A Single Story: Expecting Closure in Cinema

People who watch films in America (which is just about every person that I’ve ever met) can be extremely susceptible to falling victim to a single story. This single story of film is the acceptance of American cinema’s form of ending a film with closure and happiness. Most mainstream American films find themselves having a happy ending so that the viewers can walk away from a film without being able to meditate on what may happen to the characters and viewers are unable to make their own interpretation which, in turn, inhibits them from making the story their own. What about foreign cinema? Not so much.

In the words of acclaimed Italian filmmaker, Bernardo Bertolucci, “I left the ending ambiguous, because that is the way life is.” This quote sums up the type of thinking that many foreign (and some American) filmmakers have when creating their moving pictures. Ambiguity. No closure. Uncomfortable. Life itself.

Realism is so important to foreign cinema. These filmmakers want you to feel that you are watching real life unfold in front of your very eyes. Films such as Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy, François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Even some American films like A Serious Man, Mulholland Drive, and Blade Runner. These films make you think. These films have no closure. They beg for re-watching. They are life.

The denouement of American cinema takes away from the realism of life. It gives viewers the facade that life is supposed to have happy endings when we all know that is untrue. Life doesn’t always have happy endings. Life goes on. There’s good, there’s bad, there’s everything in between. That is why many American film-goers have such a hard time watching foreign films. They only know one story.

Move past the one story that feels comfortable. Watch a movie that makes you want to pull your hair out from thinking so hard about what happens after the end credits. Make your own story. Just know that it is not the only one.

To get a good start, watch some of these films that are referred to in the video below. You won’t be sorry.




4 thoughts on “A Single Story: Expecting Closure in Cinema

  1. Awesome post! I found this topic to be quite an interesting read-I actually never thought long and hard about how most films do not leave much room for our own interpretation and that endings are simply given to us straight up. Having ambiguity in films is definitely more realistic because that is how life really is-American films should try and work towards creating endings like this more often.


  2. I like this concept. Often when I am reading a book or watching a movie that has an ambiguous ending, I am frustrated and desire to know more. Now, I realize that it’s just part of the artistry and that it can be respected. Plus, you get to debate with friends about how you think something should’ve happened. Just like in real life.


  3. Very good post! I realize now that I do expect a lot of movies to have a straight-forward ending, unless it is setting up for a sequel of course. Personally, I like movies that have endings that aren’t that clear, and make you sit back and reflect on what would potentially happen next in that world. I suggest you watch a show called, “Black Mirror” on Netflix. The ending of each episode always have some type of ambiguous-makes-you-think-conclusion!


  4. I recently watched Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005) which has one of the most disturbingly ambiguous endings i’ve seen in some time. These sorts of films, while initially frustrating, are the ones which I will most often revisit – and remember.


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