Saturday, January 25, 2014

Epilogue Text in Movies

I don't have many pet-peeves in movies, but one that I do have is with epilogue text. That's when a movie ends by showing a series of paragraphs onscreen that explain what happened to each major character after the story's resolution. It's typically done in movies that are based on true stories, such as Goodfellas, Ed Wood, and Milk, but it can also crop up in purely fictional pieces like Legally Blonde and Animal House. Every time a movie does it, I just groan in disgust and slump back in my chair until it's over. But why?

The first reason is that epilogue text, to me, just feels like a cop-out. It's like the screenwriters gave up near the end of the script and settled on giving us CliffsNotes for the rest of the story. You can get away with epilogue summaries in literature, but film is a medium for showing, not telling. I think there are much better ways to integrate that wrap-up information with the action onscreen.

Take Goodfellas, for instance. I was really enjoying that movie's frantic build-up towards the end, but then it abruptly stomped on its breaks and threw a bunch of words up on screen that basically said, "Sorry, we didn't want to film what happened because it was way too boring." I understand that it's retelling actual events and that real life doesn't always provide thrilling climaxes, but did Scorsese really have to resort to that? Why not show a quick montage of the characters getting their closure while the protagonist narrates over it, and then show the ending with Ray Liotta getting his newspaper? Most of the movie is narrated anyway, and it uses other montages, so a wrap-up like that wouldn't be out of place.

Another example is The French Connection. That film doesn't end, it just stops. The characters are literally right in the middle of the climax when everything suddenly cuts to black and gives us a written summary of what happened afterwards. This is especially frustrating because even though it's modeled after a true story, the movie itself is a fictional account--which was followed by an entirely fictional sequel. In other words, The French Connection could have given its climax any resolution it wanted, but it opted not to give any at all. Oh, Popeye...

Another problem I have with epilogue text is that it tends to disarm what the characters went through in the story and ruin the initial ending. The movie Ed Wood concludes with the premier of Plan 9 from Outer Space, where Ed is proud of himself for overcoming the odds and finally making the movie he wanted without compromising his creative vision. This is very heartfelt and inspiring until the epilogue informs us that Ed was deemed the worst director of all time after Plan 9's failure and spent the rest of his life filming porn until he died of alcoholism in his 50's. Kind of deflates the whole movie, doesn't it?

I should also mention that at the time of Ed Wood's release in 1994, one of the characters, Bunny Breckinridge, was still alive in real life. The epilogue text acknowledges this, but then the real Breckinridge died two years later. When you watch the film now and read that text about his character, your first thought is, "Wow! That guy must be immortal!" Not only does that epilogue betray the film's resolution, it also makes the film out of date.

My third and final issue with text epilogues in movies is that I simply don't think they're necessary. The majority feel tacked on and beside the point, and the ones that do say something worthwhile, again, can be replaced by integrating that information more creatively. Throwing footnotes at the viewers is just such a clumsy tactic to me.

The crime comedy Big Trouble isn't a great film by most standards, but I applaud it for leaving out the character-by-character epilogue that Dave Barry wrote in the novel it was based on. It would have been so easy for the screenwriters to copy and paste that text straight from the book, but they refrained from doing so because it wasn't important to the story they'd shown on screen. I think a valuable lesson can be learned from this simple act of restraint, and I hope that future screenwriting moves far away from the trend of wrap-up paragraphs.

On that note, I'm going to make a sandwich for lunch.


Katelyn never made that sandwich. Thirty seconds after updating her blog, she was beaten unconscious with Loki action figures by fangirls who didn't care for her "Was Loki a Good Villain for The Avengers?" entry from the month before. She is currently recovering in a local hospital, unless you're reading this after January of 2014, in which case she's been released.

When informed of this incident, actor Tom Hiddleston stated that while he does not condone violence, he did find the story "strangely flattering." 

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