Movie Endings: Good, Bad and Ambiguous–Carrie

Quick: which are the best, most shocking, most satisfying, and most revelatory movie endings you have experienced. De Palma's Carrie David Fincher's Seven Hitchcock's Suspicion We are launching a series of articles about Movie Endings: The Good, the Bad, and the Ambiguous.

We will examine endings–happy or not, shocking or predictable, clear or ambiguous, silly or resonant–in various types of movies. By nature, this column will reveal secrets and disclose hidden events of plots. So, needless to say, please do not read if you have not seen the movie yet. And bewarned, this column qualifies as “Spoiler Alert.”

Resolution in Film

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, roughly defined as the era from 1930 to 1960. But the happy ending has prevailed–or plagued, depends on your point of view–beyond that era.

Happy Endings

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

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 the endings play against the film's actual contents and/or defy their narrative logic.

Often, closures in genre pictures enforces the happy ending as formal necessity and forced enthusiasm, as well as false ideological device. This was quite clear in Douglas Sirk's Hollywood melodramas of the 1950s, such as “All That Heaven Allows,” Written on the Wind,” and “Imitation of Life.” 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.


Brian De Palma's terrifyingly Gothic thriller, “Carrie,” based on Stephen King's novel, is at once lyrical and trashy, a nasty revenge story with a Cinderella-like heroine. Sissy Spacek plays a misfit who comes of age and discovers her sexuality under the most terrifying conditions.

An early scene shows the totally unprepared Carrie experiencing her first menstruation at the gym; her friends react as if she were a freak. “Help me,” she screams in desperation, but her friends laugh, and it takes her teacher to pull her out of hysterics. Fatherless, Carrie lives with her crazed, fanatically religious, mother (Piper Laurie), who perceives herself as a virgin damaged by sex. Shy and sexually inhibited, Carrie's main desire is to gain acceptance by her peers; she is unloved at home and ridiculed at school.

The story turns into a slasher-horror flick, a revenge story that fits into the decade's dominant theme of vengeance. Carrie's telekinetic powers are used against her classmates and mother. In her retaliation, kitchen knives whiz through space, piercing her mother's body until she looks like a crucified saint.

But who in the yarn has the last word

In the last scene, surviving classmate Sue (Amy Irving) visits the cemetery where Carrie is buried. Quietly and lyrically, she places flowers on the new grave–that is, until the dead girl thrusts out her hand out of the soil and grabs Sue forcefully. Tricky ending Definitley. But it works in the context fo the movie.

Sue then wakes up from a nightmare that's both similar to and different from Dorothy's waking up in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), which also has a grand, satisfying finale.