Have you ever been totally captivated by a brilliant movie right up until the very end only to be terribly disappointed by an ending that takes back every last bit of the previous two hours of entertainment, leaving you hanging and even regretting that you spent two hours getting to this point? I am talking about an ending that disappoints the entire audience so much that they all moan in unison and disbelief that the director would have the balls to do such a thing.
Some such endings merely kill off, unnecessarily, someone you came to love, like the kid in Pay it Forward, the hero in Cold Mountain, or Spiderman’s best friend in Spiderman III. What bastard, demon director refuses us that extra bit of pleasure when it would cost him nothing? Why kill off someone we come to love in make believe for no real purpose? Elitist pricks often praise such choices as necessary for the sake of art. I chalk them up as plain cruel stupidity on a director’s part. Tell me what is wrong or inartistic about walking out of a movie feeling good? There is already enough in real life to make us feel bad.
Then there are the endings that represent nothing more than the producer’s greed, simply a setup for a sequel that fools no one. While these are artistically unforgivable, there is, at least, an excuse, and everyone knows he is being sucked in to see the sequel. Matrix I had such a brilliant ending that everyone was surprised and disappointed at the “sequel suck” ending of Matrix II. After that and an assurance that Matrix III would be the end of the story, the whole world was at work guessing and anticipating its ending, and some with brilliant ideas, only to be handed a lackluster, mediocre, boring finale. The writers of Matrix III should have listened and learned from these theories, many of which were far better than what the actual movie offered. Matrix III could and should be remade with one of the really brilliant endings proposed by the Matrix fans. The movie, “The Thirteenth Floor”, had a similar theme to Matrix III and an absolutely brilliant ending that, with some variant, could also have worked for Matrix III.
None of these comes close to being as unforgivable as the ending of “No Country for Old Men”. It should go down in history as the most disappointing ending ever and moreover the greatest missed opportunity for an absolutely stunning ending that would have left moviegoers on a week long high. After seeing the movie I spent considerable time attempting to put some deeper significance to the ending other than it could lead to a sequel of sorts. The ending smacks of a fad of the 1960’s where the devil began to win in movies like the Damian series and the exorcist, but this one is much worse.
In No Country for Old Men, an evil character goes through the entire movie killing good guys and bad guys, many for no reason at all. Some of the most innocent people get whacked as a result of simply trying to be nice to his fellow man. This guy is so evil he makes an innocent old service station attendant call heads or tales in a bet for his life.
Near the end, in a phone call, the evil one tells the hero that he will spare the life of his wife, if he hands over the drug money. But he won’t offer to spare our heroes life, however, because he has already given him too much grief in trying to retrieve the money.
Our hero turns down the offer and accepts the challenge, is killed by the evil one (we don’t even get to witness that), and causes another hero, an aging sheriff, to go into retirement. When our hero’s wife returns to her room a few days later she finds the evil one waiting on her. She pleads with him not to kill her. The evil one tells her he has no choice because he promised her husband that he would kill her if her husband didn’t comply with him to hand over the money and die for her.
The wife meekly tells him in a frightened, whispering voice, “You don’t have to do this.”
“Oh but I do.” He glibly responds.
Then he offers her the option to call the coin toss. She refuses.
While not completely clear, the movie implies that he kills her and drives away. Except for a bizarre auto accident, the evil one walks off in the end and the titles come on. It would seem that Tommy Lee Jones is getting too old in the movie to be up for a sequel to go after the evil one, but who knows? Sylvester Stallone never seems too old to go back into the ring.
The scene near the end with the hero’s wife is the missed opportunity. Here is how it could have gone. The killer has offered the coin toss to the wife. She frets and whimpers, pleads, and tells him once again that he doesn’t have to go through with this. He calmly insists that he does. Finally after we are all praying for something to save the little whimpering lady she whispers “heads” through her tears.
The evil one uncovers the coin. It is tails. A smirk crosses his face as he raises his bizarre death machine. The camera zooms back to the terrified face of the lady. A deafening blast fills the room and her face is swept with agony. The camera pans to the face of the evil one and zooms in, showing a glowing red hole in the center of his forehead. The camera pans back to the lady, this time revealing a smoking hole in her dress as she withdraws her hand holding her husbands 45 automatic. “I am sorry it wasn’t heads,” she says through a weeping voice.
People would have leaped from their seats, screaming with relief and joy. The director could have given that ending to the world. He could have stirred up all kinds of positive energy in the universe. Instead he chose his own nothing ending and left us all disappointed for a long time. What is artistic about that?