The Value of Closure

My brother called yesterday, asking me about the ending to Inception. He felt cheated, desiring a real ending, not something ambiguous. To me, the ending perfectly fit in with the theme and tone of the movie and I was more delighted than bothered by it.

That got me to thinking about endings, especially when they are a long time coming. Lost ended in May with bringing things full circle as Jack closed his eyes and the story ended. As documented elsewhere, the six seasons clearly made things up as they went along, and couldn’t possibly tidy everything up by the final episode. Instead, they addressed many of the largest issues and provided us with a focus on the core characters and their relationships, making the ending pretty close to satisfying.

On the other hand, the final season of the superb Sopranos built up to a climax that never came. From a creative standpoint, David Chase had every right to conclude the series as he imagined it, but the viewers wanted closure. We were robbed of knowing of Tony was going to finish his meal in peace or be gunned down in front of his family. Given how the diner was stocked with shooters from earlier episodes, we were led to believe the latter would occur but we’ll never know.

It was pretty clear that the ratings would prevent ABC from renewing FlashForward for a second season and the producers could have easily wrapped things up. Instead, we were left with a cliffhanger that would never be resolved. Its dwindling fanbase were left frustrated.

How a series goes dark can be memorable (the final episode of Newhart), wistful (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Wonder Years), or satisfying (the original Fugitive). Many dramatic series and comedies wrap things up with a tidy bow, others flash forward to give you a sense of where the characters go next. In the SF genre, one of the best conclusions was Star Trek: The Next Generation as Picard finally allows himself to accept his crew as friends and family, sitting in for a game of poker.

The closure we often don’t get in life is all the more necessary in our entertainment, making us feel the investment in time or money spent was well used. Inception’s ambiguity, though, doesn’t close the story but continues to let us ponder its themes as we leave the theater, a rare bonus.

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