Sign Up Sign In

Post History

+1 −0
What makes an ending "happy"?

last activity 7 months ago by System

Attribution notice removed by user avatar System · 2019-12-19T22:13:54Z (7 months ago)
License name: CC BY-SA 4.0
License URL:
Initial revision by (deleted user) · 2019-12-08T12:54:38Z (7 months ago)
The pragmatic "Hollywood" answer is a film has a happy ending if it leaves room for a sequel. Although Tony Stark dies, they did have sequels with him, and in this particular case, another Iron Man could arise (just like when 007 gets tired), or a prequel, etc.

I get that "satisfied" is a squishy term, but probably because it can depend on the genre. A Romantic Comedy that doesn't end with a couple together is not a happy ending, a spy thriller that doesn't end with a couple together can be happy, if they stopped the villain.

Bruce Willis in Armageddon is a borderline example: There is no real room for a sequel or prequel, but it is a "happy ending" because he dies saving the world, and more specifically his crew of friends, and even more specifically, above all, his daughter, on screen to the moment he triggers the nuclear bomb he's sitting on.

We accept this death because (a) **he chose it,** and (b) he prevails and saves his child, along with eight billion other people. He did not fail. The villain (the asteroid) is irrecoverably dead.

In the Lord of the Rings, the villain is defeated. Frodo is not better off, but the world is. Like Willis in Armageddon, his sacrifice is appreciated. And in his case, Hollywood could argue there is still room for a sequel, many adventures could be told in Middle Earth with other characters.

> Is any ending in which the protagonist experiences a moral triumph, regardless of their physical or emotional circumstances a happy ending?

Almost, but it depends on the audience's expectations. A Romantic comedy that ends in the death of one of the Leads is not a happy ending, forget moral triumph. In a comedy, there can be deaths, but I can't think of an instance in which the MC dies. You have to leave 'em laughing, or at least grinning.

> Given a story in which the heroine does something very wrong which causes several deaths, but then makes a sacrifice that prevents something even worse from happening. Would you say that that is a happy ending? (This one is personal for me.)

That would be a redemption drama; and that could absolutely be a happy ending. Somebody did something unforgiveable, especially to **her,** but when the time and opportunity came she found the courage to balance the scales. Despite the toll she took on humanity, in the end her life did us more good than harm, because she sacrificed.

> Or do we need it to be "happily ever after"?

No. Using your last example, or Armageddon, I think the Happy Ending is that in some way, the world is collectively better off that the MC was there. Even if that is for just one person, like in a romantic comedy. The world is a better place for two people in love, than not in love; no moral triumph needed.

As for publishing and Hollywood, I think the "sequel", "prequel", or "new adventure" angle (e.g. 007, Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes is nearly always a new adventure, not a sequel or prequel) is definitely a part of their thinking. One-off films are produced and can be blockbusters (e.g. The Sixth Sense), so just "story power" is a part of it, but if there is the _potential_ for a follow up with the character(s) it does makes the work more attractive. And "happy ending" means the audience feels good about the MC, not angry at the outcome.

Attribution notice added by user avatar System · 2019-12-08T12:54:38Z (7 months ago)
License name: CC BY-SA 4.0
License URL:
Imported from external source by user avatar System · 2019-09-05T19:57:54Z (10 months ago)
Original score: 4