The best means to an end

<em>Illustration: John Shakepeare</em>
Illustration: John Shakepeare

The term ''happy ending'' is now tainted with connotations of the massage parlour, so in today's column I will use the term ''satisfying conclusion''.

Here's the problem: is the conclusion of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy satisfying or stupid? Did Nolan damage his reputation in trying to give Bruce Wayne a bit each way?

Personally, I loved the last five minutes of The Dark Knight Rises (having ignorantly predicted four months ago that Nolan would kill off Batman). But it seems I am in the minority, relative to American media commentators, at least.

How about the conclusion of Titanic? Was James Cameron silly to attempt the task of making the audience walk out exhilarated and inspired after a film about more than 1500 people meeting an agonising death?

Oops, I'd better do a ''spoiler alert''. If you have not seen The Dark Knight Rises, and still intend to, you will not want to read the next few paragraphs (but look, the film is leaving the multiplexes this weekend after selling 3 million tickets - why did you wait so long?). Ditto if you have not yet seen Titanic (but for crying out loud, it sold 6 million tickets in 1998 and has been constantly available on TV, DVD and download, so you've had your chance).

The other day in a DVD store I saw a newly released box set of Titanic with these words on the wrapper: ''29 deleted scenes and Alternate Ending!'' So in this version there are enough lifeboats and everyone is saved? Or Jack pushes Rose under and steals the jewel?

Not quite. Because I'm a sucker, I paid $19.99 and found the alternative ending simply involves the boss of the salvage ship trying to talk old Rose out of throwing the jewel into the sea, but finally agreeing that it should go back where it belongs.

The ending stays with the wonderful notion that Rose dies in her sleep and goes to heaven, which is the first-class lounge of the Titanic, where Jack and the other passengers have apparently been waiting for 80 years to applaud her.

Cameron seems to be saying that when we die, we return to the happiest moment in our lives.

You can't help wondering what happens next.

Does the heavenly Titanic then sail to a heavenly New York, and do Jack and Rose grow old together, die again and go back to the lounge, in an eternal loop? Wouldn't that get a bit boring after a few hundred repetitions?

It gets you thinking, which is what you expect of a great movie conclusion.

Now see if you can identify the endings that evoked these questions from viewers:

1. So, the planet he's on is actually Earth, but somehow in the future?

2. So, he's been dead all the time, and only the kid can see him?

3. So, he's not crippled at all, and he masterminded the whole thing?

4. So, they're all there, just waiting on the other side of The Force?

5. So, he managed to drop the bomb into the water, escape the blast and fly to Italy?

These were the movies:

1. The original Planet of the Apes, in which Charlton Heston sees a half-buried Statue of Liberty and says: ''You maniacs. You blew it up! God damn you all to hell!''

2. The Sixth Sense, in which Bruce Willis realises he's dead and tells his sleeping widow: ''I think I can go now. Just needed to do a couple of things. I needed to help someone; I think I did.''

3. The Usual Suspects, in which Kevin Spacey turns out to have been telling the investigators a pack of of lies and the audience recalls his words: ''The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn't exist.''

4. Return of the Jedi, where Luke sees his father, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda (in heaven, presumably, though you have to wonder why Anakin is allowed to look young while Obi-Wan looks old).

5. The Dark Knight Rises. Of course, the final scene might be just Alfred's dream, because he thinks Bruce deserves a coffee with Catwoman instead of death by bomb. Christopher Nolan does enjoy ambiguity.

This story The best means to an end first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.