The End is a Good Beginning

According to the new rules of etiquette when someone wants to tell you the ending to a movie that you haven’t seen yet, don’t stop them. Let them. They’re doing you a favor even if it is a must-see film.

Hey, don’t tell me I’m wrong. I’m only suggesting what so-called Internet experts say is the best way to communicate. That is- get to the point right away and work your way backwards. If writing is your bag, put something down on paper that draws interest and then the reader will hopefully be hooked and continue to read. Internet experts say that a visitor abandons a blog very quickly if it starts with “Once upon a time … “. For example, if I had started telling you the story of the effort to save Private Ryan and not got to the ironic twist of fate until the very end, you’d be thinking “wake me up when the bore is done. I don’t need to listen to a story of soldiers going through enemy territory. I’ve seen it so many times before”. If you don’t already know about this 1998 World War Two movie, Captain John Miller (played by Tom Hanks) saves Private Ryan from being captured or killed by the Nazis. Just when you think all ends happily, Miller is shot, sits on the escape bridge stunned and in shock knowing that he has been hit and slowly bleeds to death.

In a 1941 Alfred Hitchcock movie thriller “Suspicion”, Johnnie (played by a debonair Cary Grant) spends a good ninety minutes of film time trying to kill off his wife Lina (Joan Fontaine). There is suspense all throughout the flick because the actors keep you guessing as to true motivations. At the very end, while speeding down a narrow winding road, he changes his mind and saves her from a terrifying crash. But, if I told you right off the bat that Cary never intended to kill her, you wouldn’t want to see the movie. You wouldn’t want to watch him play a phony creep for ninety minutes.

Why doesn’t such a scripting format work as well now? Nowadays, everything is so rushed. We want instant gratification. When I decide to read the sports section about what happened at the baseball or basketball game the day before, I don’t want the play-by-play. I can read the box score in detail over the internet. Instead, give me what the players and coaches had to say in each locker room and even then I can catch that in brief segments after watching a game on certain sports-minded tv channels.

The time worn gimmick for romance movies has been “boy meets girl” and then “boy falls in love with girl”, “boy loses girl” and finally “boy gets girl for good.” That may still work well in going to see a film because everybody loves the process. But they also know that in the end it is all going to work out.

What made a movie such as “When Harry Met Sally” so good was that from the very beginning we knew that they would end up married. There was little tension or anxiety by the film goers so they were able to concentrate along with the star, Billy Crystal, on analyzing the process. That was the beauty of the plot, that we were able to share in its deconstruction.

That’s also why another WWII movie, “The Sands of Iwo Jima” holds up so well even though the star gets killed at the very end just as in “Saving Private Ryan”. The difference is that Iwo Jima is told in flashback giving it a semi-documentary feeling and making it easier for the audience to show patience as well as not be disappointed when seeing John Wayne shot down running up the hill.

Another film years ahead of its time was 1984’s “Once Upon A Time in America”. It was the story of the survivors of Prohibition-era gangster battles who looked back thirty or so years earlier to come to terms as to why they became what they were.

The same could be said for 1962’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”. The story was told in flashback from the words of a reticent Jimmy Stewart, who had received credit for killing an outlaw and parlayed it into a Senatorial career. John Wayne was the real hero who killed the dastardly Lee Marvin.

The only problem with starting with the end in real life is to know when is takes place. That’s part of what makes getting older a fun challenge. You are there at the beginning but cannot ever remember it and have no idea when the ending will happen so you try your best at constructing the middle. I’m still trying to figure out who is going to play me in the movie version.

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