Friday, February 3, 2012

The Happy Ending


If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.
Orson Welles

Over the holidays, I watched a movie with my two boys, aged nine and three, Hotel for Dogs (2009), a morality tale primarily aimed at the younger set. It had a happy ending, which, I might add, I enjoyed. I suspect happy endings still work in art because real life for a vast majority of persons falls far short from expectations, and in many cases is far harsher than anything on TV or in film. Then there are news organizations, who generally do an excellent job in revealing the baser realities and horrors of human nature, but show little that is good or inspiring.

Therein lies its appeal. In a world filled with moral ambiguity and anxiety, happy endings complete a story that is transparent and not overwrought. To be fair, I love a fine, well-written and staged tragedy, whether it is opera or a play. Even so, I wouldn't want a steady diet of it, just as I would not want to eat the same meal every day. It would not only become tiresome and unappetizing, but it would lose its appeal. To put it mildly, such a diet would become boring.

Equally important, and worth considering, is that so much of film today is an attempt of art to imitate life, but more so. As if such a film portrayal would entertain persons who are looking for relief from what ails them. Not always. The cure could be worse than the illness. Relief can come in different forms.

The happy ending, in direct contrast to Aristotle's theory of tragedy (i.e., Poetics and the need for catharsis) provides some relief from the everyday life when nothing positive happens. There is no deus ex machina in real life. The early Hollywood producers understood this and were right in their approach. It might be that films with happy endings are more popular in difficult economic times, as we are witnessing today.

The high-minded critics might sneer and belittle such movies, calling these sentimental shlock and other assorted terms that are less than endearing. Yet, they provide a warm relief, a comfortable nook of well-being for many persons, albeit, it must be said, only temporarily. And given today's sad state of the world, this approach still works. It's interesting to note that all major religions and their narratives provide a happy ending, as well. The difference is that such happy ending only begins after death. The point noted is that people have a built-in need for happiness, to have their desires met. If it can't take place in real life, it often finds its source in film and other artistic media.

Happy endings have their place in art; as such, they shouldn't be dismissed so easily. They might actually contribute to a society's well-being. That's something to think about.

Hotel For Dogs: Theatrical poster for Hotel for Dogs,
Credit:© 2009 Dreamworks Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Source: Wikipedia