The Problem: This should also be off-putting, denying the audience a chance to decide for ourselves what everything means in the end. And by tying off all of the loose plot threads, we have less to think about afterwards.
Does the Movie Get Away With It? Somewhat, but it’s more problematic than the opening montage. Let’s start with the montage of what happens to all of the other characters. On the one hand, it’s delightful to see Gale and Evelle go back to prison by climbing back into the mudhole they climbed out of, but surely there was no need to show brother-in-law Glen getting his eventual comeuppance after telling a Polish joke to a Polish cop?
Recently, the Coens’ endings have been anything but tidy. For the most part that’s good: We enjoy the frustration of not knowing what happened to the money in Fargo or No Country for Old Men, for instance. One could argue that in their most recent movies they’ve actually take this a little too far in the other direction (see the anticlimactic endings of A Serious Man and Inside Llewyn Davis) but their recent instincts are still good: it’s better to trust the viewers rather than hold their hands at the end.
As for Hi’s summation of what happens to himself and Ed, the ending tries a little too hard to be satisfying by having it both ways:
- First we get the “real consequences” version, in which the couple, still childless, content themselves to send anonymous gifts to Nathan Arizona, Jr, every year, and live vicariously through his accomplishments.
- But then we get another vague ending tacked onto that one, implying that Hi and Ed somehow did get to raise kids and have a large family of their own someday.