Sunday, September 27, 2015

Happy Endings are Depressing

People sometimes complain about movies with sad or depressed endings. They want upbeat, feel good, inspiring. They want the fairy tales. But do happy endings actually make you happy? Do down endings make you sad? I don't think so.

When you've seen a a movie with a happy ending and then have to face reality, you inevitably come to the realization that you don't have a happy ending. You don't have any kind of ending. Even when you die, you won't experience the ending of your life, because it will be over before you can experience it.

When you've seen a movie with a sad ending, you may think about how the characters went wrong. You may think about how lucky you are not to have experienced something so depressing. Even if you had experienced it, you can feel consolation with characters that share your experience.  The outcome of a sad ending is to make you feel better.

When I got out of college times were tough, as they probably are for most kids just out of college. I could barely find enough work to survive. It was depressing as hell. So what did I do to feel better? No. I didn't go watch movies with happy endings. I couldn't afford movies with any kind of ending. I simply went out for walks in the city. And what did I see? Homeless people of course. People living depressing lives, too poor to have a car, taking buses. Waiting at bus stops like zombies. I would walk down the street and see all the lonely people, just like the Beatles song. Then I'd feel better. I'd feel sorry for them. But I'd feel better about myself, because even though I didn't have much, I had enough to feel like I had more than a lot of other people had.

You might have expected me to say that I least I had friends. But I didn't really. They'd all left college. They weren't around. My parents were staunch conservatives. They didn't want me around the house. So I can't say I had family either. I had nothing but myself. But I was comfortable with that. I had my films that I was working on. I had ideas. There was always the future. If there's a future there's hope. You have the opportunity to continue to live and make something happen.

Happy endings will depress you. But sad endings give you hope in what you have. Now try explaining that to the genius Hollywood MBA studio heads.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Leaving Las Vegas: Analysis

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
John O’Brien (novel)
Mike Figgis (screenplay and director)
with Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue


Ben and Sera are eating. He plays with his food, eating very little of it. Finally he pushes it away and orders another drink.

SERA: I’m from the East. I went to college, did an arts course. I now live in Vegas. I think of it as home. I came here deliberately to carve out a life. I was in LA before, but I’ll come back to that later. (pause) The tough times are behind me now. I can deal with the bad things that happen. There will always be dark characters. But my life is good. It is as I would want it to be. So, why are you a drunk?

BEN: Is that really what you want to ask me?

SERA: Yes.

BEN: (worried) Well, then I guess this is our first date… or our last. Until now, I wasn’t sure it was either.

SERA: Very clever.

Sera thinks for a while and decides to give in to him on this.

SERA: First. It’s our first. I’m just concerned. So… why are you killing yourself?

BEN: Interesting choice of words. I don’t remember. I just know that I want to.

SERA: Want to kill yourself? Are you saying that you’re drinking as a way to kill yourself?

And she leans across the table to be close to him, listening intently. Ben becomes uncomfortable and tries to joke it off.

BEN: Or killing myself as a way to drink.

Sera continues to stare at him, wanting to know the real answer. He takes a slug from his drink. She sits back.

BEN: We’ll talk about it some other time maybe. OK?

Sera relaxes and continues with her food. We hear her thoughts for a moment.

SERA (v.o): It wasn’t so important to me. I mean, he never asked me why I was a hooker, and that was impressive. I really liked him. So I decided to just play my part. I mean… it’s good to help someone once in a while., it’s a bonus to being alive, and that was my plan… to stay alive. I suddenly came to a decision.


I love this movie. Cage got an Oscar. Shue was nominated, along with Figgis for screenplay and direction. It’s a classic great with a wonderful bluesy jazz track. It’s one of those rare films where everything comes together.

This scene sticks in my mind, especially the line about how killing himself is a way to drink. That line is very representative of his character. He is always jovial and light about everything, with a few exceptions of rage. But this indicates how he rationalizes and accepts his depression. He’s OK with killing himself. And it seems he doesn’t even know he’s depressed. Or doesn’t admit it. That way he can carry on life as if it’s all very acceptable.

In fact numerous great writers seem to fall into depression and even suicide. And the novel is semi-autobiographical. In writing, if you put your soul into it, it can be reflective and can bring up certain thoughts such as the general futility of life (everything ends). In Hollywood this kind of demise seems even more a rule than an exception. Success is usually short lived. It’s wonderful to face these things through this character.

Blog Archive

Popular Posts

Mistress City

Cinephilia and Beyond

Keyframe - Explore the world of film.