I am a sucker for a good story with a neatly wrapped and (preferably) happy ending. Truth be told, so are a lot of ya’ll. Poll a group of hard core Soprano watchers, and they will tell you they truly would like to have known a little more about what happened to good old Tony, and a smaller segment of the group hoped he turned state’s witness and helped the Feds put some of the bad guys away.
I am along for the ups and downs before the happy ending arrives for sure. When I watched (and then re-watched and re-watched and re-watched and then taught another generation to watch) The Notebook, I was fully aware that Noah and Allie’s romance was going to have some bumps. The classic story of young kids from different sides of town, a domineering patriarch with big ideas for his baby girl, and societal pressure had to have some curves.
But I was rooting for those kids, and down deep, I looked for that moment when they would reunite. Spoiler alert: This isn’t really a spoiler alert, because there are plenty of other twists and turns. If you haven’t seen it yet, I am available Sunday afternoons to guide you through all the nuances.
I have been rooting for happy endings since I was a kid. I loved it when Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, Augustus Gloop, and Mike Teavee all fell by the wayside as Charlie Bucket convinced Willy Wonka that the chocolate factory should be his. He just had to win, right?
Over our recent holiday break, I imposed a happy ending moratorium on our binge watching one afternoon after watching enough Marvel stuff to last me a full lifetime. We plowed through about three of the most sugary ending flicks ever created, and the cherry on top was a movie where at the very end it took us into the lives of the characters 10 years out to tell us where they are now. Perfection. Not a single loose end, and everybody prospered.
The critics may say, “Well, life isn’t that way! Plenty of people don’t get this pretty story and end up with their true love and live happily ever after or end up with 50 million dollars,” and I agree. Isn’t that the point? We get to vicariously see somebody else’s neatly wrapped package, even if ours was a ratty old gift bag with re-used tissue paper.
I am sure our love for the good finish has something to with an endorphin or serotonin or melatonin or some other ‘onin’ rush that is a proven scientific phenomenon. Take for example Reese Witherspoon’s character Melanie from Sweet Home Alabama.
When she finally sees her soon to be ex-husband Jake’s beautiful glass sculptures, our heart beats faster, our cheeks get flushed, and our eyes leak a little, because we know she is headed away from her fancy New York fiancé and right back into Jake’s arms. It’s a feel good rush.
This is not to say we never root for the underdog or wonder what happened to the guy or gal left behind. I mean, I do feel a little bit sorry for Cal Naughton in Talladega Nights, when he realizes Carly is just after his fame and money. But he and Ricky end up re-united as best buddies, so even then, we get our bow. And if you haven’t seen this movie, I am guessing we can’t be friends.
This happy ending thing works for all kinds stories, right? Sports nut? I offer you Hoosiers, The Longest Yard, Rudy, and Miracle as examples. Comedy? Office Christmas Party and Napoleon Dynamite. Adventure lover? How about Raiders of the Lost Ark?
This desire for the happy ending results in us pouting on social media when a movie or television character we have become attached to gets dissed, lobbying directors for sequels or even prequels to explain away what we don’t know or like, and creating memes with better outcomes.
I am already anticipating what will happen at the series’ conclusion of This Is Us if each of the beloved Pearson family doesn’t get just the perfect denouement. Critics will debate if Kevin should have sought out and reunited with Sophie, if Toby ever really loved Kate for who she was, and if Randall could have become President. I will likely be right there with them.
I have a theory about my personal desire for a happy ending. The last couple of years of not being able to control a pandemic and feuds over everything from politics to cancel culture have created a need for comfort and predictability. What better place to find it than a movie or television?
If you’ll excuse me, I am off to watch To Sir With Love, where Sidney Poitier’s Mr. Thackeray will tear up the lucrative engineering contract to stay with his unruly students, and I will smile with satisfaction at this totally expected ending.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.