Happing Ending Syndrome

May 16, 2017


When a story ends on a happy note for the sake of ending on a happy note in contrast to everything the plot had built up, cheapening everything that happened before.

Kimi No Na Wa./Your Name.

Spoiler warning: all of them.

There are plenty of other examples of pointless, happy endings, tacked onto the end of a story because the writer felt some need or pressure to put it there. In Interstellar, Jonah and Christopher Nolan write a great social commentary about our space program and our relationship with Earth, a mediocre science fiction story about space travel, and a deus ex machina ending to try and sell some uplifting message about humanity saving itself. This would work if, somehow, plot could be completely divorced from themes so that the things the audience experiences during the movie could be divorced from the things the audience is meant to think about after the movie. They obviously can't, so it obviously doesn't work. The theme of humanity saving itself falls flat because it doesn't work at all with the entire rest of the plot and so the ending cheapens the entire rest of the movie to deliver an empty platitude.

Another example is Queen of Katwe, in which William Wheeler proves there are ways of suffering from Happing Ending Syndrome besides deus ex machina. The ending doesn't even feel implausible – given enough time, Phiona definitely could have bought a house for her family. But she wasn't there yet – she wasn't even close. So we have a story about Phiona's struggle to escape poverty through chess. We see her trying and sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. The struggle is portrayed in a way that is real and believable. And then we cut to the happy ending where she buys a house and her mother is super happy. The end. This is writing that doesn't understand that the story being told and the emotional impact that comes from it comes from the struggle rather than from the success. Phiona is not strong because she wins and the audience is not rooting for her because she bought a house. Skipping the struggle to get to the ending cheapens the emotional impact.

Your Name., for real this time

But why am I complaining about random movies? If I don't like a movie, shouldn't I just get over it and move on?

Yes, but I can't get over the completely pointless ending of Your Name. Here, we have Makoto Shinkai, writer of 5 Centimeters per Second and Garden of Words. His works are emotionally powerful and generally do not end cheerfully. Before Your Name., he had already been both successful and, more importantly, successful without pandering to an audience that demanded happy endings. That second level of success is important because it means I can't accept that he scrawled in an implausible, happy ending due to external pressures to be successful.

Instead, it means he scrawled in an implausible, happy ending because he himself suffers from HES. He felt that Your Name. would be better with a happy ending, even if it meant writing an ending that requires the audience strain their suspension of disbelief to allow two people to meet by chance in Tokyo. Even if it meant overwriting the theme he had built up in the first hour and a half about doing the hard work of understanding someone else so you could come to love them with the completely opposite theme of random chance and/or fate driving love. Even if it meant dampening the emotional impact of the literally scrawled message on Mitsuha's hand and the loss they both felt – loss that the audience is able to feel too because Shinkai had sold their relationship so masterfully and we had bought every bit of it.

For me, the real pain is in the cheapening of all the emotional currency that had been built up over the first hour and a half. And, I suppose, in learning that a writer/director I so loved was afflicted with this terrible disease, causing him to destroy his own masterpieces in bouts of uncontrollable madness.