Have you ever walked away from a film with a nagging feeling that its upbeat ending wasn't quite warranted? Happy movie endings that ignored tragedy have typically been created so a story can have its cake and it eat it, too. You can show all the misery and destruction - physical or personal - you want, then throw a warm-fuzzy coda on it and maybe audiences won't leave as depressed as they probably should be.
To be clear, some very good movies have done exactly this. Choosing to brush past the massive real-life implications in order to focus on a tiny bit of hope is, quite frankly, part of the reason we go to movies. We want to indulge in that fantasy. That said, the following examples really require the viewer to push those thoughts out of their minds. Think about them too closely and you realize the stories are too dark to have the happy endings they aspire to.
- 1Photo: 20th Century Fox
At the rousing conclusion of Star Wars, the rebels - led by Luke Skywalker - successfully blow up the Death Star, removing a massive threat from the galaxy. For their efforts, Luke and Han Solo are honored by Princess Leia in a lavish medal ceremony. (Chewbacca, on the other hand, is not given a medal, which seems to be a clear case of prejudice toward Wookiees.) John Williams's uplifting score blasts on the soundtrack.
Is it really a cause for celebration, though? Earlier in the picture, Grand Moff Tarkin blows up Leia's home planet of Alderaan, incinerating nearly 2 billion of its citizens. That's billions-with-a-B. Then, tens of thousands of lives are lost in the explosion. Sure, they were largely Imperial soldiers, but that's still a staggering toll that overshadows two guys getting medals.13155Not actually that happy?
- 2Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures
The ending of 28 Days Later is a happy occasion for Jim (Cillian Murphy) and Selena (Naomie Harris). After being relentlessly chased by infected people who have essentially turned into zombies, then escaping from a mansion in which they've been held captive, the characters stand outside a cottage with fellow escapee Hannah (Megan Burns) as a fighter jet flies overhead. They've spelled out the word "HELLO" as a signal for help. The arrival of the jet suggests they will be saved at long last.
They're the lucky ones. The rest of London, meanwhile, has become flooded with the infected. Zombie people run wild, leaving the city a genuine carnage-filled cesspool that will never again restore itself to its former glory. In fact, London as the world has previously known it is gone for good.7030Not actually that happy?
- 3Photo: 20th Century Fox
For much of Independence Day, it seems as though there's little hope for humanity. Those massive alien spaceships hovering in the sky prove surprisingly resilient against humans. Then Hiller (Will Smith) and Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) make their way into one of the ships, where they upload a virus into its main computer, setting off a chain of events that deplete the entire fleet. The two then return to Earth unharmed. There's a moment of suspense when their craft returns, followed by rejoicing when they're reunited with their loved ones. They did it!!!
The rest of the planet, on the other hand, is badly damaged. The aliens have already blown up the White House and completely decimated all of the major cities on the planet. In other words, Hiller and Levinson are safe, but a huge chunk of the world's population can't make the same claim because those people no longer exist.10162Not actually that happy?
Black Panther concludes with a no-holds-barred fight between T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Both want to claim their country's throne. The former is the rightful heir; the latter a guy who wants it for himself. To say passions run high between the men and their respective supporters would be an understatement.
In the end, T'Challa triumphs, although just barely. He becomes king, assuring that Wakanda will be led by an ethical, honorable man. Of course, the movie sidesteps the fact that his rivalry with Killmonger created a literal civil war in Wakanda, with presumably many many casualties offscreen. Certainly, the victory of one side over the other won't simply be ignored by the losers, meaning that the country will likely be divided for a long time to come.7848Not actually that happy?