I saw Edge of Tomorrow twice this summer and I thought it was perfect. And by perfect I mean without any huge flaws, which I can hope for in a blockbuster not directed by Christopher Nolan. When I talked to friends about the film, they kept complaining that the ending ruined the movie.
The movie ends with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt sacrificing themselves to kill the alien’s Groundhog Day machine, which causes all of the aliens-robots power down dead. Then before Tom Cruise or the AGDM are fully destroy, Tom Cruise travels back in time once more to the beginning of the film. Everyone is alive except for the alien-robots who are all deactivated. It ends with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt meeting, and the audience being left with the impression that they’re totally going to boink. What I heard from multiple people is that the last time jump didn’t makes sense, and the story would have been stronger if the film didn’t have a happy ending. They claim it should have ended with Tom Cruise blowing up AGDM, destroying all the alien-robots, and then dying. The time travel at the end seems a bit implausible, but Tom Cruise just spent over an hour and a half time traveling and shooting alien-robots. I just continued to suspend my disbelief. I think the issue with this film’s ending has to do with story structure and endings in particular. Where do you end a film?
Narrative structure, which was explained in my last post, says that the end should resolve and wrap up the conflict introduced in the beginning of the story. Well I wanted to answer this question more specifically with film. I went looking on the internet and in the library, but I found very little about the subject. I did find a screen writing book called The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver by Syd Field. The book says that, “Ending comes out of the beginning. Someone, or something, initiates an action, and how that action is resolved becomes the storyline of the film” and that, “what’s important is that the ending be a dynamic conclusion to the storyline.” This means the ending is a resolution of the conflict that is introduced in the beginning of the film. You end a film when the conflict that was introduced in the beginning, whatever kick started the film is over. Once the conflict is over a film should end, immediate.
Edge of tomorrow has two conflicts. One that is external, Giant alien-robot death monsters trying to destroy the world. The other is internal,Tom Cruise’s character is a coward that wouldn’t risk his life for another. (It’s important to note that having two conflicts one external and one internal is extremely common in film and usually the mark of a good writer.) All of Edge of Tomorrow’s conflicts are resolved in the scene in the Louvre. Tom Cruise tries to sacrifice himself so that Emily Blunt can live which resolves the internal conflict. Tom Cruise then kill all the alien-robots minutes later which resolves the external conflict. So anything that comes after happens after Tom Cruise kills the AGDM happens after the plots already been resolved. That’s why the happy ending scene seems unnecessary because it is.
It may seem like a film can’t have a happy ending and end right when the conflict is resolved. That it has to be really jarring. I’m here to tell you that with good writing it really can. Case and point Finding Nemo.
Finding Nemo ends with Nemo being reunited with his father, Marlin, and then we cut to Nemo’s first day of school. On paper this seems like filler. We just had this big adventure, and now we are back and nothing really happening. Remember though that “ending come out of beginning.” This last scene isn’t just here to show that everyone’s having a happy ending, it is resolving Marlin internal conflict. The external conflict of Finding Nemo is…finding Nemo. The internal conflict is that Marlin is an overly control father who needs to trust his son. This whole sequence mirror the opening sequence so that the viewer can see that Marlin has resolved this conflict and he’s changed into a better father. This story ends exactly where it should, right after the conflict is resolved.
I found a lot of posts and articles about film endings that just didn’t make it into this post. If you interested comment and I’ll send some of them to you. The last thing I want to do is share with you this video. I think it makes some really salient points about ending a film.