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There are several ways to generate buzz in the media: advertising, viral campaigns, previews, etc. But what do you do to keep the buzz and interest going even after the public have already seen the final product? Well, one good way is to end it ambiguously. It's risky, you're going to divide your audience and you're going to piss off a big number of people who want answers, but at least they will keep talking about your work. However, some of these endings can be resolved if you put a little effort to it, and think about its context instead of having an internet anger breakdown of insults on twitter. Here are some examples. Needless to say, spoilers galore below:
The Ambiguous Ending
This found footage film about a man trying to avoid the attacks of a giant monster in NYC in order to save his girl abruptly ends when the army decides to nuke the creature in Central Park while our heroes hide under a near bridge. The explosion cuts off the filming, leaving the audience wondering if the monster and/or the lovers survived the attack.
While it's obvious that the odds of 2 human beings surviving such a massive explosion are incredibly low, the monster has already survived all kind of ferocious attacks from the army, so we could say that he's still 50/50 on the life situation. However, in a short audio clip after the credits, some apparent gibberish can be heard. When this clip is played in reverse, we can hear a human voice saying "It's still alive", implying that the monster survived the bombing.
The Ambiguous Ending
This acclaimed film contains all you can ask in a controversial movie: Lesbian sex, weirdness and lesbian sex. This cult film has generated so much buzz around it's supposed vagueness that director David Lynch has had to come up with actual clues in order to help the fans figure things out. It's like a riddle book, but with more lesbian sex.
The ending to this film it's not so ambiguous per say, with the main character shooting herself on the head after experiencing some horrifying hallucinations, but the apparent nonsensical circumstances that lead to that event are what keeps it open ended. In a movie that toys with the idea of perceptions of reality and overall strange symbolism, audiences still argue about the true meaning of the film's conclusion. After all, we're diving into David Lynch's territory.
It's simple. As many critics and film analysts have pointed out, the first half of the movie (the one where the weirdness occurs the most) it's nothing more than the distorted dreams scenarios that the main character has created inside her head, after her aspirations of becoming a star in Hollywood get crushed by the industry. The second half of the film depicts her ongoing downwards spiral towards complete insanity after not only her career gets destroyed, but her love life falls apart in a twisted sequence of interrelating unfortunate events. At the end, her insanity catches up with her reality and she decides to end her life.
The Dark Tower
The Ambiguous Ending
This massive novel consisting of over 3000 pages divided in 7 books is considered by many Stephen King's masterpiece, and it's also his magnum opus, borrowing from all of his previous work and putting it into one universe. The story depicts legendary gunslinger Roland Deschain as he tries to avoid the destruction of a mysterious dark tower that holds the whole existence within itself.
At the end, Roland successfully saves the future of the tower by destroying the artifacts that were being used to destroy it, but his lack of satisfaction doesn't stop after saving the entire existence. Oh no, he wants more, he wants to know what's inside the tower, and to his big surprise, the top room of the tower contains a portal that sends him back to the beginning of his quest, erasing his previous memories in the process, and hinting that he has gone through this adventure several times before, each one the same as the last.
First, the Dark Tower is based on Robert Browning's poem "Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came". In said poem, Roland DOES succeed on his quest of conquering the dark tower, and it is hinted that this is achieved with the aid of an artifact called "the Horn of Eld", the one item that the Roland in the novel doesn't have (he lost it in battle). By the way, the only reason why we are led to believe that Roland got out of the infinite loop at the end of the book and that he might succeed this time is that he regains the Horn of Eld. Oh, and the complete poem is included in the book, right after it ends, and as many have theorized, this suggests that the novel is actually a prequel of the poem, and that the poem describes Roland's final and triumphant adventure.
Besides that, in a short essay before the book's last chapter, King points out that this ending is a meta commentary on those who only read books to know the ending and don't focus on the story in between. Roland represents the reader, his thirst for knowing what's inside the tower represents the reader's hunger for closure. Even though Roland already finished his mission he still wants to go further, just like the reader does when King already provided a happy ending to the story (he actually warns the reader to stop reading if they don't want to be disappointed by what's inside the tower). So depending on the way you want to look at it, this ending is either obvious, or completely meaningless. Everything but ambiguous.
The Ambiguous Ending
What can we say about the ending of The Sopranos that hasn't been said already? First you have a TV show about the New Jersey mob. There's lies, treason, corruption and violence, oh so much violence. So after a big mob war, the world waited with anticipation to know the ultimate fate of the Soprano family: Will they live happily ever after? Are they gonna suffer the consequences of their actions? Is it gonna end with a 30 seconds cut to black while the Sopranos eat onion rings in some restaurant and engulf themselves in Journey music?
If you must know, the answer to those questions are, "We don't know", "I have no idea", and "Totally" in that order. The infamous cut to black is the perfect window to leave the ending up to the viewer's interpretation, so an actual ending would be hard to figure out. Right?
Not really. Absolutely everything during that last scene in the restaurant leaves us to believe that Tony Soprano is murdered. Think about it, the whole show is seen from Tony's eyes, so if he dies, there's no more perspective to see, therefore, complete darkness and silence (and it's not like Tony Soprano was gonna get the tunnel of light and angelic chants). The show's creator David Chase has pointed out that the ending is indeed open to interpretation, but as many have pointed out, the last scene in the restaurant is filled with tension and suspiciously looking people, one of whom goes to the bathroom in what seems to be a nod to a scene of The Godfather that ended up with Michael Corleone coming out of the bathroom only to start a’ shooting.
But you might say "So what? Maybe the guy was just taking a piss". Well, according to actor Matt Servitto, the script pointed out that the piss man was indeed more mysterious, and that he actually walks towards Tony after getting out of the bathroom implying that he's about to shoot him before the script abruptly ends. Also, if you think about it, why would David Chase take such a risk if the ending didn't have an actual meaning? If that was the case, it was either the biggest cop out in television history, or David Chase is simply a dick.
The Ambiguous Ending
Oh, Inception. This time bending thriller taking place inside the dreams (inside the dreams inside the dreams) quickly became a world phenomenon, ranging from every single TV show/conversation/stupid internet meme had to include a reference to Leonardo DiCaprio and his subconscious adventures. In this movie, the technology to access somebody's dreams is so advanced that you have to acquire an object called "totem", with specifications only known to you in order to keep track of reality. Our friend Leonardo chooses a spinning top, and the rules are simple: Spin it, if it wobbles and eventually stops, you're good to go, but if it remains spinning forever, it means you're inside a dream.
Mr. Leo has also been playing around with his own subconscious in order to revive the memories he shared with his deceased wife, and throughout, we are questioned whether he dreamed the whole deal, or his bitchy ghost wife is just playing mind games with him. Finally on the last scene, Leo spins his totem one last time to answer the question once and for all. So we watch it spin, and spin, and then boom, black screen, credits roll, minds blown.
While explaining the instructions of the spinning top totem, DiCaprio is specific: If it's a dream, it's not supposed to even wobble, which if you are fast on the eye, can see that is exactly what it does right before the cut to the credits, neglecting the whole dream theory. So our friend Leo finally got a happy ending after years of being frozen to death, self poisoned, and shot in elevators. Besides, Michael Caine already spilled the beans on the ending, and if the Batman can trust Michael Caine, why can't you?
The Ambiguous Ending
Oh yes, we went there. Actually, we crashed there. In the past few years, LOST has become the epitome of all things ambiguous, with every episode dividing the audience between those who preferred character development from those who were more interested in the mythology. The fans of this show about the survivors of a plane crash in a supposedly deserted island filled with mystery couldn't wait a single second to know what the answers to all of their questions, analyzing scenes frame by frame hoping to catch a clue, theorize non-stop about what was going on, and overreacting over 1 second of new footage in the promos. Needless to say, LOST fans are batshit crazy, so what happened when the series finale finally arrived? Did the sky open and a beam of light illuminated all the unanswered questions?
Instead, the show decided to take a different route, giving closure to the characters instead of the mysteries. And even then, they did it in a fairly ambiguous way. During the last season, the show went back and forth between the present events on the island and an apparent alternate reality where the plane never crashed. In the last scene, however, it's revealed that it's actually a very bizarre flashfoward depicting the afterlife of those who crashed in the island and their efforts to find each other again before "moving on". This scene was given priority over the present events on the island, where things were constantly getting weirder and weirder and no explanation was ever given, causing fans to rage like nobody's business, calling the ending a cop out and demanding answers...
And those answers actually came. A few months after the series finale aired, a new short called "The New Man in Charge" was released. Of course, at this point, many fans (hardcore and casual) have given up on knowing the answers, so they never expected a follow up, so it went through their heads. In this short, many of the big and frequent unanswered questions were addressed, and those who actually watched it immediately regretted it and it proved that when you're in such a tight knot concerning mysteries, it's better for some questions to remain unanswered or those answers will be mere disappointment. It was the creator’s way to say "You wanted answers? Well fuck you, here they are!”
There's also a honourable mention to the actual ending of the show (the scene about finding each other and moving on), which was claimed by many as ambiguous, with some theorizing that everyone had been dead since the original crash. But this is only a honourable mention because, mere minutes before the ending, it is specifically said that all the events that had happened before that scene actually occurred, so the joke's on all the people not paying attention. These people are probably the friend that told your friend that the show makes more sense if you watch it backwards.
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