WHY ARE WE IN LOVE WITH HAPPY ENDINGS?

By Niamh Collins

 

Hello wonderful people! Welcome to one part of a (hopefully!) interesting series of thoughts we Musers have been having recently in regards to certain aspects of the arts and why we are so drawn to these features, you MUST MUST MUST check out (please don’t feel intimated by the capitalised verb but it will be worth every second of your valuable time) Louise’s piece – she has interestingly developed the other side of this ‘coin’ of happy endings and muses over tragedy and the importance of this in creative culture – even more importantly, why we are so drawn to, in many regards, such despair, check it out! Anyway, without further ado, we all cross our fingers you enjoy this series and hope that it encourages you to have your own thoughts on these classic questions…

 

I had a thought today. It wasn’t particularly the most defining thought of my existence so far. I am yet to experience a moment of thought so influential… At least I hope I am… Could you imagine my most original thought being that if I began saving for my pension now I might be able to afford a weekly trip to Costa at 85… I have thought this by the way… I’ve also considered I may only make it to 45 and then the whole process would have been an absolute waste of planning. I could have instead had a 5 year around the world trip in a vintage Ferrari, which would be an inordinately more beneficial use of savings. Anyway, as per I digress. This little moment of thought I had this evening came after sitting down at around nine o’clock, rather exhausted if I tell the truth, having juggled making detailed notes on the Soviet Economic Crisis of the 1980’s and making sure two under 2’s didn’t fall down a gateless flight of stairs. Keeping one eye on the laptop and one ear on the sound of tiny footsteps attempting to climb, what can only be considered a great height when you are of such a small proportion, is, as I am sure any parent, hands on grandparent or child-minder would contest too – undeniably stressful! After the toddler escapades my mum and I fell, rather worn, (it has been quite a few years since we have played hosts to such young company), onto the sofa to watch Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in 90’s classic ‘You’ve Got Mail’. For any of you who have not witnessed this 180 minute romantic feast of a picture, well firstly shame on you! Any movie lover worth their salt must be aware of the dream team Hanks and Ryan who were also notably partnered in Sleepless in Seattle – another tearjerker in the movie greats! It’s your classic romantic plot, not quite as distinct as the…

 

  • Boy meets girl
  • They fall in love
  • Boy loses girl
  • They get back together

But pretty close. My moment came when I realised that at the end of nearly every film I watch I can always predict the ending. May I assure you, this is not some psychic gift, nor a sneaky glance at the plotline on Wikipedia pre- film binge. I, like every other person who might spend an evening with a glass of rose and a romantic film (don’t judge me) know from the first moment the characters appear it’s going to end, most probably, with a long kiss and a promise of eternal happiness after a bit of a rocky road. My question to myself after watching the rose tinted joy of ‘You’ve Got Mail’ was why am I not fed up with this already? Why is it I will buy, and watch, and enjoy, the same story over and over again just with different actors and different circumstances but with an unchanging principle?

They meet, they don’t get along too well, they fall in love. I can think of hundreds of titles that use this premise, and you the reader can name a hundred more, I am sure.

What is wonderful about the film business is it is so varied, the wide breadth of films that are made every year and the stories and questions they explore is awe-inspiring but the film business, and therefore the general public, have always had an obsession with this same story-line… If we didn’t, this type of picture would have gone out with Doris Day. Mistake me not, I watch a fair few romances but not enough to keep the industry a float… (though the Sky bill is rising as the clock ticks by!)

I said to my mum recently after we watched ‘How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days’ for the 444th time (it’s her favourite and I had forced her to watch Judi Dench and Dustin Hoffman in ‘Esio Trot’ the week prior, so I happily obliged), I wonder what would happen if after all that… (Matthew McConaughey on a motorbike chasing Kate Hudson in a taxi down Brooklyn Bridge after realising how much he cares for her), after all of that there was one of those 3 years later screens with text and accompanying photographs, you know the sort,

‘Darren and Katie went on a second date but realised they were incompatible’ etc. Etc.

What if after this great long romantic car chase the film concluded to this sentiment…

‘Andi and Ben realised after two years of marriage that they were both too work-obsessed for a relationship to prosper, so Andi sought legal advice and yesterday received her Decree Nisi. She is now casually dating a security guard at work and Ben has discovered that his love for basketball is the only other thing in his life that he needs.’

Okay… It’s not so romantically conclusive as a powerful kiss in the warm sun on Brooklyn Bridge but unfortunately it is most likely more in league with our day to day, off the big screen reality. Is this why we find it so unsavoury? I am not the first person to see films as an ‘escape’, most probably an escape from reality. Not that reality is dreadful, but it is certainly not as perfect as the 180 minutes I watch on-screen in front of me, and neither do I expect it to be. How dull a picture might that be?

‘And now, the online shop has arrived, and Niamh and her mother unpack two 12 can packs of Pepsi Max, some cream cakes, Lloyd Grossman tomato and basil pasta sauce, milk and a medium sized corn fed chicken, after a day of hoovering and dusting and discussing whether or not next door really look after their own lawn or whether they pay a gardener to do it for them, as it looks remarkably better than the little triangle of mud and grass shavings Niamh and Katherine have going on outside their backdoor.’

Doesn’t have quite the desired effect for the £12.00 cinema ticket you bought or the £4.99 rental price you paid. Someone once said ‘drama is life with all the dull bits left out’, and there is a large degree of truth in that, however when it comes to love very few of us will have such a ‘film worthy’ experience. Is the classic film plot what we all romantically aspire to? I suppose the work of love comes not in that decision to embark on a relationship with another individual, which is the central climatic conclusive point of most romantic films, the hard work comes in maintaining the relationship. For the rest of us outside the unreality of the big screen, it does not end after ‘that kiss’, our lives from that moment are not mapped for what those around us expect to be a flawless existence. What awaits is, in many regards, a battle. Maybe that is too aggressive a metaphor for a relationship, but for the vast majority of us a commitment to another person and living alongside that person day in and day out, regardless of how much you love them is hard. As you grow as people, make decisions, be selfless, be selfish, conflict within any marriage or partnership is inevitable, and often ugly. Is this why the camera’s cut after the two characters decide to be together? Is it because ‘courting’ is so much more romantically exciting to watch than Mr and Mrs Driscoll of 9 Chequers Lane with two slightly rowdy sons eating dinner in silence when the boys leave home as they haven’t really spoken to each other frankly in many years? Or is it because we would rather wait for people to fall together rather than wait for them to fall apart?

I am careful that I do not wish to imply that if an ending is unhappy it is more truthful than a happy ending. I think in many regards the ‘problem’ as such, is not with the term ‘unhappy’ or ‘happy’, it is the term ending. There are many endings within life. Death is the most obvious but we have many – the end of education, the end of friendships, marriages, the end of childhood. Stephen King put it best; “will I tell you that these three lived happily ever after? I will not, for no one ever does. But there was happiness. And they did live.”

Why we adore happy endings is most likely an amalgamation of different reasons. For most of us from the moment we are born we are read stories that begin with ‘once upon a time’ and conclude with ‘and they all lived happily ever after’. It is wired into our makeup when we grow. But do we ever lose this sense of a ‘happily ever after’ aspiration, when as children we are in many regards taught that the ‘meet, fall in love, and be forever happy’ is the target for future romantic endeavours? In addition, our immediate ideas of ‘happy endings’ are usually geared towards falling in love. We can here call into question what a ‘happy ending’ actually means. In this specific blog post I’ve focused on happy endings in a romantic setting but this is only a small slice of a big pie.

‘Judy leaves an unfulfilling marriage and travels to Italy where she sets up a jewellers and found her true calling’, I think we can call this a happy ending… Though deep down we all expect her to meet a gorgeous Italian and fall in love… I blame Disney for such expectations.

Perhaps the main reason we crave happy endings is they seem so blissfully uncomplicated – something which life rarely is.

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