The Shallow End: Kill ’em All: The New Hollywood Ending


(This is your spoiler warning. Endings of several recent films will be mentioned. If you see a movie title somewhere in the following text and you don’t want to be spoiled, then I suggest you poke your eyes out, stop reading, and heed this spoiler warning. Seriously, I’m not kidding buddy. You’ve been warned! The next M. Night Shyamalan film has a trick ending! See I told you to stop reading. Okay, I’ve no idea if that’s true, but if you consider that a spoiler, then what follows will probably destroy you.)

You know, I’m getting real sick of the dumbasses out there saying something along the lines of “Man, I really dug that Bourne Ultimatum flick. Well at least I did till the ending. Talk about going all Hollywood in the last second. Same with 1408. Kind of creepy cool and then bam, Johnny Cusack makes it out alive. That’s ooh sooo Hollywood.”

You know what friend-o? Either start watching more films or keep your regurgitated criticism to yourself. These days when someone tells you they like a film up until the happy, “Hollywood Ending” (and they actually use the phrase “Hollywood Ending”), essentially they’re saying, “Hi, I’m an ignorant imbecile, who’s constructing a pseudo hipper-than-thou opinion based on a lazy, bullshit idea because I’m incapable of forming a non-stock criticism. Please punt kick me in the nads.”

Have you been watching movies for the last 10 years? The so-called “Hollywood Ending,” the one in which legend tells of a world where almost all Hollywood movies must conclude with everyone skipping toward the rainbow while whistling “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” from their butt cracks, does not exist any more. It’s gone. It’s dead. It’s myth just like Halle Berry’s talent.

Don’t get me wrong, movies still have cheerful endings demanded by the suits in corner offices (The Golden Compass, anyone?). Nevertheless, studios are releasing plenty of films (of small and gigantic budgets) in which the main characters are left either dejected or—more often than not—corpsified. To say Hollywood embraces happy endings of the non-massage parlor variety in the year 2007 A.D is just plain silly and old fashioned. That’s why I found the last moments of The Bourne Ultimatum and 1408 rather refreshing and, dare I say, surprising when placed up against the current death climate of Hollywood films.

For a minor sampling, let’s look at seven films from my 2006 Top-10 List: United 93; The Fountain; The Departed; Pan’s Labyrinth; Children of Men; Letters from Iwo Jima; The Prestige. With the exception of Pan’s Labyrinth, all of these films were made within the studio system. All of them also finish with the main character (or in some cases almost the entire cast) shaking hands with the Grim Reaper. While this list probably says more about me than Hollywood, I still think it makes a point about the type of films hitting the market. (Don’t bother flaming me on the fact that some of these titles are based on books, previous films, or reality and just mirror those endings. Studios will break from source material—even one as famous as The Scarlet Letter – if they want an upbeat exclamation point before the credits roll.)

I don’t know when this trend began. Hell one could argue it goes as far back as the late ’60s (and probably even further back than that) with films such as Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand Luke and The Wild Bunch (and many of the pictures that followed in the ’70s definitely didn’t wrap with the main characters grinning about life… or when the character was caught smiling, like the shark from Jaws, it got blown to bloody shit). But when did the gloom and doom finale pick up so much steam? Well, if you go by the Academy Awards, which spotlights the tone of the Hollywood Establishment more than anything else, then take notice of the last 12 years. Seven films, in which the main character’s heartbeat flat lines for good, have won best picture—the most violent and least sentimental of which was last year’s The Departed, where Martin Scorsese handed out lead to everyone’s head like parade candy.

Things aren’t looking too different this year. My early bet on the best picture winner is No Country for Old Men, a film so nihilistic it makes The Departed look like Sleepless in Seattle. I think odds are swinging in favor for an actual snuff film to capture the Oscar in 2009. And with Rob Zombie’s Halloween concluding on a bullet lobotomy for Mr. Meyers, even the useless Razzies will probably award a movie following this kill’em all trend.

Now, I’m not bitching about ending films on a downer, although like I hinted earlier, it’s becoming somewhat predictable. All I’m saying is that if you’re going to open your pie hole and label a film as having a “Hollywood Ending,” you better mean that the main characters got themselves shuffled off their mortal coils because that my friend is the new “Hollywood Ending” whether you like it or not.

P.S. If I sound angry it is only because a few weeks ago I got in a heated argument over how The Bourne Ultimatum is not cop out “Hollywood Ending” as a snobby coworker of mine kept repeating… that’s where this thing came from (and I guess I’m still a tad annoyed with this person). I thought about pulling a lazy dick move by listing a bunch of films from the last 10 years in which the main character(s) die, especially from film’s this year like 3:10 to Yuma, 300, Sunshine and, of course, The Mist, but the article read just like a damn list. So I cut it down to films from my Top 10 list last year, the Oscars from the last 12 years, and No Country for Old Men and Halloween for this year… I’m hoping that’s enough to get my point across since I could have listed about three dozen films off the top of my head alone from recent years that follow this trend.