Yay or Nay: Open Endings vs Closed Endings

Open Endings

If you are someone who feels there has to be a conclusive ending to a story, then I’m sorry, you are just plain boring. It is not a bad thing – each to their own, I guess. But, you are definitely missing out on what makes a story astounding; that special ‘oomph’, that is bound to blow people away. Think about it; a story with a perfectly summarised ending or a story that simply ends out of nowhere and makes you just wonder: ‘what does that mean?’. ‘Wait, what actually happened?’, ‘What happened to that guy, then?, ‘Is that it?’. Taken out of context, it may sound odd, but in reality it describes how a movie, a series, or even a book can leave a lasting impression on a person.

It makes you think, ponder and in a subtle manner, the story has already seeped into your mind and rooted in there. Even for days, weeks, or even months to come, you might just bring it up in a conversation going, ‘Do you know about this series/movie/book?hat do you think the ending meant?’. The human mind is a wonder – it can concoct numerous scenarios to just fill in the gaping hole left behind by the story. This leads to various interpretations produced by a large number of people, and these days where nearly everyone is chronically online, it’s highly entertaining to get to know the perspectives of others.

Is it necessary to know what the conclusion truly is? For some, it feels like an itch they need to relieve; it drives them crazy not knowing and having to keep on wondering. A word of advice: please take it easy, it’s not the end of the world. It says a lot about a person’s character when you’re unable to restrain yourself and jump to the end of the story and go, ‘I need to know!’. Patience is a virtue, dear reader. It can be a humbling experience to sit down and savour a whole movie or a book; appreciating the world-building, the characters and the overall  aesthetic, does a story more justice rather than dashing through it.  

In fact, there is a reason why movies such as Inception, American Psycho and Gone Girl get raving reviews, as they do possess a certain charm that comes with open-ended stories. The amount of ‘ending explained’ articles, videos, and so many ‘debunked’ theories revolving around these endings shows how, despite the years gone by, these stories still live on. To this day, viewers are still debating whether Rick Deckard is a human or a replicant (let me know what you think). In Doubt, are the accusations against Father Flynn true or not? Questions, questions, and with all the answers up to the audience.

Nevertheless, do understand that a cliffhanger and an ambiguous or open ending are two different things. An open ending is where the main incident and event has sort of ended, but doesn’t necessarily depict a happily-ever-after, where the hero and heroine live in contentment with their offsprings, family and friends. A cliffhanger is where the story leaves you hanging…literally. The story feels unfinished and is sometimes considered lazy writing. 

The beauty of an open ending is simple; the story lives on. Even after you’ve switched off the TV, started another series, or just put down a book — a part of you will still wonder about what is going on with a particular character and whether they managed to achieve whatever they wished for. Even though it may sound delusional, there is this small sense of delight, knowing that somewhere out there — that fantasy world is also still moving forward.

Of course, I do understand that many of us indulge in movies, series, or books to just zone out and enjoy them. But sometimes, a good story is one that makes you think. Continuously wondering where the story is taking you, figuring out a character, piecing together incidents – it is all very stimulating and keeps you on your toes. In a way, it’s much better than some of those mind-numbing movies that simply don’t make sense and only result in rotting your brain. 

There is a reason why the phrase, you become what you consume, hold true in most circumstances. Take the movie Black Swan as an example: it perfectly captures how bitter emotions can turn into something ugly and cruel, leaving you pondering about the attributes of human nature. At times, it is good to venture into more thought-provoking narrations, just to spruce it up, rather than always going for your go-to movies or series.

If you are someone who prefers open endings, then you are someone who understands there are endless possibilities in a story, since that is what life is all about in the end. You never know when it might throw you a curveball. There is no conclusive ending to the story called life. Well, unless you die. But, we digress – open endings also present us with something meaningful; hope. Your favourite character might not know what is ahead for them, but we’ll always hope for the better, and that’s what makes open endings sweet.

– Poorani, who as you can see, is highly emotional and likes to believe that stories do live on beyond a book or a movie.

Closed endings

Reading a new book or watching a new movie is just like starting a new life. It is about opening your mind to a whole new world, unleashing your mind from its cage of boredom, and putting yourself in the shoes of the protagonist throughout their journey. We feel the despair in all their failures, the weight behind their choices, and the relief in every small victory. We fall in love with the characters, their determination, their flaws, and all the subtle details in between.

Closure may not be something everyone wants. It is far easier to hang on to the possibility of something better in the making than to admit that something is what it is. But the harsh reality is that, whether it is on a good or a bad note, all stories have to come to an end as  life eventually comes to an end as well. Realism is not the enemy of the unknown, it is just a universal fact. It is the fact that no matter how your story and your journey in life goes, they will eventually come to an end. Just like a proper closure in the last chapter of a book or the last few minutes of a season finale, every end provides a reason for people to move on to a new and better beginning.

Take Percy Jackson & the Olympians for example, where Rick Riordan wrapped up the main storyline neatly but was still able to expand his tale beyond Camp Half-Blood in the Percy Jackson: Heroes of Olympus and the Trials of Apollo. Isn’t it amazing how Rick was able to control the plot and his characters in such a way that the ending of each series was able to complete its own series while tying up with the next one? Closed-endings do not hinder the growth of a story and its characters beyond the series, but rather provide hope for a new series that compliments the original plot. 

I am in no way trying to offend the pro-open-endings community, but genuine question, why do you put yourself through the torment of not knowing? From the series-long marathons with the protagonist facing the highs and lows of their character arc to the twisting plots that hurl us mercilessly into emotional rollercoasters, everyone deserves a proper closure for their beloved characters, whose journey they have followed since the first sentence of the first chapter or movie. I mean, can you imagine if Avengers: Endgame had an open-ending with an inconclusive war? Everyone would have gone ballistic.

Bear in mind that while I am all in favour for closed endings, I am also open to unresolved subplots that provide the writer with opportunities to tell a deeper story — a story that could have its own series or serve as a prequel or sequel, which further lures people into the writer’s unique universe. While I do have some personal favourites, such as the Maze Runner series that have a somewhat open ending, I do gain a greater  sense of satisfaction that lingers long after finishing a book or movie with a closed ending compared to open-endings that leave a void in me that is hard to fill after immersing myself completely in the story.

Chien Yi, who thinks that there already enough reasons why we’re losing sleep, thus open-endings should not be another contributing factor

In the world of literature and film, there exists the duality of open and closed endings. You may find yourself to be an open-ending fan, a closed-ending fan (like me), or one that’s in between; whichever category you may fall under, I’m here to tell you why closed endings are usually a better choice for most of the creative media we love and consume. 

What makes a story good? If you ask me and most people, we would tell you that it has to be the magic of amazing storylines, the intricate details that go into them, the characters we love, and even the impact it  had on us. Most of the time however, if not all the time, the ending is what makes individuals have a conclusive view of whether a story was terrific for them or not. An ending is the Big Bang of a story and has the power to influence the overall perspective someone has over the entire book or movie they’ve just finished. 

Oftentimes in stories with open-endings, they end on an inconclusive note and leave it up to the viewers to come to a conclusion of their own. Sounds amazing right? I’m here to tell you why that’s not the case. Let’s take the film Marriage Story for instance, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver close the film by her tying his shoelace for him despite the whole movie detailing their rocky relationship; closing the film in an air of uncertainty. Many viewers were left with the initial, upsetting thought of, “How does their story end?”. 

Although many may argue that open-endings leave room for the creativity of individuals to roam free when coming up with their own interpretations, it certainly leaves no room for those who are left feeling confused, especially with the expectation that stories end on a final note. Closed endings on the other hand, always provide the individual left on the receiving end of the media with clarity as to how the story ends, and decide for themselves on how it makes them feel about the overall story. 

One of the main problems of open-endings is that so many standalone books and films end with them, like the above-mentioned film Marriage Story. They were deliberately made to end like this by their creators to encourage the audience to form their own conclusions through fan theories and personal opinions, however, does this really appeal to the majority of people, or do most people prefer creators to at least end their work on finality, regardless of how predictable those endings may be sometimes?

All in all, closed endings make a whole lot of sense to utilise in ending a story. They resolve issues introduced, provide conclusive answers, give characters their happy ending, and through that, give us our happy ending too. Although I personally, rarely enjoy open-ending stories, I understand that their existence benefits some storylines and brings about diversity and a balance to the world of creative media.

– Sarah Rachel, who from observation, enjoys the comfort that closure provides and not the uncertainty of the unknown

Written by: Chien Yi, Poorani and Sarah Rachel

Edited by: Ruby

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