Skip

Movies with ambiguous endings
August 12, 2011 8:58 AM   Subscribe

What movies have an ambiguous ending?

I don't really know how best to explain it so I'll give an example: In The Day the Earth Caught Fire, mankind is about to attempt to save itself in way that I won't spoil in case you haven't seen it, but the movie just ends without showing whether the plan was successful or not.

What other movies don't resolve themselves?
posted by Mwongozi to Media & Arts (62 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Inception
posted by sweetkid at 8:59 AM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Die Innere Sicherheit/The State I am In.
posted by hoyland at 9:03 AM on August 12, 2011


These are all, of course, up for debate depending on how much closure one desires:

Brick
Broken Flowers
Taxi Driver
Practically any David Lynch film.
Cronenberg's post-body horror films (eXistenZ, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, etc.)
posted by griphus at 9:04 AM on August 12, 2011


In Bruges is probably one of my favorite made-in-the-last-five-years movies, and it definitely ends ambiguously. (Also, pretty much the entire cast is also in the Harry Potter films, which is fun.)
posted by phunniemee at 9:04 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ohhhh, so many:

The Thing
Mulholland Drive
Brazil
Dawn of the Dead
The Italian Job
posted by 0bvious at 9:05 AM on August 12, 2011


This thread could be useful (not just focused on ambiguous endings, but a lot of what is recommended fits your question).
posted by paisley sheep at 9:05 AM on August 12, 2011


Blade Runner
Apocalypse Now
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:06 AM on August 12, 2011


TVTropes: No Ending and Left Hanging
posted by filthy light thief at 9:06 AM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lost In Translation ends with one main character inaudibly whispering to the other, then they part ways. This lead to many speculations and parodies.
posted by XMLicious at 9:07 AM on August 12, 2011


Doubt (yeah, the title kind of gives you that indication)
posted by Bella Sebastian at 9:07 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Total Recall
posted by Ys at 9:07 AM on August 12, 2011


This thread should give you more ideas, though it does address books as well as movies.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:09 AM on August 12, 2011


(d'oh, sorry, I'd not noticed that paisley sheep already provided a link to that thread)
posted by DingoMutt at 9:10 AM on August 12, 2011


American Psycho
posted by The Michael The at 9:14 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dogtooth
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:16 AM on August 12, 2011


Most recently, The Tree of Life.

But it could be argued that the entire movie is ambiguous.
posted by smitt at 9:16 AM on August 12, 2011


Unfaithful
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:16 AM on August 12, 2011


Limbo
posted by scody at 9:17 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Magnolia
Reservoir Dogs
Everything by Michael Haneke
posted by mkultra at 9:19 AM on August 12, 2011


Spanish Prisoner
posted by any major dude at 9:20 AM on August 12, 2011


Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid might fit the category. It seems obvious what happens, but there's a freeze-frame that doesn't show it.

And I disagree that Apocalypse Now is ambiguous. But won't spoil either.
posted by The Deej at 9:22 AM on August 12, 2011


Caché
posted by jacob at 9:26 AM on August 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Up in the Air - the main character's life issues remain more or less unresolved.
Reservoir Dogs
Hm. It's kind of obvious what happens to Mr. White and Mr. Orange, and if you listen carefully, you can hear what happens to Mr. Pink outside.
posted by deanc at 9:27 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


State & Main. Almost everything in that movie is unresolved.
posted by adamrice at 9:30 AM on August 12, 2011


Scads of European films from the 1960s and '70s end ambiguously. Rather than try to compile a list of the films or their directors, you should do a little research into what is usually referred to as "art cinema" or "European art cinema." You will find many a title that meets your criterion.

Briefly, such films were a large-scale narrative/economic response to the often-pat "Hollywood endings" that are found not just in most American films, but in most mass-audience films (and other texts) in general. It is a strategy of, above all, product differentiation.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:33 AM on August 12, 2011


Unthinkable, which is a very good movie and a very intense examination of the ethics of torture
posted by supermedusa at 9:34 AM on August 12, 2011


A Serious Man
posted by Horselover Phattie at 9:41 AM on August 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Terminator 2
posted by Horselover Phattie at 9:47 AM on August 12, 2011


The Social Network ends ambiguously, even though we know what basically happens in real life after the events portrayed in the film.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 9:55 AM on August 12, 2011


2001: A Space Odyssey is the mother of all ambiguous movie endings.
posted by de void at 9:59 AM on August 12, 2011


While googling, also happened upon this link:

The Five Best: Ambiguous Endings
posted by de void at 10:01 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Memento
posted by millions of peaches at 10:02 AM on August 12, 2011


Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, anything Von Trier. Double Hour. Many foreign films!
posted by bquarters at 10:11 AM on August 12, 2011


The Graduate
posted by LionIndex at 10:14 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


This isn't exactly what you asked for but you might find it interesting anyway. Three different endings to the movie Clue were filmed, with different theaters showing different endings. A fourth ending was written and filmed, but I am unclear if it was ever screened and it's not included on the DVD.
posted by workerant at 10:14 AM on August 12, 2011


Birdy

Blade Runner

Sorta. The original release had a studio-imposed narration and 'happy ending' that substantially reduced the ambiguity. The Director's Cut removed both, to make for a much more ambiguous ending.
posted by googly at 10:27 AM on August 12, 2011


Midnight Cowboy
posted by griphus at 10:37 AM on August 12, 2011


Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Spoiler!

S/he pads off into a dark alley, stripped of his/her makeup, clothes, theatricality. Is she man or woman? East or west? Top or bottom?

I can't find a clip of the actual end shot, but here's the scene right before it.
posted by Lieber Frau at 10:43 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Most Marx brothers don't really have that much of an ending...the brothers are pummeling the crap out of the unsympathetic characters, and then the movie just ... ends. But then, the movies don't have much of a plot either, so it's perfectly fine.
posted by Melismata at 10:46 AM on August 12, 2011


Gone Baby Gone
posted by zoomorphic at 10:53 AM on August 12, 2011


Really? No-one's mentioned Bridge On The River Kwai?

I thought Sir Alec's final bit was the gold standard for ambiguous endings?
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:10 AM on August 12, 2011


Swimming Pool.
posted by oohisay at 11:11 AM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Heh, when I saw "Swimming Pool" I thought you meant "The Swimmer", which also is rather ambiguous at the end.
posted by Melismata at 11:34 AM on August 12, 2011


Monsters
posted by dougrayrankin at 11:42 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Similar thread on movies.
posted by tonylord at 11:45 AM on August 12, 2011


No Thelma and Louise yet? Wow, I thought that was such an obvious one.
posted by fyrebelley at 12:15 PM on August 12, 2011


Donnie Darko
posted by teatime at 12:31 PM on August 12, 2011


> No Thelma and Louise yet? Wow, I thought that was such an obvious one.

Um, they died when their car went off the thousand foot high cliff at full throttle?

> Birdy

I thought Birdy ended on a fairly grounded and unambiguous note. He took a short leap of faith and then was able to regain a sense of ironic detachment about himself.

Anyway: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeousie
posted by Horselover Phattie at 12:49 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Shutter Island
Blue Valentine
The Empire Strikes Back
The Wrestler

Some lists pulled from the interwebs:
posted by mazola at 12:54 PM on August 12, 2011


Err... Blue Valentine
posted by mazola at 12:55 PM on August 12, 2011


Actually it's strongly hinted what happened at the end of The Wrestler, without being explicitly shown.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:56 PM on August 12, 2011


Ghost World. It involved a bus.
posted by mippy at 1:08 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Altman's 3 Women has an enigmatic ending that I'd qualify as ambiguous. Kiss Me Deadly had an ambiguous ending until the original ending was restored in 1997. Prior to that, the ending showed the beach house exploding, and it was unclear if Mike Hammer and Velda died in the explosion. When the original ending was restored, we got to see Hammer and Velda escape from the house and run into the sea prior to the explosion. I guess that makes it an example of an ending once ambiguous made clear.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 1:25 PM on August 12, 2011


Meek's Cutoff
posted by Chenko at 1:38 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can it be ambiguous without calling your attention to that fact? Minority Report.
posted by phearlez at 2:56 PM on August 12, 2011


I think Children of Men had a rather ambiguous ending. Kee gets where she was supposed to go, but the issue of why there are no new babies being born isn't really resolved. Also, what happens to Theo isn't entirely unambiguous, though the ending is certainly strongly suggestive.
posted by yasaman at 3:00 PM on August 12, 2011


Mike Leigh's Another Year.
posted by ParisMess at 3:01 PM on August 12, 2011




OLD BOY.
posted by zazie at 7:13 PM on August 12, 2011


Robert Redford's 1972 political flick The Candidate has a famously ambiguous ending. The question Redford's character asks at the end, after losing and winning important things, goes totally unanswered.
posted by mediareport at 8:20 PM on August 12, 2011


Lots of Terry Gilliam films, including:

Jabberwocky
Brazil
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Twelve Monkeys
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Most recently, The Tree of Life.
But it could be argued that the entire movie is ambiguous.


It could be argued that the entire movie is crap. By the end I just didn't care about anything but it ending. Sorry, but that film annoyed me soooo much.
posted by iotic at 1:30 AM on August 13, 2011


The Shawshank Redemption *should* have had an ambiguous ending, like the book, so when I watch it I pretend the last 45 seconds or so before the credits don't happen.
posted by hades at 1:52 AM on August 14, 2011


« Older Any accountants / tax lawyers ...   |  Help me figure out how to remo... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.


Post