Film Theory: Closure (Movie Endings)

Offering a clear resolution to the film’s problems and dilemmas, often in the form of a happy ending, has been one of the most striking and persistent of all attributes of Classic Hollywood Cinema

The reasons for the “Hollywood Happy Ending” are manifold, ranging from self-censorship to genre conventions to audiences’ willingness to suspend disbelief to genuine belief that faith, energy and good would solve any problem, be it personal or collective, social or political.

The happy endings allow audiences to leave the movie house with a sigh of formal relief, but they are also based on expectations for a formal closure, even if they play against the film’s actual contents

Genre enclosure enforces the happy ending as formal necessity and forced enthusiasm, as well as false ideological device, as was clear in Douglas Sirk’s Hollywood melodramas. Sirk has once noted that the happy endings in his pictures were “mere “emergency exits” for the audience, barely plausible pretenses that the film’s problems are now resolved, even if on the movie’s own terms the upbeat ending makes no sense and the convoluted denouement takes the sting out of the book’s ending.

It’s in this context that I’d like to examine the ambiguous, resonant ending of Mike Nichols’ “Charlie Wilson’s War,” based on the acclaimed book of the same name by George Crile, the late, famed journalist of “60 Minutes” and other news shows.

Aaron Sorkin’s shrewd script, like Crile’s 2003 best-seller, details the outrageous, sensationalistic escapades of a coalition of unlikely trio in helping bring down the Communist rule of Afghanistan through social, political, and military connections. The crux of the story, which didn’t get much coverage at the good ol’ Reagan times, is so bizarre and logic-defying that if it were not billed as factual, you would think it was made up in a Hollywood conference room!

In essence, under the inspiration of Charlie, three individuals conspired and mobilized all of their personal connections and political resources to generate covert financial and weaponry support for the Afghan Mujahideen to defeat the Russians in the late 1980s. What begins as a miniscule budget of $5 million to help a remote country (Afghanistan) most American politicians often confuse with Pakistan (out of ignorance or lack of care or attention) ends up in the neighborhood of $1 billion and a campaign that benefits from the participation of such unlikely partners as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel!

In the end of the movie, there’s no real resolution. Nor is there thematic link to the present, or a single mention of Osama Bin Laden and the chilling fact that Wilson’s 1980s patriotic acts also helped equipped what would become the most vicious enemy in US’s history, the Al Qaeda organization.

Nonetheless, in voice-over narration, Tom Hanks’ Charlie Wilson says: “They removed the threat we all went to sleep with every night, of World War III breaking out. The countries that used to be in the Warsaw Pact are now in NATO. These were truly changes of biblical proportions, and the effect of the jihad had in accelerating these events is nothing short of miraculous. These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. And the people who deserved the credits are the ones who made the sacrifice. And then we fucked up the endgame”.

But the book delivers a stronger punch than the movie in its last paragraph: “To call these final pages an epilogue is probably a misnomer. Epilogues indicate that the story has been wrapped up, the chapter finished. This one, sadly, is far from over.”