We've Got Explanations for the Most Confusing Movie Endings Ever Made
It's been said that there are only so many stories to be told. Even if that's true, the best filmmakers can craft and tweak a story to shock, surprise or astound an audience. Sometimes those twists happen at the very end and cause audiences to question everything they've seen or assumed. Sometimes, the twists are so unexpected or jarring that they leave viewers puzzled and uncertain, wondering what they really just saw. Here are some explanations for those confusing endings and plot twists. Fair warning: spoilers abound.
Barton Fink is a psychological thriller produced by the Coen brothers. John Turturro played a New York playwright hired to write scripts for a film studio. After everything goes wrong, Fink finds himself in a surreal scene with a beautiful woman on a beach. It’s normal enough — except that the scene is a living version of a painting in Fink's apartment.
Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood starred in The Wrestler. Rourke plays an aging pro wrestler who keeps wrestling, despite his dwindling glory and fame and his failing health. He's desperate to cling to the good old days. Rourke won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar for this performance. Tomei won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick adapted Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange in this 1971 dystopian crime film. The anti-social, delinquent main character, Alex, is played by Malcolm McDowell. He's an odd antihero, one who’s interested in rape, theft and "ultra-violence."
Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt starred in 2012's Looper in which the titular Loopers are contract killers hired by bad guys from the future to kill off victims sent back through time. This movie opened the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012.
Arrival is an adaptation of a short story by Ted Chiang, Story of Your Life. The movie stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. Adams plays a linguist who needs to find out how to communicate with aliens that have landed on Earth.
This movie based on Bret Easton Ellis' novel of the same name stars Christian Bale as a murderous investment banker — maybe. Is Bale actually just playing a banker fantasizing of being a murderer? Or both? As the film ends, Bale's character Patrick Bateman confesses his crimes in a voicemail message for his lawyer. What doesn't happen next is odd.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Michael Keaton plays faded actor Riggan Thomson in Birdman. Thomson is famous for playing the superhero Birdman and is tormented by its mocking voice. Thomson also visualizes (imagines?) himself levitating and performing telekinesis.
Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels. Daniels investigates the disappearance of a patient from an asylum — or so it seems. In fact, Daniels is a patient engaged in an elaborate roleplay exercise with the goal of curing his own delusions and criminal insanity.
At the end of The Shining, the audience is shown a photograph of the Overlook Hotel's staff. In that photograph — taken 60 years earlier — appears Jack Torrance. In the 60-year-old picture, the now-dead Torrance seems to be exactly the same age as he was throughout the rest of the film.
Edge of Tomorrow
Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt starred in the science fiction-action film Edge of Tomorrow. Every time Cruise’s character Cage dies on the battlefield, he wakes up again 24 hours earlier only to repeat the same 24-hour period a la Groundhog Day. After many loops, Cage recruits Emily Blunt's Rita to help defeat the alien Mimics.
The Matrix Revolutions
The Matrix Revolutions ends when hero Neo is killed by Smith. For reasons that are unclear, this results in the destruction of an evil computer virus. Then, peace emerges. Neo may or may not have survived. How did this work?
Interstellar is a classic black holes-and-time travel puzzle. Long story short: Astronauts looking for a new home for humanity have two choices. They make the wrong one. But is this the end of humanity? No.
Life of Pi
Life of Pi is a fantastical tale of a shipwreck leaving Pi Patel in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. Until the end, when everything changes and a wholly new version of the story emerges. The alternative? The animals were a sailor, a cook and Pi's mother. This version ends with Pi killing and eating the cook. Pi tells both stories to investigators who are looking into the shipwreck.
Is there an explanation for Mulholland Drive's ending that makes sense? Director David Lynch insists there is. That explanation may lie in just what the story is (amongst what it appears to be). Here's one explanation.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey ends with Astronaut Bowman aging rapidly and becoming an old man at a Jupiter "zoo." At the foot of his bed in an otherworldly bedroom stands the monolith with which the movie began. Bowman is transformed by the monolith into an interplanetary fetus.
Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner is set in 2019 in Los Angeles. Synthetic human replicants that were bioengineered to work on colonies on other planets escaped to Earth, where they were hunted down by Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).
No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men ends with Tommy Lee Jones' Tom Bell recounting two dreams. First, Bell loses money that his father had given to him. Second, an old Bell is walking with his much younger father, who lights a fire.
What many people consider to be the greatest film ever made, Orson Welles' Citizen Kane ends with a single word that has caused much puzzlement: "Rosebud." Why would publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane utter "rosebud" as he lay dying? Reporter Jerry Thompson never found out.
Sci-fi psychological thriller Donnie Darko starred Jake Gyllenhall. Categorizing and summarizing Donnie Darko — a trip from beginning to end — isn't easy as Donnie tries to explain his visions of doomsday. Director Richard Kelly dropped a few more pieces of the puzzle when he released the director's cut of Donnie Darko.
Planet of the Apes
Planet of the Apes ends with Leo Davidson back on Earth at the appropriate moment in history. It may be the right time, but everything else is out of whack. At the very end, we see the simian warlord General Thade sitting in Abraham Lincoln's chair at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. What happened?
Travis Bickle, the cabbie in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, goes on a shooting rampage. His goal? To rescue Iris from her pimp. It makes Bickle something of a complicated hero. Later, Bickle and his beloved Betsy reconcile, and Bickle drives off in his cab.
Was "dream-heist-caper" a genre before Christopher Nolan's Inception, starring Leonardo DiCaprio? Remember this: A spinning top means Cobb is in a dream. By the end of the movie, Cobb is exonerated of murder charges and happily reunited with his children.
Post-apocalyptic thriller Bird Box, directed by Susanne Bier, was based on Josh Malerman's novel of the same name. Sandra Bullock's character is determined to protect herself and her two kids from whatever it is — supernatural entities? — that are driving people insane when those people look at them. And those people are driven insane to the point of committing suicide.
The psychological horror movie mother! starred Javier Bardem, Jennifer Lawrence, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer. But is it just about a mysterious couple disrupting a young woman's quiet country life? The film was written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, so that’s one big clue that nothing is as straightforward as it seems.
The premise of Christopher Nolan's debut film Memento is itself a twist. Memento works in reverse. Leonard's attempts to figure out who Sammy Jankis is pushes us back in time. Leonard is determined to discover the identity of Jankis because Jankis murdered his wife by forcing her into an insulin overdose.
The Dark Knight Rises
At the end of The Dark Knight Rises, hero Bruce Wayne attempts to save Gotham from the destruction of a nuclear blast. He does this by getting the bomb on a plane and crashing it into the ocean. Gotham is plunged into mourning.
Ah, another Darren Aronofsky offering. Black Swan stars Natalie Portman as Nina and Mila Kunis as Lily. Nina, playing the innocent White Swan and sensual Black Swan in "Swan Lake," is overwhelmed with the pressure of competing with Lily.
Tim Robbins plays a Vietnam war veteran in 1990's Jacob's Ladder. Robbins' character, Jacob Singer, experiences visions and hallucinations attributed to the military's use of psychedelic drugs to make killing machines out of soldiers. The visions are horrific and disturbing, but then they begin to shift. As the film goes on, they become more peaceful.
There are echoes of Memento here. In The Machinist, Christian Bale plays an insomniac machinist whose lack of sleep and psychological problems cause a workplace accident. Bale’s Trevor is fired before descending into paranoia. In his paranoia, Trevor believes he is being persecuted by a man named Ivan, whom no one has ever seen — or so they think.
The Australian film The Babadook, released in 2014, is the tale of a mother (Amelia) and child (Samuel) haunted by a supernatural monster. So far, so ordinary. In The Babadook, though, the monster leapt from the pages of a children's book.