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Ambiguity in Film


EugeniaH
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I came across this topic on another classic movie board. There are some films that are straightforward, with a clear beginning, middle and end, and others that are ambiguous, that leave you with more questions than answers. (And when I talk about "ambiguous", I'm still referring to well-made movies, not implausible ones with huge plot holes.)

 

Which do you prefer, and what examples come to mind for you?

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The ending in HARPER is one of my favorite ambiguous endings. In fact, I think that is the way most movies should end...give us an idea of the main character's fate but deny us the next few frames or footage from that person's life. It keeps us wondering, and when you think about it, this often happens in real life. So many people we meet, and the last time we see them they are going off to do something, and we never really see them again.

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Well I can't say if I like ambiguous ending or clear cut ones more. It comes down to it all depends on what the movie is trying to convey.

 

Take The Graduate. That has a ambiguous ending as to if these two will really have a future. That ending 'fits' the movie since it really isn't clear if these two really do love each other, only that the girl didn't love the guy she was about to marry.

 

But often I like that happy ending were it is implied they will be happy ever after.

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What killed Kirk Douglas in *Ace In the Hole* was the stab wound Jan Sterling gave him before she blew that pop stand. Remember? Stabbed him with a pair of scissors.

 

 

When you're meaning ambiguous endings, the ones mentioned are good ones. But I can't count them if the entire movie is ambiguous. We KNOW Hoffmann is chasing Ross to stop the wedding in *The Graduate* . We KNOW about the mission to follow and study the monolith in *2001* . In fact, we KNOW Dreyfus was invited by the aliens in hopes he would be there to board the spaceship. What happens after that is anybody's guess, and that's intended. You can assume in moviemaking that there's a future for all the characters involved. What happens to them after that isn't the point.

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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Interesting answers, everyone.

 

As said, I got this idea from another classic movie board. The original question that this poster put out was, "Do you feel a director or script writer should offer the movie fan an explanation of their film"? Is it better or more fun to exercise your mind with an ambiguous film? Another possible interesting topic for discussion.

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(EDIT: The link is wonky - you need to look on the left hand side for the title, "Should a Director Explain His Film"?, and click on that.)

 

 

Okey doke - here it is. :)

 

 

http://forums.delphiforums.com/n/main.asp?webtag=classicmov&nav=messages&msg=11886.1&prettyurl=%2Fclassicmov%2Fmessages%2F%3Fmsg%3D11886.1

 

Edited by: EugeniaH on Oct 12, 2012 7:15 PM

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The link to the thread you mentioned was good; so good in fact that I may subscribe. It's wonky in the way I like wonky.

 

The thread mentions the endings to *Shane* and *The War Lord* with the hero grievously wounded, but those endings bring up a thought to me-- Do these endings test our attitude toward closure? Can a film actually hurt its credibility in storytelling by leaving itself open-ended?

 

I am not suggesting this is the case for *Shane* or the *The War Lord* - clearly these two have an excellent ending for the story did not get the sequel. These two give the hero a more honorable closure than to bleed to death and have a breath rattle onscreen. That is the thought I have as to why they just fade away. For the viewer, the grief is palpable watching the hero just ride away; something we see in *El Cid* as well.

 

I guess some just want to be definitive, like when Bones McCoy declares to Capt Kirk:

"He's dead, Jim."

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I'm glad that people are also bringing up more modern movies and shows, because the one film that keeps coming to my mind is *The Blair Witch Project*. The whole movie is suspenseful from the beginning. You have a group of kids in the woods (which can be a "scary" environment at times), with no one (including the principles) knowing what they are going to uncover - they are pretty much vulnerable. At the end -

 

*SPOILERS*

 

they run in a house, there is a scream, there is a figure standing there, the camera drops, the movie ends. No explanation.

 

That movie literally gave me nightmares. Brilliant!

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Ambiguity may further a director's or scriptwriter's point rather than using a straightforward approach. For example, if the author wanted to make a certain statement, instead of strongly forcing it on the viewers, he/she can make the film in such a way to draw the viewer in to ask questions. I'm thinking of the movie *12 Angry Men*. Nearly the entire film is set in only one room with twelve characters, but it's a fascinating look at one simple question: did an accused man commit murder? There are strong opinions, but no one knows for sure and there are a lot of questions raised on many levels. Each juror brings his own perspective into the mix, objective and subjective, leading the viewer to ask even more questions.

 

And the ending is ambiguous because even though the jurors have come to an agreement, we don't really know if the person is truly guilty.

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> {quote:title=Dargo2 wrote:}{quote}Gotta say I'm a bit surprised no one in this thread as of yet has mentioned just about any David Lynch movie he's ever made.

>

> Now THERE'S ya some ambiguity, folks!

>

> (...and I don't think I need to list 'em all here, do I?) ;)

 

And none more ambiguous than *Mulholland Drive*. It, and a couple of other favorites, from other directors - *Jacob's Ladder* and *Donnie Darko* are pretty much totally ambiguous, and have no apparent logical explanation. When that works, and I think it does in those films, I love it!

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<And the ending is ambiguous because even though the jurors have come to an agreement, we don't really know if the person is truly guilty.>

 

 

 

 

 

Because THAT's not the point <-- one of the best reasons for ambiguity in a film ending, IMHO.

 

 

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When I saw the word "ambiguity" the first film I thought of was *The Heiress*. I think the film does a great job of keeping you guessing. Does he love her? Is it a con? You are never quite sure. Just when you think you're sure, they throw a curve at you to put you back on the fence. Of course it can be argued either way, but that's the fun of it.

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