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Ambiguous and Open Ended Film Endings

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  • Ambiguous and Open Ended Film Endings

    I believe that the trend in ambiguous and open ended film endings started around the late sixties and early seventies. Some were obviously with a view to make a sequel, while others were just controversial and stylish.

    Here are a few examples that come to mind: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Dandy in Aspic (1968), The Italian Job (1969), The Wild Bunch (1969).

    I’m sure there must be other movies out there that fit the bill?

    Perhaps I should also add, does anyone know how this trend came about and who were the pioneers?
    Last edited by Mikey; 13th February 2018, 02:51 PM.

  • #2
    The Blue Lagoon (1949) was ambiguous.


    • #3

      So it was a trend that was not started in the sixties, but rather one that became popular around the turn of the decade, sixties to seventies?


      • #4
        A Matter of Life and Death (1946) can be considered to be ambiguou. Was he really seeing "the other place" or was it all in his fevered imagination?

        I expect that films with ambiguous endings have been around as long as films have been telling stories



        • #5

          Thanks for adding to the discussion with good solid information.

          Have I picked off the main ambiguous late sixties movies with my four films in the first post?


          • #6
            I would call Ingmar Bergman and Harold Pinter from the early 60s as pioneers of this trend.


            • #7

              Could you give any examples of Ingmar Bergman and Harold Pinter movies from the early sixties that incorporated this trend.


              • #8
                [QUOTE=Mikey;n53862]I believe that the trend in ambiguous and open ended film endings started around the late sixties and early seventies. Some were obviously with a view to make a sequel, while others were just controversial and stylish.

                Here are a few examples that come to mind: The Wild Bunch (1969). [/QUOTE]

                [COLOR=black][FONT=Arial]Not really ambiguous or open - they all died! Unless you mean their motivation for the final gunfight? It's one of my all-time faves, watched it again last weekend.[/FONT][/COLOR]

                [FONT=Arial]Michelangelo Antonioni is justly famous for the way his films end. His 60s trilogy - L'Avventura, La Notte, and famously L'Eclisse (we spend the last 3 minutes waiting for the lovers to appear at their various meeting places, but they never arrive), all of which are 'ambiguous' and 'open', as well as Blow Up.[/FONT]

                [FONT=Arial]If we exclude the filmic works of the surrealists & avant-gardists of the 20s and 30s, I would say most European new wave cinema (i.e. from 1959 on) have 'open' endings only in the sense that as opposed (often deliberately) to U.S. cinema, where there would always be a resolution (to close the drama), they deal mainly with peoples lives, so there is an awareness that the characters always live on after the film ends, that we've simply come to the end of this particular phase or event in life. Also the difference between U.S. film making(which was often genre defined) and European cinema which was more 'personal' and less dependant on genre tropes.[/FONT]

                [FONT=Arial]So I would say European cinema had 'open' endings but only because the dramatic resolution does not resolve the characters lives, they move on, get new jobs, meet new people or more simply just carry on living. In this sense most Bergman films have 'open' endings even if as in The Seventh Seal the characters die (because three's still the young couple the Knight saves from Death).[/FONT]

                [FONT=Arial]'Ambiguous' endings , unless the director is untalented, are normally deliberately made so. The most famous examples I can recall are late50s/early 60s, Last Year at Marienbad (did the couple meet last year? if so, was it at Marienbad? and which of the three endings to their former meeting that we see are genuine, if any?) and L'Avventura (which does not resolve the fate of Anna, the character whose disappearance supposedly drives the plot), which was booed initially by the audience at Cannes exactly for this reason. As it was clearly done deliberately, and had a huge impact on European cinema when shown at Cannes, I suppose the 'earliest' example was the Japanese film Rashomon (1950), which is made up of 'flashbacks' told by the' witnesses', one at least of which is false, and maybe all are 'false' in some sense so that in the end the 'guilt' of the bandit is not proven either way.[/FONT]

                [FONT=Arial]The only Bergman film I can think of that deliberately has an ambiguous rather than open ending is The Virgin Spring (1959). What is the meaning of the spring that 'miraculously' appears at the head of the murdered girl. Is it proof of the existence of God, the amoral indifference of nature to human life, or simply a serendipity that will be used by others as proof of the miraculous? The rest of his films I would say have open endings, with the infamous exception of course of Persona (1966) whose mirrored bookends suggest the film is 'closed' as a purely fictional creation.[/FONT]

                [FONT=Arial]Phew ... well, you did ask for some examples. obviously I haven't had time to research this, this is purely my response based on what I can recall at this moment.[/FONT]
                Last edited by agutterfan; 14th February 2018, 02:02 PM.


                • #9
                  Mikey, surely one of the most notable open-ended films is [B]The Day the Earth Caught Fire[/B]. Early 60s I know, but the inconclusive ending always haunted me since as a child I first saw the film on television.


                  • #10

                    Thanks for coming back and giving me examples as requested. Quite a bit of information there that I found interesting and enlightening.


                    • #11

                      Hope you're well and thanks for taking time to point out The Day the Earth Caught Fire. I really should have mentioned that one... directed by Val Guest, such a nice guy when I spoke with him on the telephone many years ago.


                      • #12
                        Most trends in films are stolen from books and theatre. I'm sure there were lots of individual examples in both.

                        Luigi Pirandello's plays from the 1920s celebrate ambiguity; 'Six Characters In Search of an Author' is the most enjoyable and there have been a few TV versions of it; his play 'As You Desire Me'was made as a vehicle for Greta Garbo in 1931.

                        Pirandello may have been an influence on socialist J.B. Priestley who made three plays dealing with alternate perception. 'Dangerous Corner' (1932) is interesting on stage (but I haven't seen the US film version of 1934). 'Time and the Conways' (1937) had a progressively creepy TV version with Claire Bloom in 1985. 'An Inspector Calls' (1945) was filmed in 1954 with Alastair Sim as 'Inspector Goole'.

                        I guess 'Dead of Night' (1945) and the other psychological horror films (such as 'The Innocents[I]' [/I]1961) trade in ambiguity. I mentioned 'The Blue Lagoon' (1949) and its ambiguous ending. I have a dim memory that David Lean's 'Madeleine' (1950) climaxes with the Defending Counsel and the Prosecuting Counsel facing the camera and challenging us to decide whether Madeleine is a killer or not.

                        Artists will tell us that traditional forms of art had to be thrown out after the horror of Auschwitz, Total War and the Hydrogen Bomb. Artists in the media of classical music, architecture, painting, sculpture, dance expressed themselves 'en masse' in abstract, atonal, unornamented forms they called Modernism in the 50s. As well that, there was the general veneration for ‘anti-heroes’, teenagers and rebellion

                        I suspect the trend for ambiguous and open ended film endings arose in the late 50s with the concurrent rise in popularity of NESB films. Ingmar Bergman's 'The Seventh Seal' and 'Wild Strawberries' (1957) were popular. And Antonioni and the French 'Nouvelle Vague'. I think it was New Yorker's Bosley Crowther who praised these type of films because the audience was obliged to make an effort to understand what was going on whereas Hollywood films bred laziness.

                        London’s intelligentsia of the ‘60s were keen to ditch the old and lazy along with Terence Rattigan’s well-constructed plays. They embraced Harold Pinter, the 'Angry Young Men', the Theatre of the Absurd, the Non-Naturalism of Bertolt Brecht and the revue-plays by foul-mouthed Joan Littlewood such as 'Oh, What a Lovely War!' (filmed in ’69) and Muriel Spark’s metaphysics ('The Driver's Seat', filmed in 1974).

                        But Harold Pinter is the acme of ambiguity. His early plays (1960-64), set in a menacing, claustrophobic world of East End Jews and gangsters were celebrated on stage, TV and film ('The Caretaker'in 1963) by the trend-seeking middle-class. Later there was 'The Pumpkin Eater'(1964; with that amazing scene with Yootha Joyce at the hairdressers!). Joseph Losey, a trend-seeking, middle-class American (who spent time with Brecht) adopted Pinter for his middle-class, abstruse stories 'The Servant' (1963) and 'Accident'(1967). And Losey also did the incomprehensible 'Secret Ceremony'(1968) without Pinter.

                        Pinter adapted the book 'French Lieutenant's Woman' (1981) which has alternate perceptions of the one story. He gave it an ambiguous ending (like 'The Blue Lagoon' and another film whose name escapes me at the moment) where the heroes row out on a lake for the finale.

                        All but two of Kubrick’s films belong to the intellectually-condescending, ambiguous genre.

                        The trend for abstract, atonal, unornamented forms started retreating in classical music, architecture, painting, sculpture, dance etc in the 1980s because it is unemotional, arid, inhuman and only suitable in short doses of 60 minutes or less.
                        Last edited by jamal.nazreddin; 19th February 2018, 02:59 AM.


                        • #13
                          [QUOTE=jamal.nazreddin;n54058]Pirandello may have been an influence on socialist J.B. Priestley...All but two of Kubrick’s films belong to the intellectually-condescending, ambiguous genre.[/QUOTE]

                          Priestley was indeed a Socialist, but the relevance escapes me. Have I missed something?

                          As for “intellectually-condescending”, forgive me, but that’s pejorative nonsense.

                          EDIT: Any chance of ever getting the quote problem in this thread sorted?
                          Last edited by narabdela; 19th February 2018, 09:59 AM.


                          • #14
                            Obviously not British but surely the daddy has to be Angels With Dirty Faces :)


                            • #15
                              jamal and zabadak

                              Many thanks for the additional information. Most enlightening.