Happy, Unsatisfying Endings Versus Sad, Inevitable Ones

Here's some musing about Audrey Hepburn classics and why kitschy endings aren't always what we want to see.

SAN FRANCISCO - The other day, I got into thinking about how much stock we put into happy endings when, upon catching sight of Tiffany & Co. from where I was seated at Union Square in San Francisco, I remembered the Audrey Hepburn film Breakfast at Tiffany's. The movie, which was based on a novella by Truman Capote, was of course set in New York. The Tiffany & Co. it featured was the jewelry company's flagship store in the Big Apple.

I'm a big Audrey Hepburn fan, and while Truman Capote might have been very vocal about his disapproval over Audrey's casting as the lead character, I adored her in the movie. True, her take on Holly Golightly wasn't quite how Capote penned it--his version of Holly was flighty, relentless, someone who fluidly seeps in and disappears through the cracks in one's defenses, whereas Holly as Audrey portrayed her had a bit more whimsy and a whole lot of heart. I think the important thing is, the two different versions each yielded well- and fully-developed characters.

Which I can't say for the plot line--not for the movie's, at least. I don't blame Capote for being upset because his story underwent so many changes to better appeal to Hollywood demands and mainstream sensibilities. Holly and Paul (the unnamed narrator in the novella) predictably ended up together, because that's what the audience wants to see. It totally goes against Holly's character, and the events progressing from the turning point eventually leading to the lovers' embrace at the end was a sloppy, hasty, kitschy affair. The only thing I'm happy with in this ending is the reunion with Cat.
This is why despite my habit of watching Breakfast at Tiffany's every time I get the "mean reds," it is only my third favorite Audrey film. What tops the list for me is Roman Holiday--which has the most resoundingly inevitable and satisfying ending of all the movies I know, even if it's also one of the saddest I've seen.

To make a long story short (read: what follows is a haphazardly patched spoiler), Audrey's character Princess Ann sneaks out to spend a holiday in Rome, meets reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), does not tell him who she is, falls in love with him, then leaves him to resume her royal duties. From Joe's perspective, he actually figures out who she is soon enough, does not tell her who (or what) he is, plays along to get an exclusive for his publication, falls in love with her, then attends her pre-departure press conference to let her know his true identity.

The very last minutes of the film is a cinematographic dream. Joe watches Princess Ann make her long walk out of his life, but it was shot in such a way that the audience is convinced she'll turn around and run back into his arms. But she walks and walks, well-paced, poised, and committed. Then, acknowledging her decision, Joe turns around and walks away, too.

It's heartbreakingly brilliant. What really makes it work is that even though you're wishing for them to end up together, deep down you know that can't be. It goes for reality as well. We all encounter this scenario in life, and not just in the romantic context. And sometimes, we choose the forced happy ending even when it's apparent that the best decision is to walk away.

I think it's because the bigger picture isn't always easy to make out, not like in Princess Ann's case--a royal responsibility isn't something you can ignore. But in walking away, there's always three things to consider: what you're turning your back on, what you're leaving it for, and why it's necessary to do so. Always, the reason has to be inevitable. I don't mean this in the sense that you're walking away because you feel you have no other choice. Rather, it has to be so that you can look back upon the decision one day, and be able to say sincerely that you have no regrets.

A kitschy ending might bring you some satisfaction, but one thing I've learned over the years (both from experiencing it firsthand and watching it happen) is that it is only momentary. A truly satisfying conclusion, meanwhile, might bring with it a temporary moment of grief, but when the resolution comes, the sadness will be worth it.

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