TRUTH. Shoulda had a happy-ish ending.

Have you seen TRUTH? I doubt it. It flashed through the theaters as fast as a writer feeling good about his work while a producer reads it.

I haven’t looked up the box office because I don’t have time.
But I bet it didn’t make a ton of money.

God, the ending is depressing. I felt bad about America, the news, politics, and myself for being alive.
Not my advice to writers.

Give the viewer / reader an uptick of happiness, somehow. TITANIC ends with “everyone alive.” That’s a happy ending! We walk out of the theater and don’t want to slit our throats. Unlike TRUTH. I just felt awful when it was over. They give Cate Blanchett a hell of an end speech where she kicks ass, same for Topher Grace, but everyone still loses. The bad guys win and win big. The lesson I took from that: Move to France. But that’s not possible. If it were, I’d have done it years ago.

TRUTH is a motivational speech wrapped in script pages: “power corrupts and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Even if you’re rich and powerful and connected, there’s someone above you who’s richer, more powerful, and better connected.. and evil.” I guess the film did motivate me in a way. It motivated me to step in front of a bus.

I have no idea what they could have done to make this film end on an upbeat moment. What happened in real life was horrible and the off screen bad guys held all the cards. The fix was in. But I don’t want to buy a ticket to see a movie where the fix is in and the good guys get clobbered.

See SPOTLIGHT. Same story: evil, powerful opponents who do whatever the heck they want… but at the end, they get crucified and we feel good when the phones start ringing with phone calls that will destroy all those stinking bastards.

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14 Comments

Filed under Bad Writing, Good Writing, Screenwriting

14 responses to “TRUTH. Shoulda had a happy-ish ending.

  1. William

    Hi WIl. I haven’t seen Truth OR Spotlight. But I would ask this: what is wrong with a tragedy?

    Shakespeare did quite well with them no? Is Truth a tragedy and just not well balanced? In a well-balanced tragedy there is some catharsis at the end. Arbitrage is one of my favorites of late that arrives in this flavor.

    Are you advocating not writing tragedies for Hollywood, or just that they have more balance than Truth does?

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      It’s a tough call. Lots of movies end with the hero dead, and a lot of them have won Academy Awards. I am a fan of “happy” endings, or at least an upward feeling at the end. If you can do that, I’d say, do.
      Relentless misery is a grim road. REVOLUTION ROAD was one recent example. Beautifully written but endlessly depressing.
      It may be my personal bias.
      Good question. Tragedy certainly has a well-deserved place.

      • William

        I’d suggest Arbitrage for an example of a well-balanced tragedy.

        Not sure why the film was not discussed more. I thought it was damn good.

        Is it possible to write a tragedy with a happy ending?

        Maybe tragedies just taste bitter to you? Did you like King Lear, MacBeth, Hamlet, etc? If you didn’t care for those either, you may just not have a fondness for tragedies.

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        I liked ARBITRAGE a lot. Can’t remember much about it now, just that I liked it. Or, at least, I think I did! I’ve got the DVD. I’ll grab it first of the week and look at the ending and see how I feel. Wondering if I latched onto the wife? I really don’t remember it, so I’m looking forward to revisiting it.
        Haven’t seen Shakespeare performed in so long that I don’t have a solid feel for his tragedies. They certainly have stood the test of time, whether I like tragedies or not.

    • Omoizele Oz Okoawo

      What’s wrong with tragedy is the fact that most people are distinctly aware of how bad life can get so rather than giving them something that makes them just want to slit their wrists in a warm bathtub, why not give them something so they can fight the darkness and make the world a better place?

  2. ProfessorChomp

    Arguably the best screenplay in history ended with tragedy and sheer hopelessness. “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.” Not every story needs a happy ending.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Very good point, and I adore CHINATOWN. I can’t say why I didn’t feel bad at the end of CHINATOWN, but I really did at the end of TRUTH. Something about one ending being satisfying or something. I’m not sure.
      I had lunch today with a friend who works in Hollywood. She says her company makes movies that they know (before greenlight) won’t make money, but that they think may win an Oscar. So, those movies may not have “happy” endings. But perhaps satisfying ones.

  3. S.A. CARPENTER

    “Cool Hand Luke”

    Now that’s a tragedy with a happy ending! Yes, Luke gets shot and ends up bleeding to death. But who can forget that “Luke Smile” as they drive off for a hospital over two hours away.

    It’s the smile that makes it!!!

    That smile said it all. Old Luke just kept coming and coming. He’d beat you with nothing. Luke beat the warden with nothing, and that smile!!!!

    Nobody could have pulled that off except Newman.

    All you youngsters need to check that film out…

    S.A. CARPENTER

  4. What’s good enough for Robert Crumb should be good enough for you!

  5. SBdeb

    I saw both “Truth” and “Spotlight”. I’d like to think “well, hell, maybe THAT won’t happen again now that everyone knows how things ended.” It’s the beauty of film to tell a story. Whether people learn from it will be anyone’s guess. That being said, I totally wanted to slit my wrists after watching “The Road.”

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Grim, grim, horrible agony followed by bleak depression is not a recipe for a box office hit.
      Speaking of ROAD have you seen REDEMPTION ROAD? That’s a champ not-happy ending! And middle. And beginning, kinda. Sort of like THE BAD BEGINNING, the Lemony Snicket book.

  6. Miguel Cruz

    If you go on the theory that storytelling is about problem solving then a bleak ending simply means that a particular story is merely about problem HAVING. It’s psychologically unsatisfying.

    Chinatown works because the film’s central problem isn’t keeping Evelyn Mulwray alive. The thing Jake is trying to do is solve a mystery. He does that.

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