When fans fall in love with a movie or TV show, they're holding out for that satisfying ending that will make their emotional investment worthwhile. Often, that means having an ending with closure. Unfortunately for TV fans and cinephiles, they don't always get that.
There have, in fact, been a number of high profile and critically acclaimed movies and TV shows in recent years that have had endings and series finales that failed to wrap up all the loose ends.
The following are ten notoriously frustrating, ambiguous endings from TV shows and movies. These endings have been widely discussed and hotly debated, and each has spawned multiple theories by fans and critics alike about what really happened and what actually didn’t. *Spoilers*
What does the spinning top mean? If it keeps spinning, is Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Cobb still in a dream, or if it stops is he in the real world? Unfortunately for movie fans, they won't know whether the top stops spinning or not. That’s the way Christopher Nolan likes to play it. He likes to keep things vague, ambiguous and sometimes downright confusing.
Inception is a movie you can't simply watch passively - you really have to be paying attention. Since the credits start to roll just as the top begins to wobble slightly, viewers will probably never know whether Leo was in the real world or if he was in a dream. Either way, though, he got what he wanted. When Nolan was recently asked about the film's ending, he - in a downright unenlightening manner - said it was about the subjective nature of reality.
9 Mad Men
At the end of AMC’s Mad Men, viewers find out what happens to most of the show’s main characters that we grew to love and hate over the show's seven seasons. Fans fell in love with the character development and story telling of the show about advertising executives in 1960s and early 1970s New York.
In the series finale we find out what happens to Joan, Pete, Peggy, Sally, Betty and Roger. All of these characters have very clear and satisfying endings. However, we don’t know exactly what happens to the main star of the show: Don Draper.
As he is meditating in California we hear a light bulb sound, and the final shot of the show is that of a famous Coca Cola ad from the 1970s - perhaps the most famous advert of all time.
Does this mean Don went back to New York and his old life to create the ad, or does it simply mean he found inner peace? We likely will never know, unless show creator Matthew Weiner clears it up for us.
8 The Sopranos
There has been no series finale in perhaps the history of television that has divided fans as much as the finale of the Sopranos. What exactly happened to Tony as his family was joining him in the diner for a meal? Did his life truly end at that moment, or did the way the show end mean something else entirely?
Many suspected that the way the show cut to black meant that Tony Soprano was shot, but the ending is entirely ambiguous. Indeed, some people were so shocked at the way the show ended that they thought the broadcast signal had cut out when there was an unusually long fade to black. Sopranos creator David Chase has been tight lipped about the true meaning of the HBO show’s ending.
7 A Serious Man
In this tale of bad luck and unfortunate events we are left to wonder whether things will ever turn around for the film’s protagonist. This classic Coen brothers’ movie sees Larry Gopnik suffer extreme hardship - it makes viewers wonder why so many bad things should happen to such a good person.
First he is faced with trouble from a student who attempts to bribe him, and then his job is in trouble. Moreover, his wife has been cheating on him and wants a divorce. At the end of the movie we see Gopnik finally give in to temptation and accept the student’s bribe in the hopes his life will get better.
Unfortunately, things get even worse when Gopnik gets a call from his doctor with bad news at exactly the same time as a tornado hits the town. Then the movie abruptly ends without any closure as to what his doctor has to say, or if he survives the tornado.
6 American Psycho
Was it real or was it all a dream? The increasingly unbelievable scenarios Patrick Bateman finds himself in as the movie progresses have led many viewers to believe the murderous rampage of this psychopath is actually just a fantasy and that many, or perhaps all, of the horrible deeds he has done throughout the course of the film were simply all in his mind.
The way the movie ends adds even more credibility to the theory that it never really happened. As Bateman leaves a voicemail for his lawyer amid the frenzy of being surrounded by police he confesses to everything he has done, including the murder of Jared Leto’s character Paul Allen.
When the lawyer later sees Bateman he says Paul Allen is not dead, and when Bateman returns to Allen’s apartment - which he used as a place to kill his victims - he finds it spotless and devoid of any sign of his murders. Was he simply lucky and got away with it all, or did none of it actually happen?
5 Lost in Translation
Wonder as much as you want, but you will never know what Bill Murray’s character Bob Harris said to Charlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson, at the end of Sofia Coppola’s movie Lost in Translation. The tale of two lonely Americans meeting in Tokyo and having a shared connection struck a chord with film lovers everywhere, and the ending is what got people really talking.
Charlotte’s reaction to what Harris says makes the viewer wonder if this is really goodbye for them forever, or if perhaps they will meet again someday. They embrace and share an intimate kiss, but the future of these characters is very uncertain. Fans will never know what he whispered, but they do know it was heartfelt and meaningful.
4 The Shining
The twist ending of the Shining left a lot of people in shock and the true meaning of the ending to this classic horror film still has many people scratching their heads. What exactly does it all mean? The final shots pan across an image on the wall from years past. In this old photograph we see a familiar face amongst the crowd: Jack Nicholson’s character Jack Torrance can be seen in the photo that goes back more than sixty years before the events of the Shining.
Was his character really a ghost the whole time, or was he reincarnated as a murderer who was destined to kill in the hotel once again? What exactly does it all mean, and will he be cursed to go insane over and over again each new generation?
There are many theories as to what that final shot means, and perhaps the leading theory is that Jack will always be the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel and will come back again and again to try to murder those within the hotel’s walls.
3 Parks and Recreation
The finale of Parks and Recreation was truly spectacular, and critics saw it as one of the best finales in many years. One of the great things about the ending of this classic sitcom was that it gave so much closure to fans.
The time jumps in the show allowed fans to see how the lives of these characters they had grown to love turned out. Fans got to see Jerry live to 100 years old and become mayor of Pawnee for many years. Ron ended up enjoying the great outdoors with a very fitting ending and April and Andy became parents.
We saw Leslie and Ben reach great political heights and achieve a perfect family life. Even Tom finally found business success. But while every character had a great ending to his or her story, there was still some ambiguity. At Jerry’s funeral we see Leslie and Ben next to members of the Secret Service - we will never know which of the two became president. Was it Leslie or Ben? Perhaps they both had turns as the leaders of the free world.
2 The Shield
At the end of the Shield, Detective Vic Mackey seems to have gotten away with all the evil things he had done during his time as a corrupt cop. Striking a deal meant he was resigned to a desk job rather than actually serving the years of jail time he deserved. While there was a sense of finality to the life of Detective Vic Mackey, the final shot of the show left things up in the air.
The last shot shows Mackey grabbing his gun and leaving his desk as he hears sirens wailing outside. What exactly does Mackey have up his sleeve this time and where is he going? Will the guilt of what he made happen to his friends and fellow members of his strike team lead him to do something drastic or is he just calling it a day and going home?
When Birdman was released last year it got a lot of people talking. People were discussing the film because of the brilliant story, amazing acting and groundbreaking cinematography. One of the most interesting aspects of the film was its ambiguous ending.
There are numerous ways to interpret the ending of the film and it seems as if that was the goal of the filmmakers. They wanted to get people talking and determine for themselves how the movie ended: At the end of the film we see Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thomson in the hospital recovering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound from when he shot himself on stage.
He has regained fame and notoriety because of this accident, but the final shot shows him jumping out of the window and seemingly flying over the streets of NYC, as witnessed by his daughter. Throughout the film we are led to believe Riggan’s supernatural powers are only in his mind, but the ending suggests otherwise. It’s up to the viewers to decide if it was real and what it all means.