Tuesday, 1 October 2013

...And it was all just a dream. Or Purgatory.

Today, when a story reveals it was all in the character’s head or they were dead all along, it could be accused of being unoriginal and lazy. However, a few writers still manage to do it well, but these are the exceptions. In my opinion the trope is becoming very tired, but some writers seem to disagree. If the writer is still at school and already used ‘then a helicopter came and saved them’ too often then it’s excusable. But don’t forget the obligatory ‘and my mum was calling me to come down and eat breakfast’ ending. If the writer isn’t a child they might want to consider how often the trope has been used before, and maybe not go with the first idea they have.

To paraphrase Dr Seuss, some are good, some are bad, some are very, very sad.

Obviously this is all spoilers so don’t read it.

This post comes after several Facebook discussions about series finales, cop outs, poorly thought-out narratives and bad finales. Curious to know how overused this trope has become, I did some research. The following list includes early uses (e.g. The Wizard of Oz), clever uses that inform the audience about a deeper narrative (e.g. The Matrix), surprise endings that pull the film together (e.g. Fight Club), deliberately vague endings you may love or hate (e.g. Inception), possible interpretations (e.g. Pan’s Labyrinth), and cop out endings that stick two fingers up at the audience and laugh at them for investing time in a story that never actually happened (e.g. …well, you decide which ones fit that description).

To limit the spoil and cut down the word count I offer no details here and I mostly avoid saying which is dream and which is the afterlife. You may disagree with some and I’m sure you will have some to add to the list. Feel free to do so in the comments.

Disclaimer: I haven’t seen or read all of the below titles so in some cases I’m relying on other people’s interpretations.

I make it 65 films, 13 TV series and 19 books. Some of these are wide open to interpretation, but you can be sure there are many more I’ve missed.

Below this point it’s nothing but spoilers.

You have been warned.


1. The Wizard of Oz

2. Return to Oz

3. American Psycho

4. Secret Window

5. The Number 23

6. Boxing Helena

7. Swimming Pool

8. Source Code

9. Total Recall (sort of)

10. Pan’s Labyrinth (maybe)

11. The Descent (kind of)

12. Atonement

13. Vanilla Sky

14. Time Bandits (implied throughout, then inverted)

15. Brazil (ending only)

16. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (blurring the boundaries)

17. Give My Regards to Broadstreet

18. Phantasm (maybe)

19. MirrorMask

20. Mulholland Drive

21. The Matrix

22. Click (maybe)

23. Inception (maybe)

24. The Slayer

25. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

26. Shutter Island

27. Waking Life

28. Dead Man’s Shoes

29. The I Inside

30. Dead End

31. Reeker

32. Jacob’s Ladder

33. Pale Rider (unfinished business rather than purgatory)

34. Dead End

35. Menace II Society

36. The Life Before Her Eyes

37. Hellraiser Inferno

38. Hellraiser Hellseeker

39. Point Blank

40. An Occurrence at Owl Creek

41. Fight Club

42. Sixth Sense

43. The Others

44. A Beautiful Mind

45. Being There (implied – “Life is a state of mind”.)

46. Sucker Punch

47. Contact (or is it?)

48. Dreamscape (deliberately confused by the train conductor)

49. The Science of Sleep

50. Stay

51. The Thirteenth Floor

52. Living In Oblivion (repeatedly)

53. The Forbidden Kingdom (then averted by vagueness)

54. The Shining (read Roger Ebert’s discussion)

55. Invaders From Mars

56. The Woman in the Window

57. The Wizard of Gore

58. The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (or was it?)

59. I Married An Angel

60. Nightmare City/City of the Walking Dead

61. Shadow

62. Repo Men (partial)

63. Robot Monster

64. The Pirate Movie

65. The Smurfs 2 (I know, right!?)


1. Dallas (honourable mention)

2. Life on Mars

3. The Prisoner (maybe, but who knows?)

4. St Elsewhere

5. Newhart

6. The Brittas Empire

7. Season 23 of Doctor Who

8. Battlestar Galactica (it’s complicated)

9. Lost

10. Quantum Leap

11. Ashes to Ashes

12. Promoted to Glory

13. Running Late (one-off Peter Bowles TV drama)


1. Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle

2. Alice in Wonderland

3. Through the Looking Glass

4. Mars Is Heaven

5. The Dark Tower (might as well be)

6. Sophie’s World (in a way)

7. The Futurological Congress

8. The Queen and I

9. The Roads We Take

10. Son of Rosemary

11. The Chimes

12. The Man Who Was Thursday

13. Just A Dream (obviously)

14. The Great Divorce

15. The Pilgrim’s Progress

16. The Hated

17. 1990 Degrees F

18. An Elegy for the Still Living (possibly)

19. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

No comments:

Post a Comment