I thought Lincoln was excellent in all respects… except for the ending, so I was pleased to read this LAT article by Steve Zeitchik:
The filmgoer was noticeably upset. He didn’t like a moment in “Lincoln.” More specifically, he didn’t like the final moments of “Lincoln.”
“I don’t understand why it didn’t just end when Lincoln is walking down the hall and the butler gives him his hat,” he said. “Why did I need to see him dying on the bed? I have no idea what Spielberg was trying to do.”
The man on the mini-rant wasn’t some multiplex loudmouth. He was actor Samuel L. Jackson, and he was just getting started. “I didn’t need the assassination at all. Unless he’s going to show Lincoln getting his brains blown out. And even then, why am I watching it? The movie had a better ending 10 minutes before.”
That ending, the one Jackson wanted, I wanted, and I expect thousands of other movie fans wanted was this moment:
Not just the image of Lincoln walking away, but the echo of the character’s final words: “I suppose it’s time to go, though I would rather stay.” The line works beautifully on so many levels. As text, Lincoln is simply saying he would prefer not to go to the play. He’s exhausted from the events at the close of the War and in general he’s not much of a socializer. But subtextually it is both a portent of the horrible occurrence upcoming and a haunting message about a man’s simple request to continue with his life.
Unfortunately the movie continues on with a scene we do not – in my view – need: the President’s death [although not seen], his death, and a flashback to a speech by Lincoln.
This circumstance raised a question in Zeitchik’s mind:
Jackson was offering a sentiment common among people who’ve seen “Lincoln” and moviegoers in general: Hollywood films are struggling to find the exit. Stories that seem to end, end again, and then end once more. Climactic scenes wind down, then wind up. Movies that appear headed for a satisfying resolution turn away, then try to stumble back.
The definition of a good ending is as hard to pin down as Keyser Söze. But there has been no shortage of filmic finales for people to shake their fists at this season.
He considers Les Misérables and Life of Pi, then digs into possible root causes, one of which is voiced by Ben Affleck:
“We now develop so many movie ideas based on pitches. And the thing about a pitch is that it does a pretty good job figuring out the first and second acts, but no one ever sits down and works out the third act.”
There’s some takeaway slapping us writers smack in the face: Work out the damn ending! I wrote about this at length in my most recent post on the 1920 book “How to Write a Photoplay.” If you missed it Sunday, check it out.
What do you think of the ending of Lincoln? What other movies — in your opinion — suffer from the ‘when to end’ syndrome? How would you choose to end those movies?
Finally how do you go about crafting the end of your stories?
For the rest of Zeitchik’s article, go here.