"Box-office statistics prove that no matter how inartistic a happy ending picture may be, it will always get better box office than a more artistic unhappy-ending picture"
- Herman Lewis in A Practical Manual of Screen Playwriting For Theater and Television Films.
A truism that was in the 70s and 80s, has found wide disclaim in movies of today such as Inception. The observation of that earlier time goes in line with the philosophical thought that people are desperately looking for an order or certainty. Without certainty, people become anxious and uncomfortable.
But contrary to your perception today, art began evolving much before Inception. Postmodernism and post modern art went against many ideas such as that about certainty. For example Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play Waiting for Godot on opening was met with extraordinary reactions though not universally positive. It remains a success today.
Let us first observe the theory of open endings. If not the audience, open endings became remarkably popular with the post avant garde intellectual filmmakers. The theory of open endings goes against the traditional ideas of endings, Syd Field, the “Screenwriting Guru” writes in his book Screenplay that in a good screenplay"everything is resolved dramatically, in terms of action and character: all questions raised are answered." Such a “closure”, masterpieces like Rashomon, 8 ½ did not offer. Cinemas with open endings were believed to contain an intrinsic ideology. Not to say that a movie with happy ending does not have this, but in former case the ideology has stood out. These open ended movies if we were also to throw in 2001: A Space Odyssey, 400 Blows and others all indicate a presence of this ideology that the end constructs. This means that the endings of these movies probably existed before the rest of the movie was written. Okay try imagining these with certain and regular endings, that would defeat the purpose of the movies itself, the movie will have nothing to say at all.
The lead character that of a director in 8 ½ finds himself in a confronting situation; he has no “end” to the story he has started writing, he laments “I thought my ideas were so clear….. I really have nothing to say... but I want to say it all the same.”
The ploy is not to “mind fuck” the audience merely.
Giving Inception credit not undeserved, for its radical impact, many people even in India and almost all the youth you can find have watched it, it has got them thinking. Kudos to Nolan, it has cost him his cult appeal perhaps, for which some would even unjustly criticize him. After the five months that have passed, there seems to be no end to the theories that people have come up with. All people talk about is its “mind fuck” end.
Such ending, provide just the right fuel for the audience to light their brains up. Coens do it. They include such allusions to biblical tales that give new meanings to “subtext”, and Coen fanatics go wild with interpreting it, how A Serious Man is based on “book of job” is beyond us. It is debatable whether these effects are any credit to the men themselves because quite simply if you unavoidably have turn to Wikipedia and IMDb FAQs to resolve these then such subtexts are phony. We believe cinemas should be self-explanatory.
Anyway, the Coens are happy and Nolan is definitely enjoying his climb his way through Warner Bros., maybe even laughing at some theories that are fielded. In Inception the third possibility to either the end being a dream or reality was also endorsed by Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof – “it neither stopped nor kept spinning. The story ended before either could happen. ”
The theory that a movie ends with the black out of screen is a credible one. Because no other theory is completely satisfactory. Somebody else will easily disprove it. And the maker has shown no inclination to disclose it. Would you want to put a stop to this paranoia? Our guess is that even Nolan the writer does not know. It does not matter and necessarily take anything away from the movie.
The popularity of these movies has been in spite of a lack of closure. People are quite happy to embrace a conflict. Drawing conclusions is a good pastime and very honestly we have ourselves had more than our share of hostel dorm talks on this.
Such is the theory of open endings that give evidences against a theory of order. If you take certainty out and put in confusion you can make people grasp at YOUR straws. This is how you can manipulate the audience to make them dance to your tune.