Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Podcast Episode 18: Michael Arndt and Insanely Great Endings

Hey folks, it’s a podcast already! Most of this episode dates back to that trove of pre-George-Floyd recordings we made, which we finally exhaust here. Before you watch this episode, we recommend you watch this great video. It’s well worth your time! But if you don’t have 90 minutes to spare, we do sum it up in the podcast before we discuss it.


Joel W. said...

Neat stuff here, need to digest it a bit.

You may be interested in googling the term "Word Avalanche". James' cruise movie could be the hit sequel to this Oscar-winner: https://i.imgur.com/5Z2IlFo.jpg

James Kennedy said...

I had never heard of word avalanches before, Joel, but I just googled it and looked around, and now my life is complete!

This justifies the internet!! Thank you!

Harvey Jerkwater said...

I think you two are on to something when it comes to the endings. Arndt suggests that if you stopped a movie at the moment of Total Failure and asked the audience how the hero will come out triumphant, they would shrug and say they can't. The Decisive Act creates the path forward.

If you look at the three movies he talks about, I agree with you that a certain amount of story awareness by the audience plays in. Because it's not that the hero's situation is totally hopeless - they do win, after all - but because the options set up by the world prior to the Total Failure suggest that there is no satisfying way to resolve the story.

In Star Wars, the world has set us up to see at the moment of Total Failure that Vader will kill Luke. That would tank the story. It's possible that Vader could miss and Luke succeed, but that would violate the rules the movie's set out already. Or Vader could miss and so could Luke, which would result in the destruction of the rebel base and Luke's ultimate failure. Or, finally, Luke might get off the shot and blow up the Death Star but also be killed by Vader. Suitably heroic, but again, a violation of the tone of the movie to that point.

In The Graduate, Ben's too late. What we'd expect is Ben's passivity to return, which would fit the world but tank the story. We could see him erupt in rage, which would again fit but tank the story.

In Little Miss Sunshine, Olive could humiliate herself, which would fit but tank the story. She could unexpectedly triumph, which would violate the world we've seen to that point.

In all three cases, the Decisive Act is to hit from an unexpected angle. We go into the scene with dread in no small part because we can't easily visualize a way to resolve the situation that isn't a garbage choice. Olive winning and Olive losing were both terrible outcomes. How would the movie make it work? Do we want her to win this creepy, disgusting pageant? But we don't want her to lose, either. We hate the pageant but we love her.

We fret that the two or three apparent possible outcomes all smell like a restaurant dumpster on an August day, then the movie sweeps in with an outcome that not only satisfies but it doesn't violate what's come before and ties in thematically with everything.

Arndt's video is very good and I'm going to apply it to a story that refuses to work. But yeah, his terminology feels not quite right.

Matt Bird said...

Excellent points, Harvey. To a certain extent this is about irony. For Olive to simply win or lose would both be unironic, but she wins by losing, which is ironic.

Jesse Janzen said...

James, I think a Moment Of Grace only works in a moment of total failure. Otherwise, we will be let down by our hero's lack of giving it his all.

We only hope against hope when there are no options left. Otherwise, we're hoping for stamina.

I think what you're arguing against is the perception of failure on the side of the audience - have WE resigned to failure or do we have our fingers crossed.

While you had faith in Indiana Jones I'm sure some viewers were horrified that all was truly lost. There are plenty of movies I've seen that had me hoping against hope only to pull the rug out and take an angry shit on my hopes.

Maybe it's a question of whether you want your audience to feel hopeful or hopeless at the moment of crisis. In Star Wars and Indiana Jones I felt hopeful (because of the genre, tone, and set up), with The Graduate and The Next Three Days I felt hopeless. But in all cases the hero failed externally, internally, and philosophically - and I had no clue how they would possibly succeed.

In Uncut Gems and felt hopeful and look where that got me.

Anonymous said...

The Mist ending is relevant here. Probably one of the best most tragic endings of all time. (see recent reddit thread: https://www.reddit.com/r/movies/comments/jmfmyz/is_there_a_more_gut_punching_ending_to_a_film/)
They for sure totally fail in The Mist

Anonymous said...

Id also like to add that the mist ending is the definition of irony (another thing I learned from matt)and also that Steven King said he wished he had written the movie ending to the mist. (what a great complement!)