Sunday, May 09, 2010

Ambiguity

I just finished reading Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, a tome on why it is that we tend to suck so hard at predicting what will make us happy. One of the many interesting things I read in the book had to do with events that we can't make sense of:

"If an event defies explanation, it becomes an mystery or conundrum and if there's one thing we all know about mysterious conundrums, it is that they generally refuse to stay in the back of our minds. Filmmakers and novelists often capitalize on this fact by fitting their narratives with mysterious endings, and research shows that people are, in fact, more likely to keep thinking about a movie when they can't explain what happened to the main character. And if they liked the movie, this morsel of mystery causes them to remain happy longer."

Two of my favorite movies from last year (A Serious Man & Up In The Air) had endings in which I didn't know what was to become of the main character (Up In The Air's ending was just that), but did I chastise the movie screen for this?




Nope, it only added to the allure. Another fave, 2002's Unfaithful with Richard Gere, ended with Gere in his SUV in front of a police station contemplating if he was going to turn himself in for an accidental murder or leave the state with his family.

Sometimes I try to fill in the blanks and say what I believe the character wound up doing. Other times, I just smile and say, "Hey, that's the way life is sometimes". Like the author says, these types of endings almost always cause me to think more about the film than I typically would. I'm aware that there are those who get frustrated by unresolved denouements. My advice to them is to stay the hell away from indie films and stick with the lowest-common-demoninator stuff.

5 comments:

Extra Ordinary Me said...

I read this book and really enjoyed it.

Thomas said...

That's good to hear. He really is a great writer. Here's another passage I liked:

"Among life's cruelest truths is this one: Wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness wanes with repetition.

When we have an experience - hearing a particular sonata, making love with a particular person, watching the sun set from a particular window of a particular room - on successive occasions, we quickly begin to adapt to it, and the experience yields less pleasure each time.

Psychologists call this habituation, economists call it declining marginal utility, and the rest of us call it marriage".

Rocketstar said...

It also leaves it open for the sequel...

Narkissos said...

both are wonderful movies....up in the air....it's simply awesome, georgy's movie can't be bad....never!
unfaithful....loved it....especially for the ending...i still think he went to another place with his family and lived happily ever after...lol
love inconclusive endings....makes ya wonder...what if?

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