If there had to be a single ending,
a single ending that does everything right,
one that satisfies the viewer and creates ample room for a sequel.
No film does a better job than The Matrix.
l’m Henry Sharp,
and welcome to How to Write A Great Ending.
Now, in order to realize why The Matrix has such a powerful ending,
we need to first realize what makes for a weak ending,
and in order to do that, we need to know Rule 1:
The shorter the amount of time between the climax and the end the better.
And incredibly common killer for many stories
is when the ending overstays its welcome.
And it’s such a common problem
the issue has earned its own name,
that being ‘Ending Fatigue’.
Ending Fatigue is essentially what happens
when the story doesn’t wrap up efficiently,
and takes just too much time for the movie to reach the credits
once the main plot has been resolved.
If the amount of time between the climax and the credits is over 10 minutes,
that film probably suffers from Ending Fatigue.
Now there are countless films that suffer from this issue,
but as a random example,
let’s look at Casino Royale.
Now Casino Royale for its merits is a great film,
and is arguably one of the best Bond films to have ever been made.
However, for the last 40 minutes of runtime,
the structure really becomes quite a bit of a mess.
So the main plot is this:
Bond has to beat the villain in a game of poker,
and for the first act of the film,
it is clearly established that that is the end goal,
so after 1 hour and 40 minute mark,
Bond wins the game.
And then 14 minutes later,
the villain is killed.
Then Bond is recovering from his injuries
with a nice view with his romantic love interest by his side.
At this point, all of the plot threads have been resolved,
and this would be a great time to end the movie,
except then a whole new plot is created:
where his love interest betrays him,
and then he has to go and hunt her down.
This quite simply is sloppy story structure.
The viewer should have a correct sense
as to when the movie is about to end.
And when you build that expectation of an ending
only to reveal that the film is far from over,
it confuses the viewer,
and thusly hinders the viewing experience.
In the end, the time between the resolution of the main plotline and the credits
was 40 minutes, which is about 30 minutes longer than it needed to be.
Now this all comes back to The Matrix,
because in my opinion,
this film has a perfect ending.
But how exactly do Wachowskis create this perfect ending?
Well, firstly it follows Rule 1 really quite effectively.
We have the climactic scene where Neo beat Smith.
There is a short minute long epilogue with Neo on the phone,
and then the credits roll.
As a general rule,
the moment your climax is over,
you are on the clock where every second that ticks by,
the viewer’ll gradually lose more and more interest,
and as the age-old saying goes,
“Leave them wanting more.”
If you end your film quickly and on a powerful emotional note
with them fresh off the excitement of the climax,
it will leave the viewer wanting more,
which in turn will make them come out the cinema
with a more overall positive experience.
l think many people greatly underestimate the importance of the final taste
that is left in the viewers’ mouth as they leave the theater,
because if you nail that ending,
then they will look back on the whole experience
with much more positive eyes,
and with much more negative ones if you don’t.
Now The Matrix does something else with its ending.
The final note of the film is Neo talking to the machines
about what he is about to do next,
and how he plans to unplug everyone from the Matrix.
This is again a good move by the Wachowskis,
and ultimately, it leads into Rule 2 of writing a great ending:
End with a final note of uncertainty (a question).
This is not an absolute must,
however it is a technique
that many filmmakers have been using since film began,
and they keep doing it for a very simple reason:
because it works.
Often, the most memorable endings
are the ones where the final note of the film
is one that gives the viewer a question that they have to answer.
Whether it be Silence of the Lambs
when the villainous Hannibal wanders into a crowd,
leaving our imaginations to wonder as to what that villain will do next.
Whether it be Inception
as the final shot shows the protagonist finally reunited with his family,
but the camera pans down to the still spinning totem,
and it leaves the question:
“Did Cobb have a happily ever after?”,
or “Was it really all just a dream?”
There are countless examples of films that end in this way,
and the reason why is really very simple:
Because it is a very effective technique
at making the ending a more memorable one;
because that question leaves the viewer thinking about the film
much longer after it is over
than one that ties everything up in a neat little bow.
And to realize what the third and final rule to writing a great ending is,
let’s compare The Matrix to Casino Royale,
or more specifically, the timeline of how the main plots are resolved.
So focusing on Royale, there are three main plots:
the poker game, defeating the villain, and the romantic subplot.
扑克游戏 打败反派 和次要情节爱情
40 minutes before the credits, the poker game ends.
20 minutes before the credits, the villain dies.
And in the last few minutes, the film, the romantic subplot is finally resolved.
Now there are a few things wrong with that order in itself.
It would have been more effective if the romantic plot finished before the others.
As a general rule, it’s better to resolve the secondary plot
before you resolve the primary one
in order to maintain the viewers’ interests.
However, there is another fundamental problem with this timeline.
And in order to realize that,
let’s look at the Matrix.
So in the Matrix there are four plots:
defeating the villain agent Smith,
the Sentinels that are hunting down the ship,
the romantic subplot between Neo and Trinity,
and the looming prophecy as to whether or not Neo truly is the one.
Now the reason why The Matrix has such a resonating climax is really very simple.
When Casino Royale takes 40 minutes to resolve all of its plots,
The Matrix resolves all of them in one.
In one moment, every plot line is resolved.
and what makes it even more poignant is the fact that
all of the plot threads weave into one another
where Trinity’s love makes him realize he is the one,
and then because he realizes he is the one,
it gives him the power to beat the villain,
and because he beats the villain,
it allows them to defeat the Sentinels.
As a result, instead of like Casino Royale
where the satisfaction is diluted over nearly an hour,
The Matrix provides all of that satisfaction in one singular moment.
This leads into Rule 3:
The closer the plots are resolved to one another the better.
Catharsis really is the weapon of the climax.
No good ending works without it,
and no bad ending is worse with it.
And I think a very interesting example of an ending that has no plot resolution,
but is still a great ending is the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
For those of you who have seen this film,
how does it end?
At the end of the first Lord of the Rings movie,
the plot has no sense of progression.
There is no great catharsis.
The climactic scene is really just a fight between the heroes and a group of orcs.
Really in the last 20 minutes of this film,
there is very little achieved in terms of plot,
but still, it has a great ending.
In fact there is a very useful lesson here to be learned
when it comes to writing the ending of the story that is in the series.
Instead of having a plot-based resolution,
this film goes for the opposite of a character-based resolution.
Throughout the movie, we see Boromir,
a man untrustworthy, blinded by greed and hatred,
someone who starts the film, a bad man.
but in the climax, realizes his flaws and makes a heroic last stand
where he sacrifices his life a better man that he once was.
And of course there is that powerful moment
where when speaking to Aragorn,
the man at the start of the film he had no respect for,
he says this,
“I would’ve followed you, my brother,
The film leaves us with the main plot unresolved,
however, because it gives us this complete character arc
where really the whole climax has nothing to do with the main plot,
but is rather centered around this one character as he dies a hero.
This ending works because it gives us that satisfying resolution
that really you just cannot create a good ending without.
So if you want a powerful ending,
try to weave one of your character’s arcs into the main plotline
as where you can resolve both simultaneously,
your ending will be all the better for it.
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Anyway, thanks for watching.
And I’ll see you guys next time on the Closer Look.
If there had to be a single ending,