Hey, I didn’t see that coming! The good, the bad and the ugly of movies with surprise endings

surpriseMay 20, 2013 — Part of the draw of watching movies is the hope that the story will wow us in the end, a rare event these days in the era of sequels and remakes. If well done, movies can also surprise us, even if a clever ending is left open to interpretation.

Here are five films, both old and new that fall outside of “The Usual Suspects” normally mentioned in these categories. The first three have endings I didn’t see coming, and the last two left me wondering what happened next. If you haven’t seen these movies, proceed with caution; spoilers are discussed.

5. The Life of David Gayle (2003) Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney
Alan Parker’s crime thriller about a man named David Gale (Spacey) who sits on death row awaiting execution for the rape and murder of his friend (Linney) didn’t generate a large audience or rave reviews, but a clever film it is. The interesting twist is that both Spacey’s and Linney’s characters were active capital punishment abolitionists. A few days before his execution, Gale’s lawyer hires journalist Bitsey Bloom (Winslet) to write a story that he hopes will stop the execution. The problem is Gale doesn’t want it stopped. Still, Bloom comes to believe the evidence against Gale doesn’t add up. She believes he was framed because she discovers the victim was actually dying from terminal leukemia and has committed an elaborate suicide to look like murder. She attempts to give the information to the authorities to stop the execution, just as the warden announces that it has been carried out. Sometime later, Bloom receives a videotape and discovers that both Gale and the murder victim set up the entire scheme, sacrificing themselves to prove that innocent prisoners are executed, a last-ditch effort to assure that capital punishment is stopped for good.

4. Some Like it Hot (1959) Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe
It is unusual for comedies to have surprising endings, but this little gem from 1959 gives us an ending as shocking as “Gone with the Wind’s” “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” The story takes place in 1929, as two struggling jazz musicians (Curtis and Lemmon) rush to get out-of-town after witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. Quickly, they board a departing train and pose as two women to fit in with the other passengers onboard, an all girl jazz band. They keep up the charade and both develop feelings for Sugar, a fellow musician (Monroe). Over the course of the story, they have to fight off their fair share of men, and keep reminding themselves they are women so they don’t make a pass at Sugar. While in Miami a millionaire named Osgood Fielding falls big time for Lemmon’s character Daphne, and soon proposes marriage. When the mob tracks the boys to Miami, the musicians escape again, this time on Osgood’s yacht. While Daphne tries to explain that she can’t marry him, Osgood dismisses all the excuses. Frustrated Daphne removes his wig, reveals himself as Jerry, and shouts, “But I’m a man!” to which Osgood simply responds, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” And the credits roll.

3. No Way Out (1987) Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young
When Navy Lieutenant Tom Farrell (Costner) falls in love with a call girl named Susan (Young) and discovers she is having an affair with the Secretary of Defense David Brice (Hackman), fireworks are bound to occur. But the real excitement begins with Farrell and Brice begin working together on a secret government project to take down the Soviets, who they believe is working on a similar defense project. When Brice discovers Susan is having an affair, he demands she name her other lover. She refuses and he slaps her knocking her off a balcony and causing her to fall to her death. Instead of turning himself in, Brice is persuaded by his assistant to concoct a story that Susan was having an affair with a KGB agent in Washington with the codename “Yuri” and that he must have killed her. Unaware that Farrell was her other lover, Brice appoints him to investigate and find Yuri. Instead, Farrell sets out to prove Brice was involved with Susan and is her murderer. After many twists and turns, Farrell is closing in on evidence to implicate Brice, who then shifts the blame to his assistant, who collapses with grief when his boss turns on him. The assistant commits suicide in front of Brice and Farrell, and Brice falsely identifies him as Yuri. In the next scene, Farrell sits beside Susan’s grave in grief, and two men arrive to take him away for questioning. One of the men addresses him in Russian, and he answers in the same manner. The audience is shocked to learn that Farrell is actually a KGB spy and indeed Yuri, as he was planted in the United States as a teen, to become a Soviet mole.

2. Notorious (1946) Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman
Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are at their best in this spy mystery that has Bergman as a civilian going undercover to catch a Nazis in South America after World War II, and Grant as the FBI agent who is her connection. The two fall in love naturally, and when Bergman’s character blows her cover, the Nazis slowly begin to poison her. At the end of the movie Grant’s character comes to her rescue, and he does manage to get her out of the house where she is being held captive. The last scene shows him helping her into the car to drive to the hospital. And that’s it. Does she live? Does she die? Do the bad guys get what’s coming to them? Will their evil plot continue? Plenty may be insinuated in this intelligent script, but the answers are left open for the audience to interpret, a perfect example of a surprise/hanging ending done right.

1. Your Sister’s Sister (2012) Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemary DeWitt
A predictable Indy chic flick maybe, but I loved this movie. Too bad it has an ending scene that leaves you wondering is she or isn’t she, and this time, not even her hairdresser knows for sure. The story ends with Jack (Mark Duplass), Iris (Emily Blunt) and Hannah (Rosemary DeWitt) hovering in a crowded bathroom anxiously waiting for the results of Hannah’s pregnancy test. The scene fades as the credits begin to roll before the test results are revealed. Yikes! Sure, the audience knows that whether Hannah is pregnant or not, Iris and Jack will be together.  Iris is in love with Jack, who recently slept with Hannah, her sister one drunken night. The real resolution of this story is that Jack and Iris declare their love for each other after it is revealed to Iris about Hannah and Jack. Yet, the movie leaves us hanging if the next step in their lives involves a baby or not. The script is clever and often funny, but the ending would have been more satisfying if we knew the outcome.

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One thought on “Hey, I didn’t see that coming! The good, the bad and the ugly of movies with surprise endings

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