The Fault in Our Ability to Accept an Open Ending

A while ago, I ran a blog called Your Acting’s Like the End of the World. Now I have a website it makes some sense to bring some of the ‘articles’ across to provide a little more content on this site. Periodically they’ll pop up. This is one of those posts:

Spoilers below for The Sopranos, The Fault in Our Stars, The Dark Knight Rises and Inception.

Earlier this week Martha Nochimson wore David Chase down enough to get some vague idea of how The Sopranos ended. The article can be read here in its entirety. Whether Chase finally gave in to the constant ‘what happens at the fade to black’ or merely wanted to honour his friend, James Gandolfini, by having his signature character ‘live on’ is debatable. Just as the ending itself is debatable. 

That’s the nature of open endings, or vague endings. They’re designed to be discussion starters; designed to have the viewer or reader come to their own decision as to what has occurred to the characters. It’s one of the magical things about literature, television or films. The ability for the writer or director or show runner to decide at exactly what point the story should end and on what note. 

For every cut to black that occurs with The Sopranos, you have a majorly definitive finale like Dexter becoming a lumberjack. Sure, Dexter could have sailed off into that hurricane with Deb’s body and the show could have faded to black and it wouldn’t be as greatly ridiculed as it is today. The ending could possibly even have encouraged discussion rather than turning the show into a butt of jokes. 

The Sopranos on the other hand has a masterful ending. Part of what makes it a wonderful ending is that six years after the show finished, people have discussed the possibilities of what has occurred. Is Tony dead? Does the show just keep going? One of the theories which is worthwhile reading is the discussion of the symbolism of the number three

Does having a ‘definitive ending’ from Chase now ruin the theories? Not at all. If the viewer is to take what is presented on screen as gospel, then theories are allowed to still continue on. Sure, David Chase created The Sopranos, but at some point a show, a book or a film stops being the product of its creator and becomes the product of the reader, the fans of the film or show. Is David Chase’s version of ‘what happened’ not just another fan theory then?

In one pivotal moment in The Fault in Our Stars, the characters traipse across to Amsterdam to track down a reclusive author of An Imperial Affliction, a book which has had a profound effect on Hazel. The book ends mid-sentence, something which Hazel can’t accept as a finish for a book. The quality of the book is implied to be great, the importance of the lives of the characters reflecting the lives of Hazel’s own family and friends. 

The reaction of the author, Van Houten, is understandable. He’s locked himself away in a far off country where people don’t have easy access to him. Piles of letters line his hallway, no doubt the majority of them filled with ‘what happens after the end of the book’. It’s a question that no doubt many authors, directors and show runners get asked – Christopher Nolan has probably avoided Comic Con as long as he has so he doesn’t have to answer whether the top stops spinning or not in Inception. 

His anger comes across as arrogant, but as the writer it’s understandable; he’s finished with the story, he doesn’t have any more to say, and if he did, would he not have included it anyhow? The anger from his fans as well for not getting a clear answer is also understandable. Why, they’ve traveled all this way whilst they both have cancer, don’t they deserve an answer? Don’t they deserve what they came for? 

Whilst The Fault in Our Stars is a wonderful film that explores young cancer victims. It’s devastating. It’s also why getting the answer to the ‘what happens after the end’ is so important to the characters. To Hazel it’s to get an answer that after she dies, her family will be ok. Her family will still have a life. It’s a heartbreaking moment in the film and is realised later on when she confronts her mother about what she will do when Hazel is gone. 

The Fault in Our Stars inadvertently discusses the impact of open endings as well. Is it our right to demand closure or not? Closure is given for Hazel in the realisation that Van Houten’s An Imperial Affliction is a personal story, one that has affected his life and he needed to tell it. It’s so personal that the hounding from fans caused him to become a recluse because it also forced him to confront what the story meant to himself. The opening ending to him is not saying goodbye to his daughter who died. It’s another impactful moment in a film full of them. 

So The Fault in Our Stars discussion of open endings give a clause of sorts to the discussion of open endings in literature. Yet, surely The Sopranos – a work of pure fiction – is not subject to this clause. In fact, surely many other open ended films are not subject to the clause. You don’t see The Coen Brothers or Cormac McCarthy addressing the ending to No Country For Old Men – it is what it is and it is what it should be. 

Why is it difficult for audiences nowadays to accept this kind of ending in literature? Is it because modern audiences have become so used to having everything spoon fed to them? One of the benefits of an open ending is to challenge the audience, to make them think over what has occurred and the implications of it. 

It’s interesting to see someone like Christopher Nolan go from a film like Inception – one of the finest open endings and discussion points in modern cinema – to a film like The Dark Knight Rises where the ending is so clear cut. The opportunity was there earlier in The Dark Knight Rises to suggest that Bruce Wayne has survived and to hint at that by having Alfred sitting in a cafe in Paris and look over to another table and smile. To have both Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne sitting there creates a paradox within the film – one of the richest men in the world in one of the most populated places in the world, a man who is considered dead, right there, out in the open. A paradox that an slightly open ending might have cancelled out. 

The ending of The Sopranos is strong enough to continue to create debate that will carry on even with David Chase’s flippant comment. People will hopefully continue to debate the ending and continue to discuss what has occurred. Yet, as a modern audience, we need to be more accepting of these elements of modern literature – whether it be books, films or television. We trust that the creative decisions made by those in charge are the right decisions for the story and we enjoy being able to discuss these decisions. 

What is your opinion of the ‘confirmed finale’ of The Sopranos? Should open endings be explained or left open for a reason? Leave your thoughts below.

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian cinema, Australian politics, Australian culture, and Australia in general. Found regularly talking online about Sweet Country, and reminding people to watch Young Adult.

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