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The Most Confusing Movie Endings Explained

Not all filmmakers like their movies to have
simple endings. Some leave their last scenes ambiguous to keep audiences thinking. But
sometimes that plan backfires, resulting in endings that are just plain confusing. Beware
of spoilers… Inception Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film left audiences’
minds spinning as much as the top in the final shot. Just when it looks like the top is about
to spin out and tumble, the screen cuts to black. The final shot shows Dom Cobb reuniting
with his kids. But we never know if it’s really happening or if it’s a dream. Fans debated
the scene endlessly for years after Inception came out…but according to Nolan, the non-ending
is actually kind of the whole point. In 2015, the director gave the commencement
speech at Princeton University, and told the grads to “chase their reality.” He used the
ending of Inception as an example, saying: “[Cobb] was off with his kids, he was in his
own subjective reality. He didn’t really care anymore, and that makes a statement: perhaps,
all levels of reality are valid. The camera moves over the spinning top just before it
appears to be wobbling, it was cut to black.” In short, the ending of the movie is up to
us — and we’re right either way. The Dark Knight Rises The ending to Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy
isn’t quite as vague as Inception, but it still left viewers debating after the credits
started rolling. After flying a nuclear bomb out of Gotham City, Batman escapes the blast…off-screen.
We know this because, later, while Alfred is in Florence, he sees Bruce Wayne sitting
at a table, enjoying a meal with ex-Catwoman Selina Kyle. Some fans have theorized that
this is all a dream — that Batman actually died in the explosion, and that Alfred simply
imagined seeing his friend taking in the Italian sunshine. But that’s bat-baloney. Before the movie’s
end, we learn along with Lucius Fox that Wayne fixed the Bat-plane’s autopilot six months
before the final showdown in Gotham. That’s all the exposition necessary for viewers to
know that Batman jumped out while the plane flies the bomb toward the bay. And sure, when Alfred sees Wayne in Florence,
it’s exactly how Alfred describes it earlier in the film. But that’s not a dream — it’s
just the best way for Wayne to show Alfred he’s alive. Moreover, Selina Kyle is there,
wearing Wayne’s mother’s necklace, which she steals at the beginning of the movie. Alfred
doesn’t know she and Wayne have become an item, and he’d already quit working for Bruce
before Batman and Catwoman teamed up to save Gotham City. As if all that isn’t enough, Christian Bale
himself thinks that Bruce is alive by the end of the movie. He explained during an interview
while promoting Exodus: Gods and Kings: “He was just content with me being alive and
left because that was always the life that he wanted for him. And I find it very interesting
and with most films, I tend to say ‘It’s what the audience thinks it is.’ My personal
opinion? No, it was not a dream. That was for real and he was just delighted that finally
he had freed himself from the privilege, but ultimately the burden of being Bruce Wayne.” None of this matters anyway. Batfleck is the
wave of the future! But let’s shift our gaze toward the ghost of Batman’s past… Birdman Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s film about a washed-up
actor trying to make a comeback on Broadway has the kind of weird ending that puts Inception
to shame. Throughout the film, Riggan Thomas Thomson is shown as having superpowers, only
to have them later be explained as being all in his head. In the final scene, Riggan’s
daughter Sam enters his hospital room to find his bed empty and the window open. Sirens
and voices can be heard coming from the street below. Initially, Sam looks down, but she
slowly turns her head up to the sky and she smiles. Some might think this means Riggan
actually does have powers, and has flown away. But…probably not. What really seems to have
happened is that Riggan has successfully committed suicide, which he failed to do on the previous
day. Sam, for her part, seems to start hallucinating just like her dad. The fact that she has bird
tattoos on her arm and that her father played a superhero with bird-based powers suggests
the strong connection between the two. Sam seems to leave the real world to enter a fantasy
where her father is still alive, soaring above the clouds. The film is subtitled The Unexpected
Virtue of Ignorance, after all. Here, Sam chooses to ignore reality. One of Birdman’s four screenwriters, Alexander
Dinelaris Jr., hinted during an interview with HuffPost Live that the key to their understanding
of the ending lies within Sam’s relationship with her father: “I think when we found the relationship with
the daughter, we started to understand what Riggan’s story was. Once she got down, Emma’s
big monologue, in the basement, we started to understand the relationship and what it
was. We’re not going to sit around and explain the ending.” Vanilla Sky Instead of a feelgood romance or a fun coming-of-age
story, viewers of Vanilla Sky got a moody, elliptical remake of a hit Spanish film. A
feckless playboy suffers near-death and disfigurement after a relationship with his new girlfriend
plunges his ex into homicidal obsession. But once his face is surgically restored, his
life really starts to go haywire. Viewers are told that much of what they’ve
seen is a lucid dream in Cruise’s brain, which has been held in a cryogenic stasis for more
than 100 years. The more troubling elements of the narrative are apparently the result
of a glitch. He’s given the choice to either reboot the dream or exit it once and for all
by jumping off a building and being brought back to life. He jumps — and the last shot
is of the protagonist opening his eyes, starting his life over again. Director Cameron Crowe said that the correct
answer to understanding the movie might just be accepting what you see onscreen as the
actual events of the story, according to his comments on the DVD’s commentary track. Crowe
seemed to lean in that direction while talking with Film School Rejects about the film’s
unused alternate ending as well, saying: “You want people to understand what you’re
going for, so the question is, looking at both endings: Did the pendulum swing too much
in the direction of us explaining stuff? I think it did. The original ending was more
open-ended, a little less explained.” Barton Fink At the end of this Coen Brothers flick, tortured
writer Barton Fink wanders onto a beach, where he meets a woman resembling the picture decorating
his sparse, depressing hotel room. Shortly after they meet, the movie abruptly ends,
potentially leaving some viewers scratching their heads. What’s it mean? Here’s one way
to look at it. The picture represents the idea of Hollywood.
It’s a place of fantasy, beaches, and beautiful women. Meanwhile, throughout the entire film,
Fink is subjected to the reality of Hollywood. He’s had his script torn apart by an executive.
He found out his hero, writer W. P. Mayhew is a washed-up alcoholic, and that Mayhew’s
wife writes his novels for him. And he’s fled from both a burning hotel and a shotgun-wielding
maniac. “Ahhhh! Ahhhh!” You’d think that finally finding the woman
on the beach would mean that Fink is at the end of his trials, having reached his reward
and a place where he feels safe. But in fact, he’s learned the truth about the dangerous
world in which he now exists. Joel Coen explained in a 1991 interview: “Some people have suggested that the whole
second part of the film is nothing but a nightmare. But it was never our intention to, in any
literal sense, depict some bad dream, and yet it is true that we were aiming for a logic
of the irrational. We wanted the film’s atmosphere to reflect the psychological state of the
protagonist.” That wouldn’t be the last time the ending
of a Coen brothers movie left audiences debating after leaving the theater… No Country For Old Men At the end of this blood-soaked neo-Western,
Sheriff Ed Tom Bell tells his wife about two dreams he has about his father. In the first
dream, he loses some money his father gave him. In the second dream, Bell sees his father
holding a torch, riding ahead into the darkness of a snowy mountain pass. Shortly before Bell tells the stories of his
dreams, he tells his wife that his father died young. That, in a sense, his father will
always be a younger man. More importantly, throughout the movie, Bell ponders the violence
in the area where he’s sheriff. And since he’s close to retirement, he wonders whether
he’s too old for the world. The title of the movie is No Country For Old Men, and Bell
is one of them. It’s become too violent too quickly for someone of his age, and he can
no longer cope. The world needs someone younger, like his father, to light the way in the ever-growing
darkness around it — exactly like the second dream Bell describes. As for the first dream? Maybe Bell just needs
a new wallet. Mulholland Drive David Lynch fans don’t watch his work for
straightforward narratives. But even in the context of his endearingly weird filmography,
2001’s Mulholland Drive is tough to figure out. Lynch himself has steadfastly refused
to help untangle the movie, which moves in jittery circles around an actress, a mysterious
woman, and a film director…all of whom are mixed up in a dreamlike and frequently nonsensical
series of events. Ultimately, the film’s ending is every bit
as open to interpretation as the rest of the film — and although viewers are welcome
to delve into the many theories attempting to explain what Lynch might have meant, the
best explanation was arguably posed by the late film critic Roger Ebert. According to
him, “The movie is hypnotic; we’re drawn along
as if one thing leads to another but nothing leads anywhere, and that’s even before the
characters start to fracture and recombine like flesh caught in a kaleidoscope. There
is no explanation. There may not even be a mystery.” So what’s the explanation here? Uh…pretty
much whatever you want. “You’re welcome!” Thanks for watching! Click the Looper icon
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  • You know, if a movie or a Story ends on a Question, then the movie didn't have an Ending, did it? Saying it's "Up for Interpretation" is Not Clever.
    Abstract artists can get away with "You interpret it however you want". Movies and stories aren't like that. You need a Strong ending with meaning to it, Christopher, Please stop ending your movies with rhetorical philosophical questions. They keep doing this with stories and I'm getting tired of it. Oh, the ending is wherever I think it is? That's really Weak… It could literally be anything. It's totally subjective and there's no real point. Just a lingering question… Take Inception, what was the point of that ending? He made it home? He is dreaming? It didn't matter? It's all about what you perceive to be realty? That's stupid. Please stop acting like you're smart for not telling us what happened. So you're just really bad at Ending movies?

  • I think Christopher Nolan should show up at the end of all his movies and say "I have No Idea how to End this sooooo, how about it Ends however you think it should End? Ok? Now Clap and tell everyone how smart you are for 'understanding the Ending." And that's how every Nolan movie ends… With you telling him what you thought it meant.

  • Snow-Piercer was a pretty dumb movie, you know what I thought about at the End? Even if those kids somehow are able to stay alive, there are only 2 of them. If they have children, who are those children going to have children with? Gross, that's who.

  • Everyones sayin how simple of an ending dark knight rises had yet no one is saying shit about the ending lol..Christian bale didn even kno if batman really died or not..a lot of ppl believe Alfred was jus trippin and still no confirmation on that

  • In the movie, Inception with his children you always saw the back of them like if they were running from him. When he comes home they run to him you see their faces so I do believe he is not in dream world no more. And with Christopher Nolan I swear he love to mind fuck us no joke LOL LOL LOL LOL

  • Another Di Caprio Movie with a confusing ending is The Shutter has a split ending like Inception…we never know whether the lobotomy was done to keep him quiet about the secret procedures or he really was a lunatic

  • I really dislike movies that end ambiguously. I watch movies for a reason. I want to be told a story. Not as a jumping point to tell the story to myself. Otherwise, why am I giving you my money, if I have to make up my own ending? Maybe you should be paying me then.

  • In Batman, she's NOT wearing Wayn'es mother's necklace in the last scene. Of course, he's not dead, they have to keep the franchise going. These movies are summed up by the last thing line in the book "No Country For Old Men". The sheriff said, "Everything sucks." Most of these movies do.

  • I'm shocked Total Recall (original) didn't make this list as my family and I still debate the ending to this day. "Blue skies on Mars…" C'mon!!

  • Mulholland Drive is David Lynch's easiest to understand out of any… Mulholland Drive isn't very subjective compared to others also

  • Mulholland Drive isn’t really that complicated, but it took me years of watching and reading up on it to understand. It’s subtle, but it works. Dianne Selwyn is the main character – she’s a Hollywood newcomer/aspiring actress who isn’t particularly talented. She befriends a woman named Camilla, who helps her get auditions and work, and eventually their relationship turns intimate. Unfortunately, Camilla ends up getting a major role that Dianne desperately wanted. Camilla also cheats on her with the film’s director and possibly other women. Dianne is devastated and infuriated and orders a hit on Camilla-the hitman says he will leave a blue key in a certain spot outside Winkie’s Diner after the hit is completed (this comes back). Anyway, you don’t actually see ANY of this on screen until the last 1/3 of the film. Immediately following the opening credits, there is first-person shot of someone putting their head down into a pillow. This is what starts “the dream” that makes up the first 2/3 of the film. I guess you could also call it “a delusion” because saying ‘it was all just a dream’ doesn’t really do this film justice. In her dream Dianne becomes Betty, and Camilla becomes Rita. Rita is involved in a car accident which causes her to lose her memory. After she stumbles into Betty’s apartment one night, Betty must help Rita remember who she is. There are other sub-plots too, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering this was originally meant to be a TV show. It all comes together toward the end when Dianne must wake up from the dream, she must face what she’s done by ordering the hit on Camilla. She goes to a dark theater in the middle of the night, where a strange performance is given (the theme is dreams/illusions). Betty suddenly remembers the blue key, and when she opens the box it unlocks, she wakes up and is Dianne again. Then she takes drugs, hallucinates, masturbates, but is ultimately destroyed by her guilty conscience and kills herself. It is worth noting that all of the characters who appear in the first 2/3 also appear at the end. Just as with real dreams, Dianne’s subconscious recycles people and places she’s seen in real life. Even the cowboy appears in passing at the end, just for a second. Then there is the beautiful score by Angelo Badalamenti, an overall film noir tone, somewhat a nod to Sunset Blvd. perhaps. It’s what has become a quintessential Lynchian theme, “dream within a dream.”

    Also, this film made (at the time) newcomer Naomi Watts an international superstar literally overnight. It’s won many awards and gotten gushing critical praise over the years. I only say all this because I don’t really buy the sentiment “it doesn’t have to make any sense just because it’s David Lynch.” His films are definitely difficult, but rewarding (and enjoyable) if you put some effort in. It’s not all nonsense, but that’s a convenient cop out -_-

  • The ending of vanilla sky made me think that it was suggested that suicide was the only option for the main character to escape his unraveling reality. That's how it looks when you don't overanalyze it but if I'm wrong let me know.


  • Inception – You never wake up into a new dream, you always just end up there mid stride.

    Birdman – You'll notice the hing point at his "attempted" suicide after his play. Suddenly everything turns around. In reality, he is actually dead and everything from the stage suicide forward is him coming to terms with passing on. Seeing his daughter finally accepting him with all his "powers" puts him at rest, even if it is all in his mind before he dies.

  • Ok what the batman one is wrong, if you've watched the movies, alfred mentions wanting to see him sitting with his wife happily at a restaurant. His wish is granted at the end of the movie. I think that it would have tarnished his legacy if he had survived also.

  • so Roger Ebert wasn't smart enough to get Mulholland Drive. what a tool…………………………..

  • I just want a beer and a blunt and maybe some zanni or perks. I had a dream that a black dude was yelling at that kid that played on growing pains a curse on all your houses and then the titanic sank Celine dion was saying something about her ashes will go on. Then all of of sudden i guy in heels started dancing like a woman yelling to me to get out the pool or your dead and i thought to myself u must be dreaming because the titanic too big to sink in a pool. I started to swim anyway but the earth started to spin and then I just fell on dick and the dick kept saying cut your hair you look like a girl we cannot command our presence with a vagina then spit 3 rocks right in my face on this note I felt gay next thing I know I was in a car kissing eric forman from that 70 show i looked in the mirror and i seen a leo the lion. I growled and Forman got scared and said dude im in love with a girl named Donna you cant take my man hood he jumps out the car and turns into venom and starts ripping the car apart pulls me out and licks my face i noticed his breath smelled like dog breath so i started looking for a mint and the fool starts barking like crazy..i woke to my dog droll on my face and my house broken in my dog was lying next to me bleeding someone had stabbed him in the back who stabs a dog😭😤 anyway my dog obviously risk his life to save mine and dragged his poor lil self in my bed to die next to me… I cant live without my pooch my ex wife took everything in the divorce cause she was sleeping with my lawyer😭 all i had was my dog my best friend is gone… i need a bottle of jack daniels and some pills to take hows that for an ending no not fast enough i need a bullet to my nervous system.

  • Vanilla Sky is my favorite movie. I literally ball my eyes out the minute he looks up at the vanilla sky and says “Let them up there read my mind” and then he looks down and Penelope Cruz is standing there so beautifully lit and the beautiful Sigur Ros song starts playing. Ahhh I’m getting chills just typing it out. If anyone needs ANY kind of explanation for Vanilla Sky, let me know. I can tell you everything. I’ve seen it at least 10x and the original just as much

  • There's nothing ambiguous at the end of Cormac McCarthy's novel, No Country for Old Men . In a word, Anton Chigurh wins. Moss and his wife both die, the Sheriff narrowly escapes becoming one more of Chigurh's victims in the deceased Moss's motel room, and retires from a world he's no longer capable of coping with. Chigurh recovers the money from the vent in Moss's room. At that point you'd be forgiven for thinking that Chigurh wanted the money for himself. He does not. Chigurh's view of the world is confirmed, as is his status as a murderous poltergeist who can walk through it mostly unscathed. In a sense, this is like the endings to some of his other books, especially Blood Meridian in which the character the Judge seems to dance through life, always acting on his own inscrutable motives with results that are frequently lethal to other people, while being, himself, almost ageless and timeless and unconquerable. In that way both the Judge and Chigurh are mythological creatures in misleadingly conventional (non-supernatural) stories. In Chigurh's case, the novel ends with his, having recovered from his injuries in the car wreck, returning the cash to the people who hired him to find it, minus his "expenses." He essentially tells them he works for them now, and it's implied that he's not asking them, he's telling them. To what future ends, it's not stated nor implied. While the truncated ending works better for the movie, anyone who knows McCarthy's writing knows that he ends the book more bluntly and brutally and much more concisely than even the movie ended.

    Honestly, given the totality of McCarthy's work so far, the ending of The Road however sad it is represents probably the most optimistic of any of his stories. Yes, really. Which is saying something considering that The Road is a story so brutal that that even No Country… is tame by comparison. Believe me when I tell you, not all of the novel The Road made it into the movie.

  • Or maybe sam is looking up cuz her father is now in a better place not nearly as far fetch as him flying or her hallucinating him flying

  • La mort de l'auteur… Once it's done, it's done, and any analysis is up to the individual viewer/reader. Explaining things after the fact is just giving opinions. It doesn't graduate to a fact.

  • The bird man ending has to be the ending that has made me the happiest of all the movie endings in all my life, I love the way of how when Sam see’s her father flying through the sky, making her enter into a delusional reality that her father is still alive flying with super powers and making her bond with him even more stronger than before gives me a smile all the time whenever I think about it, it’s always makes me happy to see the fact that he has succeeded on making himself a real super hero to the eyes of his daughter and to see that she now is on the same direction he was

  • lol I'd be willing to bet a majority of the population (by and large) have ZERO clue what the ending meant in Donnie Darko while understanding most of the endings of this film. Just because it was 'abstract' or 'up to opinion' doesn't mean it was confusing if stylistically designed that way.

  • People were really confused by the ending of The Dark Knight Rises? As you pointed out, it was pretty clear if you paid any attention at all.

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