger heads off into the glorious sunset, being classic examples of some happy endings. There are certain stories however that benefit from having a not-so-happy ending (or as they say cynically, a real-life ending). Arlington Road is a classic example of one such movie. It’s a chilling thrilling ride with the kind of ending that would make you uncomfortable because it seems so eminently possible. Ultimately though, happy endings at movies lead to a greater chance of happy endings at the box office because typically, we go to movies to experience happy endings, an escape from the real life. A not-so-happy ending typically depresses us & the word does spread about it (through comments such as “the movie is dark”). A happy ending also has an unintended (or may be in a calculative fashion, intended) effect of glossing over the faults of the movie (presents the Dark Knight Rises as evidence)
While indie movies have the (relative) freedom with respect to their endings, movies backed by the big studios (& thereby big budgets) have a lot more at stake & hence there would be considerable opposition towards ending a movie in a non-conventional fashion. Given these constraints, directors do end up coming up with ways of endings that deliver the so-called happy ending while remaining true to their overall message. Nolan does that in The Dark Knight. We all like the fact that Batman has defeated the Joker & saved Gordon and his family from Two-Face – a happy ending, sort of. However, what is hidden under the happy ending is the true ending. The Batman takes the fall for murders. The Joker is the ultimate winner. As Harvey says ‘You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”. (What made it even more depressing at that point was Nolan stating that he did not think he would come back for another Batman movie)
& then there are some movies that end up on a happy note seemingly but on repeated viewings, lend itself to a different kind of interpretation, one that is completely at odds with the initial ending. Minority Report & Total Recall (The Colin Farrell starrer) are movies that fall into this category.
Minority Report has this seemingly happy ending. John Anderton is rescued from the halo-ed state he is placed in during his capture by his ex-wife & post escape, he ensures that he exposes the bad guy & clears his own name from the murder charges & the movie ends with him being reunited with his wife even as she is expecting their 2nd baby. That’s exactly what Spielberg (director of the movie) wants you to think. But there is this cutaway scene very early in the movie when a captor describes what a halo-ed person feels. They are incapacitated & as the captor says “All your dreams come true”. Which drives the question, what if the ending we saw was entirely John’s dreams or vision? Which pretty much means Anderton is still captive & technically, there is no happy ending
Total Recall has a nice happy ending. Colin Farrell having his memories supposedly unlocked after a visit to Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories, discovers himself to be a spy & brings down the evil guys. Just as the movie is ending, the sun comes out & an advertising board that displays Rekall is shown prominently for a few seconds & then Farrell hugs her heroine & basks in the sunlight. But what if all of this was really happening in Rekall. What if his fascination to be a spy is what is being played out in Rekall & he thinks that is the real life. It is an interesting thought & again adds up to an unconventional ending.
It is quite possible that the directors in both these movies had not really thought of it or meant it the way I have interpreted it but in this day & age of no wasted shot & exact editing, it does not seem too far-fetched a scenario.
Here’s hoping for more such movies J
Title Source: Avril Lavigne’s “My Happy Ending”
PS: May be it’s a Philip K Dick thing. Both Minority Report & Total Recall were based on PKD’s short stories. While I confess to have not read his books (I don’t read much sci-fi), I would like to think may be that’s how PKD wrote it in his books
PPS: I don’t remember much of the 1st Total Recall movie starring Arnie apart from the fact that it was kind of fun & involved travel to Mars & had a very hot (at that time)Sharon Stone