And they lived happily ever after. I blame Disney. The ugly truth is that the average American moviegoer needs closure at the end of a movie. (I said average, so I don’t want to hear about how many indie movies you’ve seen this year) The guy gets the girl. The good guy wins. Jason Statham shoots everyone, but somehow never gets clipped. Those are the expectations that studio movies in America need to live up to these days. But where does this stem? Let me enlighten you.
While Cinéma Vérité was alive and well in Europe during the early 1900s, it was not nearly as popular in the U.S. In America, it was a progression of silent films, Charlie Chaplin, Disney, and then Oz. Cinema in the U.S. was always viewed as entertainment over art. Real independent film didn’t even break into the U.S. until way after World War 2. In fact, it was Italian Neo-Realism that started the ball rolling.
What is Italian Neo-Realism, you ask? Well it began after WW2 when the country (Italy) was in ruins and the camera began to capture some not so glamorous images. The buildings had crumbled. The people were trying to rebuild. We finally began to see films showcasing the struggles of human life. Check out some AMAZING films like ‘Rome, Open City’, ‘Paisan’, and ‘The Bicycle Thief’. These are the films that paved the way for ‘realistic’ and gritty storytelling displayed in much of today’s independent film.
Now that everyone has had their lesson in cinema history, lets take a look at how some great foreign films have been Americanized. WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD.
‘Seven Samurai’ made by the genius Akira Kurosawa was remade as ‘The Magnificent Seven.’ There are a good amount of differences between the two, but one of the main differences comes at the end. In ‘Seven Samurai’, Katsushiro leaves Shino, the farmer’s daughter he fell in love with, because they belong to different social classes; but in ‘The Magnificent Seven’, Chico stays in the village with Petra to live happily ever after.
Americans need that happy ending. When the French classic,‘La Jetée’, was loosely remade as ’12 Monkeys’ – Happy Ending.
The problem is that most moviegoers expect to be taken on a journey with a very fulfilling conclusion. They never see it as a journey you are free to experience in your own way.
If I were to look at a painting and then you were to look at a painting, it is very unlikely it would evoke the same emotional response. So, why should it be any different for a movie?
There are a ton of movies that I like, that you may not like. That’s ok. That means we have our own opinions. So, when a film like ‘Donnie Darko’ leaves the entire plot and especially the ending open to interpretation, it is a beautiful thing. The mainstream audience would dismiss it, say “it sucks,” say “it was stupid”. My mom would say that is a stupid movie and she doesn’t get it, yet it’s my favorite movie of all time.
It’s like the book/movie ‘Life of Pi’ states, the only thing that matters is what you believe. If there are two versions, or four versions of a story and there is no way to figure out the “truth”, you have to decide what you believe. It is the basic ‘Roshomon’ effect.
‘Inception’s’ ending is so much better that we never see if the top (totem) falls, because it puts the ball in your court. It allows for your interpretation to have an effect on the film. Whether you like the film or not, depends on how it was interpreted. Consider it one step away from audience interaction. If you want _________ to happen go to page 189, if you want _________ to happen go to page 211. We have read books like this before that allow the reader to guide the protagonist, in any desirable direction.
These movies: ‘Donnie Darko’, ‘Magnolia’, ‘Mulholland Drive’ they stay with us longer, they eat away at our brains, and they drive us mad. But in the end they mean more to us, because they reflect our views and opinions as a person.
That’s why some indie movies make 1/10 the money of a Michael Bay flick. They are for a special kind of niche audience. Mainstream audiences would say, “It sucked”, “the ending was terrible”, because they don’t want to think. They don’t want to participate.
So, most big budget American movies will continue to follow suit. They won’t make any waves; not due to a lack of creativity, but due to a shallow audience that has developed conditioned expectations.