That’s it? Open-Ended Story Conclusions.

You’ve probably had it happen before.  You’ve been watching a movie for the past two hours.  You’ve followed the hero through his fall and subsequent rise to redemption.  You’ve connected with the world and the characters.  You’re genuinely attached to the story, and can’t wait to see how it ends.

And then the credits roll suddenly and unexpectedly.  You blink.  What just happened?  Where did the main character end up?  Did he succeed?  Did any of the other characters make it?  What even transpired at the end there?  The final scene seemed to make no sense at all.  You go home, read up on the plot synopsis of the movie, view a few message boards, and maybe read a blog or two.  It seems like everyone has their own version of the ending, and none of them seem to match.  You lean back in your desk chair and you sigh with frustration.

Welcome to the world of ambiguous endings.

 

Endings are not an easy thing to write.  Many classic stories have an ending that noticeably just falls flat or at least lacks the power and energy of the earlier bits of story.  Part of this is due to the fact that an ending has to be that, an ending.  Other times it has to do with the complexity of actually wrapping up all the loose plot threads, which occasionally leads to a rushed ending that feels totally artificial and breaks the suspension of disbelief.

But what about those other endings, the ones that sometimes don’t feel like endings?  What about those endings that leave questions unanswered, that leave things floating in the air?  Are they good or bad?  The answer is, of course, complicated.

The reason I wanted to talk about this was because I recently had an experience with a video game I played where the ending to the story left me unsatisfied.  But we’ll get to that in a moment.

There are a lot of ways to go about an ambiguous ending.  Some stories have been known to just not explain anything at all, and leave it up to the viewer/reader to fill in the blanks.  Others will mostly wrap up the central plot, but maybe leave a certain character’s fate uncertain.  Like anything else in writing, it’s not an exact science, nor should it be.

But the question we often come to is “was it good?”  It’s hard to say.  I will admit that personally, I am not a huge fan of ambiguous endings because, from my experience, they tend to leave you feeling unsatisfied.  It’s one thing to watch a movie that just messes with your head all the way through, it’s quite another to watch a movie that progresses conventionally for most of the time only to suddenly jump off the rails thirty minutes from the end.  It’s one of those things where it really does depend on how it is done.  I have enjoyed some ambiguous endings.  For example, Alan Wake has a slightly ambiguous ending, but it wraps up the main plot of the game beforehand, so what you’re actually left with is a cryptic tease for what might be next (which, the way things are going, might never actually happen unfortunately).

So let’s talk about that game I mentioned a little bit ago.  It’s called Hotline Miami.  The game is primarily about an unnamed man who receives strange phone calls, then goes out and murders a bunch of armed thugs in a building somewhere.  It’s a weird and trippy experience, one that actually got me interested in the story after a while.  But once I hit the end of the game, I felt unsatisfied.  I got no reason for what I was doing.  I got no explanation for why my character had a distorted sense of reality and why he was having horrible hallucinations.  It just ended.

But once the credits finished, I found myself playing an epilogue as another character.  “Finally, some answers,” I thought.  But that was when things got even more confusing.

The epilogue has you play as a biker character, a person you encounter in the main story and murder.  The biker is receiving the strange phone calls as well, and wants them to stop.  So he goes on a quest to figure out who is making the calls and why.  When I got to the part where the main character walked in, I was like “well that’s it, I’m dead”.  But that’s not what happened at all.  In the epilogue, the biker kills the unnamed protagonist, not the other way around.

I was now seriously confused.  This scene in the main story happened only halfway through the game, so was I supposed to believe that the second half of the game never actually happened?  I really didn’t know.  There were some references to there being other masked people like my character, so maybe the person that died was just another version of him or something?  But that still didn’t explain why I saw the scene play out in a completely different way before.  And in the end, the epilogue didn’t give me many answers because I hadn’t completed the secret puzzle to unlock the “true ending” (a practice that just seems archaic to me…it worked with old Nintendo games and such, but today it just seems silly to force someone to jump through extra hoops just to get the “real” ending).  And even then, all the true ending seems to do is reveal what the people who were sending out the phone calls actually wanted to accomplish, which is nice but it still doesn’t explain anything about the main character and his demented psyche.

Maybe I’m being a little too harsh on it.  It is true that Hotline Miami is a game that is focused on the gameplay and not the story.  The story is just an added bonus so to speak.  But that still doesn’t really excuse it from being jumbled and vague.  Some people loved the story.  I was one of them, up until the end.  Maybe that kind of story just isn’t for me.

The point I’m trying to get across is that some stories can pull off ambiguous endings without having to sacrifice a satisfying resolution.  Some people love debating what really happened in a story.  Some people really like having to fill in the blanks themselves.  I do to a certain extent, but when a story legitimately makes wonder what is happening and then doesn’t bother explaining itself it feels like a cop-out in a lot of ways.  In a certain respect, I feel like the Hotline Miami story was weird for the sake of being weird.  I guess I just found myself far too attached to the story that I didn’t catch on to the fact that it probably wasn’t going to have a satisfying resolution.

Because that’s kinda how life is sometimes isn’t it?  Often your questions go unanswered, and then you find even more questions that you didn’t expect.

 

That’s all I have for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

 

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Random Questionnaire Finale: The Explosive Conclusion

It’s come.  It has finally…come.

You may remember that a while back I did a silly little game for a post (and then again a couple of weeks later).  The basic gist of it is this: I use a random number generator to come up with five different numbers.  I take these numbers and apply them to a book I have that is full of different questions.  Some of them are simple.  Some of them are mentally stimulating.

But mostly, they’re pretty stupid.

So the numbers I have this time are 123, 27, 201, 66, and 155.  Let’s do this.

 

123. When you do something ridiculous, how much does it bother you to have other people notice it and laugh at you?

Well I’m sitting here actually writing out an answer to this crap, so obviously it doesn’t bother me that much.

 

27. If God appeared to you in a series of vivid and moving dreams and told you to leave everything behind, travel alone to the Red Sea and become a fisherman, what would you do?  What if you were told to sacrifice your child?

Oh great, now I get to make everyone super pissed at me.  Thanks book!

As many of you who follow my blog know, I am not religious.  I was never raised religious, but I have no problem with people who believe (I used to…back in my high school days I was all angry and bitter about it).  I just simply never found a reason to, and my parents did the best they could to condition me neither for or against religion.

There’s this weird conception of non-religious parents as raising their kids to hate all religions.  Basically, if you’re not for our god, you’re against our god is their line of reasoning.

I can imagine what they think non-religious parents are like, hobgoblin creatures who live in some cave somewhere.  They’re hunched over, miserable looking creatures who stare at their children, crowded into giant test tubes.  Wires and electrodes are attached to their heads, feeding them images and molding their brains into the form they desire.  An IV is inserted directly into their arms that feeds them a solution of pure hate.

“Yes, YES,” they say, “soon our children will hate religion as much as WE DO!  MWA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!”

Man…those people are weird.

But I digress.  If God himself appeared to me in a dream and told me to do all these things, I probably wouldn’t take it at face value.  I’d probably just disregard it as a weird dream I was having and ignore it until the inevitable rain of frogs onto my apartment building.

As for the sacrificing your child thing…I’d probably just accuse him of being unoriginal.  I mean, come on.  He’s God.  He can afford to be a little creative.

 

201. Do you frequently find yourself — just to be polite — saying things you don’t mean?  For example, when you say goodbye to someone who does not interest you, do you act as though you enjoyed their company?

Man, I’ll be sad to see you go book.  You asked really stimulating question and were totally not full of complete and utter nonsense that made me waste my time writing stupid answers to even more stupid questions that had no realistic bearing on ANYTHING AT ALL!

In all seriousness though, I’ve heard that there is a psychological imperative to these kinds of “white lies”, those little fibs you tell in your daily life.  I’ve heard it argued that white lies are necessary for humans to function, that they need to tell them every once in a while to maintain relationships.  Instead of telling someone you just don’t want to hang out with them right now, you might say that you’re busy or that you’re not feeling good.  I would wager that most of you reading, if not all of you, have done this at some point in your life.

So no, I wouldn’t say I frequently do this.  But I have done it before, mainly because I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings for no reason.  I don’t go out of my way to seem like I enjoyed their company or anything, but at the same time I don’t want to seem mean.

It’s one of those things where sometimes avoiding a confrontation is the better route.  Best to avoid causing unnecessary drama.

 

66. Do you feel that advice from older people carries a special weight because of their greater experience?

…I feel like this question is a loaded one.  “Greater experience”…what exactly are you implying there book?

This seems like one of those old stereotypes that just never really dies.  The wise, old elder who sits down on their rocking chair and imparts their knowledge to the younger generation.  A lot of times it tends to be true.  Older people have had more time to accumulate experiences and knowledge than younger generations (obviously), so their perspectives on life have been shaped by all of this.  They have a lot to say, and some of it is incredibly interesting.  They are, after all, our only living link to the past.

But then there are those crotchety old people.  You know, the ones who balk at inter-racial marriages and find it crazy that there’s a black man in the White House….yeah they’re probably not the best people to go to for advice.  Just saying.

So while I feel that it is true to some extent, I don’t think it should be a type of thing that we hold up as prophetic.  And there are a lot of people out there who do just that.

 

155. Would you be willing to make a substantial sacrifice to have any of the following: your picture on a postage stamp, your statue in a park, a college named after you, a Nobel prize, a national holiday in your honor?

So this is it, the final question.  All roads have led to here.  The number has been drawn, the words written.  Time slows down, and the world awaits the inevitable answer…

And the book decides to ask me if I’m a narcissistic fiend.  Great…because THAT’S a fitting final question isn’t it?  Where’s the God question again?  That was a cool one.

The answer is no, I would not care to have any of those things.  Award and recognition are but hollow things to me, substitutes for the more fulfilling things in life.  I want to be a writer, and honestly, I don’t care if people give me awards or not.  I don’t care if people even recognize me as I walk down the street.  All I want is to find my footing and make a living doing something I love.  If I can manage that, than anything else that comes from it is just icing.

And besides, what does it mean when it says “substantial sacrifice”?  It’s not very clear on that.  I don’t know if I’m being asked to give money or a part of my body.

Maybe they want me to sacrifice my child, just like in that other question.  Wait a minute……….

……my god.

Please press button for dramatic effect.

 

Well that’s all I got this week.  This is the final time I’m going to do one of these.  I meant to do it a while back, but I decided to wait on it because I felt that if I did three of them in a row basically, people would get sick of it.

Thanks for reading.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

 

 

The Definition of a Hero

Last week I talked about Caitlyn Jenner and her transformation.  What I want to talk about this week is somewhat related to that, in the sense that it emerged as a response to the story.  When Bruce became Caitlyn, large groups of people, men and women alike, came out in support of her choice.  They said she was brave.  They said she was an inspiration.

They said she was a hero.  And some people didn’t like that.

Some people started saying that Caitlyn Jenner wasn’t a hero and pointed to the people who served in the military.  I’ve seen several pictures floating around on Facebook that use this rhetoric.  They’re usually accompanied with a caption that says something like “They call Caitlyn Jenner a hero.  These are the real heroes.”

First off, let’s check the definition of a hero.  According to the Merriam-Webster website, a hero can be defined as the following:

  • A person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities
  • A person who is greatly admired
  • The chief male character in a story, play, movie, etc.

Notice that in those three descriptions, none of them list the criteria that said person must be serving in the military.  The definition of hero does include that bit about the chief male character in a story, but that is mostly an archaic version of the definition, harking back to a time when gender stereotypes were rigidly enforced.

Is Caitlyn Jenner a hero?  I cannot say for sure.  But the issue I have here is not with people calling Jenner a hero.  People are free to do that as they wish.  I may or may not disagree with their assertion, but that is beside the point.  The people sharing these posts on Facebook, the ones insinuating that true heroes are only in the armed forces, are trying to co-opt the word “hero” and shape it to their own designs.  They are trying to take a word that has existed for centuries upon centuries, far longer than the United States military, and drastically reduce its meaning.  It is true that the word hero does often bring to mind the image of a noble warrior who fights for good, but not all heroes are warriors.

What about the person who pulls someone from the burning wreck of a car?  What about the person who jumps into a river to save a drowning man?  What about the person who, seeing injustice, decides to take a stand against it?  What about them?  Are they not considered heroes?  Or are we going to pretend that because they never served in the military they can’t be seen as noble human beings?

The idea that military personnel are above criticism is just flat-out stupid.  You are not a hero just because you join the military.  You are a hero because of the actions you take while in that role.  It’s just like with the American Sniper movie, how conservatives viciously attacked anyone who critiqued the movie, insinuating that they were unpatriotic scum who weren’t fit to shine Chris Kyle’s boots (Sarah Palin actually said something like that by the way…on Facebook no less).  Never mind the fact that Chris Kyle comes off as somewhat of a sociopath in his book.  Never mind the fact that he admitted he enjoyed killing.  Never mind the fact that he blatantly made stuff up and lied about certain events.

Never mind any of that because Man + Military = Hero.  And if you disagree, you’re just a scumbag who doesn’t deserve freedom.

How absolutely narcissistic must someone be to think they can single-handedly define a word that has existed for centuries before they were even born.  It seems to me like these people are trying to cover up their own prejudices about the whole Caitlyn Jenner situation by trying to make it about something completely different.  It’s the same rhetoric people employ when it comes to gay marriage.  No, they don’t hate gay people.  They just don’t want them to get married because it threatens their religious freedom.  They turn prejudice into something that seems noble.  A lot of the time, they get away with it, because if you question them you become the bad guy.  And that’s hard to get away from, because you find yourself defending a position that has absolutely nothing to do with the original problem.

You don’t get to claim someone isn’t a hero just because you don’t like them.  Someone being declared a hero is something that happens on a larger scale than just one individual.  People are deemed heroes by an entire society, an entire civilization.  One man doesn’t just call another a hero and expect the label to stick.  No, they have to earn it.  They have to prove their virtue to the people, and only then will they be considered a hero.

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

 

 

Follow the Leader: Our Obsession with Celebrities

Well, it’s time to get topical again.  Prepare yourselves.

You’ve probably heard about the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner story in the last couple of days.  For those not in the know, Bruce Jenner, former Olympic athelete, recently revealed that he never felt comfortable in his gender.  Rather, he always felt like a she.  This week, Vanity Fair released their new magazine cover featuring Bruce’s new identity as Caitlyn.  Praise supporting her decision has come from all over.

I have absolutely no issue with this.  If she wants to be a woman, so be it.  In the end, it’s her choice and not mine.  I also am not bothered that much by the news coverage of the story.  It’s an important issue that should be discussed to show the younger generations that there is nothing wrong with them if they feel misplaced in their genders.  I do, however, have an issue with the fact that it seemed to take a celebrity’s personal story to really draw attention to the issue, but more on that in a moment.

Bruce Jenner had what is known as Gender Identity Disorder (GID), otherwise known as Gender Dysphoria.  The definition of GID is pretty simple.  It refers to a condition in people who feel discontent with their assigned sex or gender.  So examples would be a boy who feels more like a girl, and a girl who feels more like a boy.  GID has led to a serious discussion on the social nature of gender and whether or not it is a biological construct, a social construct, or perhaps both.  It has birthed a movement of people who see gender as an inclusive spectrum rather than a codified set of two types.

But that’s not really what I want to talk about today.  The idea of gender identity is a hugely complex issue that is influenced by so many different factors that I feel my opinion on the matter would be an inadequate exploration of the situation.  Rather, I want to talk about Caitlyn/Bruce’s addition to the movement.  From everything I heard about Jenner’s interview and subsequent sex change, it seems like all she ever wanted was a personal change in her life.  Jenner never stood on top of the world proclaiming that gender is a spectrum or anything like that.  All Jenner ever said was that she always felt like she was a woman, not a man.  I just find myself frustrated that it seemed to take the inclusion of a celebrity’s personal story for people to truly shine a spotlight on the matter.

The idea of a gender spectrum is really nothing new.  Transgender people have existed for a long time, but until fairly recently they were commonly viewed as freaks and made fun of.  But then when Jenner opened up about her constant struggle with GID, suddenly everyone became an expert on the situation.  Everyone was praising her and telling her how brave she was for sharing her struggle with the world.  But the thing is, no one would care if it wasn’t Bruce Jenner detailing the struggle with his gender identity.  No one wouldn’t have cared if it wasn’t Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair revealing herself to the world.  The only reason this story is such a big deal is because Jenner is a celebrity and associated with the Kardashian family.  It wasn’t until a celebrity came out and said “I’m not comfortable with the sex I was assigned at birth” that so many people jumped on the congratulatory bandwagon.  There are so many stories of similar struggles that were met with disdain and disgust rather than approval.  It seems to me like some are taking advantage of the situation, like being “socially conscious” has become the cool thing to do rather than the right thing to do.

It may sound cynical, but I can’t help but feel irritated by the whole thing.  It shouldn’t take someone with star power to make an issue relevant to people.  There are probably people all around us that are dealing with these issues every single day, and sometimes all they really want is a friend to say “it’s okay, you’re not a freak of nature”.  But no, it’s only when a celebrity who honestly only seems to care in a personal sense comes out on the issue that everyone is suddenly an advocate of progressiveness.  There’s a quote from the Welcome to Night Vale podcast that I feel is appropriate to this situation, a quote that itself is a paraphrasing of a German playwright:

“Sad is not the land that has no hero.  Sad is the land that needs a hero.”

We should all be able to stand up and say “hey, these people are different, and that’s okay.”  But often, so many of us remain silent on these social issues, leaving it to the vocal extremists to drive the discussion.  And it’s hard sometimes, because as much as we would like to participate, a lot of us have busy lives with financial burdens and concerns.  We don’t often have time to give to these social issues, even if we’d very much like to.  I know I’m guilty of this as well.  But we have to find some way of making our voices heard, of striving for change, because if we don’t we allow that change to be made for us instead of by us.  We all have a voice.  We just need to find a way to use it.

 

Thanks for reading.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.