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View Full Version : Open to interpretation vs. Incoherent mess


7Keys
07-11-07, 10:52 PM
I had a discussion with someone about movie endings that are "open to interpretation". I think a lot of movies that are "open to interpretation" are just poorly executed endings by the director/writer.

So, what do you think? Any movies you would argue the end is open to interpretation? Or others that are just poorly executed?

Hopefully my thread does not fall into the open to interpretation or incoherent mess category.

wilky61
07-11-07, 10:58 PM
Easy Rider: the first example that comes to my mind for an "open to interpretation" ending, mostly revolving around one enigmatic line that Peter Fonda says near the end:
"We blew it."

Do you think the ending of Mulholland Dr. is a jumbled mess? Because I find that one very well crafted by Lynch.

Brent L
07-11-07, 11:05 PM
My personal favorite film of all time has an ending that can be viewed as "open to interpretation" - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Some people don't see it that way, but to me:

It's up for the viewer to decide if the get together for good, or if they're doomed to repeat the entire process over and over again.

Two more like this, and two more of my favorite films, is Lost In Translation and Memento.

I can't think of any like this that I'd say is an "incoherent mess" off the top of my head, but I know that there's a ton of em.

PopcornTreeCt
07-11-07, 11:07 PM
One recent example I can think of is Children of Men. That was certainly not an incoherent mess. I don't believe there are many movies that are an incoherent mess, aside from Donnie Darko of course.

sundog
07-11-07, 11:49 PM
I didn't find anything incoherent in Donnie Darko, and I was one of the few people who saw it with no preconceptions, in its initial theatrical run. It was building toward that ending and earned the right to present it as so.

Same thing with David Lynch's Inland Empire. If the work is done well enough and the filmmakers are able to draw you in, no matter how paper thin the narrative, how defiantly ambiguous, how ultimately disjointed, or how expressive, the ending can fit within the themes, the style, the rhythm, of what precedes it.

One of my favorite films, by Olivier Assayas, essentially collapses upon itself at the end. Irma Vep ends with a montage that can be placed within the narrative, but also can represent the director's own expression, or can be viewed as excessive, but in all cases, it ends with a bang. And is quite fitting... again, because of what came before.

The worst, incoherent endings come from bad, incoherent films. Not just 'art' films but from the mainstream as well. I find Michael Bay films a mess, and definitely NOT open to interpretation (because everything is so overstated). And all, all of the endings I've seen of his piss me off with their transparent grandstanding. So much in fact, that I find his excess fascinating, even when I know exactly what is coming.

Superboy
07-12-07, 12:07 AM
I think any David Lynch movie could be considered an incoherent mess.

RichC2
07-12-07, 12:25 AM
Lynch films make sense on a few levels, so those fit in open to interpretation (Mulholland Drive was especially well crafted in a more obvious way). Another movie that was somewhat open to interpretation, imho, was Oldboy.

When I think incoherant messes, I think things like the Stepford Wives remake where they constantly switch between microchips and full on robots. Darko didn't strike me as particularly incoherant.

Numanoid
07-12-07, 12:39 AM
I have found that most people that label films, particularly "art" films, as "incoherent messes" tend to be unimaginative folks, with zero background in art appreciation. These are the people that insist that movies are simply "entertainment", and cannot fathom actually having to exercise some independent thought in a mere movie.

I wish that everyone who loves movies would take one or two college level film courses. There is so much more going on in so many films that flies right over the head of Joe Six Pack, just because they don't have the tools to recognize the language.

PopcornTreeCt
07-12-07, 12:40 AM
IMO, Donnie Darko is an incoherent mess because of the way time travel is portrayed in the film. I watched the film and enjoyed but then when I started thinking about it I almost had a migraine. It's terribly incoherent.

DthRdrX
07-12-07, 12:45 AM
I have found that most people that label films, particularly "art" films, as "incoherent messes" tend to be unimaginative folks, with zero background in art appreciation. These are the people that insist that movies are simply "entertainment", and cannot fathom actually having to exercise some independent thought in a mere movie.

I wish that everyone who loves movies would take one or two college level film courses. There is so much more going on in so many films that flies right over the head of Joe Six Pack, just because they don't have the tools to recognize the language.

I agree. I took a Hitchcock film class with a prof that has written a few awesome books on everything embedded in his films. Definitely something I would recommend.

hardercore
07-12-07, 01:51 AM
Donnie Darko, Sunshine = incoherant messes.

Mullholland Dr., The Fountain = open to interpretation.

Michael Corvin
07-12-07, 07:03 AM
American Psycho is probably a good example. It's always debated whether he actually did the killings or was just fucked in the head.

Supermallet
07-12-07, 07:39 AM
American Psycho is remarkably well crafted. So much so that many people don't even realize there's a debate about whether the killings happened, but once they learn of it, they go back and can see the movie in a whole new way. The film is also vague in that the director purposefully shoots it very blandly so as not to suggest implicit support or disgust over the actions taking place.

I find it funny that people list Mulholland Drive as a movie that's open to interpretation. That movie is telling a very specific story in an unconventional way, but there's a clear throughline in all of it. I think a better movie to list as open to interpretation is The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which features some amazing imagery that is meant to illicit a reaction from the viewer without always pointing the audience in a specific direction.

However, that's not to say that Lynch is a filmmaker devoid of interpretation. Works like Eraserhead and Lost Highway are very open-ended. Heck, even Twin Peaks has some wiggle room. But Mulholland Drive is actually very streamlined for a Lynch movie.

Another great filmmaker who leaves things for the audience to decipher is David Cronenberg. Films like Videodrome and Naked Lunch have a very Burroughs-ian atmosphere (Naked Lunch of course being an adaptation of a Burroughs book) where the concepts of good and evil practically don't exist, leaving the characters in a world without many of the signs we use to orient ourselves. And films like Crash and A History of Violence internalize these struggles with characters who try and fit into the normal world but cannot or will not fully succeed.

As for films that are incoherent messes, I would actually nominate Inland Empire as a great example. The film says nothing new and wanders literally aimlessly. I was sorely disappointed with it.

grim_tales
07-12-07, 08:27 AM
Pan's Labyrinth = Open to interpretation (IMO).

I think all the fantasy stuff was just a coping mechanism by Ofelia, although the director claims otherwise

I thought it was an excellent film :)

PixyJunket
07-12-07, 09:19 AM
I'd like to think of Donnie Dark as more of incoherent diarrhea.. and the type you don't quite make it to the bathroom to release.

nateman
07-12-07, 09:20 AM
American Psycho was a brilliant movie in my opinion & not only was the movie written in a way where you could look at it in different ways everytime you watch the film but Christian Bale put on a stellar performance as a man who looks completely normal from the outside but total lost & insane inside his mind.
Their are so many hints in the movie that lean towards that he didn't do it and it was all just some crazy disturbing but brilliant thought in his mind. Truly on of the all-time greatest "Cult Classic". It's an underated "Cult".

Shannon Nutt
07-12-07, 09:25 AM
I think any David Lynch movie could be considered an incoherent mess.

Exception: The Straight Story


Movies with Endings Open To Interpretation:

Mystic River
Total Recall
Henry Fool (well at least until the sub-par Fay Grim came out this year)

DVD Josh
07-12-07, 10:13 AM
Exception: The Straight Story


Movies with Endings Open To Interpretation:

Mystic River
Total Recall
Henry Fool (well at least until the sub-par Fay Grim came out this year)

In Total Recall, in the director's commentary, I believe he says that it is a dream

sundog
07-12-07, 12:14 PM
In Total Recall, in the director's commentary, I believe he says that it is a dream

This irks me. Not your post, but the notion of outside influence upon the audience's opinion.

While Verhoven and other filmmakers certainly have their specific goals in mind when crafting a movie, the viewer should be able to let the work speak for itself. What's on the screen is on the screen and the audience's reaction to that, is valid.

Now, the viewer may come to conclusions mutually exclusive to the director's intent, and may learn so after the fact, giving subsequent viewings a different hue. But that doesn't mean that initial reaction is rendered null.

Of course, opinions change over time, as has mine regarding Total Recall (without any prodding by Verhoven). I haven't ditched that first impression, just built upon it.

islandclaws
07-12-07, 12:14 PM
I think David Lynch always provides great endings that are ambiguous and open to interpretation. I've yet to see Inland Empire, though.

The Thing is a good example of a perfect "open to interpret" ending. After all is said and done you still don't know who is who.

RichC2
07-12-07, 12:49 PM
I find it funny that people list Mulholland Drive as a movie that's open to interpretation. That movie is telling a very specific story in an unconventional way, but there's a clear throughline in all of it. I think a better movie to list as open to interpretation is The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which features some amazing imagery that is meant to illicit a reaction from the viewer without always pointing the audience in a specific direction.
.

I think Mulholland Drive leaves itself open to some interpretation, less about events more of when they happened. I just recently saw The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and I tend to agree with your comment..

Oh and, damn good movie.

Shannon Nutt
07-12-07, 01:02 PM
Re: Verhoven's Commentary on Total Recall

Verhoven may be the director, but he's NOT the writer...so it's just his interpretation of the story. Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Bannon would better be able to stake claim to what the ending really meant. Or even Philip K. Dick, if someone wants to go dig him up. ;)

Dash
07-12-07, 01:06 PM
I think Memento is open to interpretation. I need to watch this again, but I have always had the feeling the he might in fact be Sammy Jenkins

inri222
07-12-07, 01:08 PM
I wonder what would have happened if..........................

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_Recall

Dino De Laurentiis was originally listed as the producer, and between 1983 and in 1984 David Cronenberg was attached to direct with studios in Rome and locations in North Africa. According to Cronenberg every major director had looked at the project but fell out with Shusett who wanted a pure action adventure, described as "Raiders of the Lost Ark on Mars." Cronenberg quit the production after writing 12 screenplay drafts that were all rejected by De Laurentiis. When the adaptation of Dune flopped at the box office, De Laurentiis similarly lost enthusiasm for the project.

tylergfoster
07-12-07, 01:14 PM
I find it funny that people list Mulholland Drive as a movie that's open to interpretation. That movie is telling a very specific story in an unconventional way, but there's a clear throughline in all of it. Mulholland Drive is actually very streamlined for a Lynch movie.Maybe you're just amused that they think Mulholland Dr. is crazy when it's his most mainstream work, but in terms of being "open to interpretation" there is also this site: http://www.mulholland-drive.net/studies/theories.htm

Some of them are definitely hokey and require more of a backwards, inverted stretch than should really be necessary in figuring out a film, but some of the others make points that work without too much effort.

kurupt
07-12-07, 04:13 PM
In the commentary to The Usual Suspects, if I recall correctly, Bryan Singer and Chris McQuarrie have differing opinions on the myth vs. reality of Keyser Söze. So the creative team didn't even come to a consensus.

Numanoid
07-12-07, 05:12 PM
While Verhoven and other filmmakers certainly have their specific goals in mind when crafting a movie, the viewer should be able to let the work speak for itself. What's on the screen is on the screen and the audience's reaction to that, is valid. You should have been around for the Soprano's finale thread. Man, those people wanted blood because they had to interpret the ending rather than being slapped in the face with a solid conclusion (some of them are in this very thread arguing the opposite way, strangely).

Numanoid
07-12-07, 05:14 PM
As a great teacher of mine once said, a true artist never gives you THEIR interpretation of their work...it's left up to you to decide.

sundog
07-12-07, 05:27 PM
You should have been around for the Soprano's finale thread. Man, those people wanted blood because they had to interpret the ending rather than being slapped in the face with a solid conclusion (some of them are in this very thread arguing the opposite way, strangely).

That thread provided amusement for a good week.

grim_tales
07-12-07, 05:39 PM
Re: Total Recall -

Howser's memory was erased to make "Doug Quaid". IMO the screen turning white at the end suggests it is all a dream (from the point when Arnie goes to Rekall).

Groucho
07-12-07, 05:44 PM
Maybe you're just amused that they think Mulholland Dr. is crazy when it's his most mainstream workMulholland Drive more mainstream than The Straight Story? Come on!

Apone
07-12-07, 06:00 PM
As a great teacher of mine once said, a true artist never gives you THEIR interpretation of their work...it's left up to you to decide.

Obi-Wan Kenobi?

I would classify these movies (w/ an ending) that have certain tendencies to fall among supporters for being an incoherent mess:

Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris and Stalker
Apocalypse Now
Breathless (Godard's)
Neon Genesis Evangelion (the later half of the series) and the "movie"
Persona
The Wind Will Carry Us

Others that I think are more accepted as "open to interpretation" because the director is considered to be 'sound,' fan base or whatever.

Blade Runner: Director's Cut
Rashomon
2001: Space Odyssey
Un Chien Andalou (I don't know if this movie can even qualify)

PopcornTreeCt
07-12-07, 06:05 PM
Obi-Wan Kenobi?

I would classify these movies (w/ an ending) that have certain tendencies to fall among supporters for being an incoherent mess:

Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris and Stalker
Apocalypse Now
Breathless (Godard's)
Neon Genesis Evangelion (the later half of the series) and the "movie"
Persona
The Wind Will Carry Us


I don't think anyone would accuse Andrei Tarkovsky, Francis Ford Coppola, Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman, and Abbas Kiarostami of making incoherent movies.

Apone
07-12-07, 06:12 PM
I don't think anyone would accuse Andrei Tarkovsky, Francis Ford Coppola, Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman, and Abbas Kiarostami of making incoherent movies.

I hope not but the endings of listed movies certainly can be qualified as an "incoherent" to some (esp. those who aren't familiar with the directors). Like at the end of Breathless Jean Seberg's character imitating the Bogart/character Michel's lip-rubbing. Is she suppose to be a femme fatal? Does she feel sorry for Michel or liberated? And something like that.

Supermallet
07-12-07, 06:37 PM
I don't think anyone would accuse Andrei Tarkovsky, Francis Ford Coppola, Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman, and Abbas Kiarostami of making incoherent movies.

Well, it IS DVD Talk. :)

sundog
07-12-07, 08:27 PM
Mulholland Drive more mainstream than The Straight Story? Come on!

Naomi Watts + Laura Herring + psychosexuallesbianmelodrama = mucho marketable mainstream

7Keys
07-12-07, 09:49 PM
I think any David Lynch movie could be considered an incoherent mess.

David Lynch is actually the reason I started the thread, but I didn't want to mention anyone in particular in the first post so I could hear what others thought first.


Edit: Read what others wrote...not hear what they thought. My super human powers have their limits.

7Keys
07-12-07, 09:59 PM
A comments on a few of the movies already mentioned:

Donnie Darko - I really like the movie, so I lean towards "open to interpretation". It's not a perfect movie, but I can make enough sense of it. I guess if I like a movie it's open to interpretation, if I don't its an incoherent mess. Funny how that works.

American Psycho - I think the ending is pretty clear to me, but I can understand how people can have different ideas on the end. I read the book many years ago and thought the book ending was more clear.

David Lynch = incoherent messes. I doubt he even knows what's going on.

Memento - clear ending (and a great one at that).

Numanoid
07-13-07, 01:36 AM
I'm a huge Lynch fan, and I can't think of any of his films that I'd consider an incoherent mess. In fact, they're all quite understandable, and this is the key, ONCE YOU PUT SOME THOUGHT INTO IT. But that's the problem, isn't it? Most people want escapism from movies, not art. They want to "turn their brain off and enjoy it". Fine for some, but I can't turn my brain off (comedies excluded, for obvious reasons). I want something to make me think and spark my imagination and cause me to analyze the mise-en-scene in detail. Maybe I'll have to watch it over and over to truly appreciate it, but that's fine. If I can figure a movie out completely on the first showing, odds are I'll find it rather dull, at least since I hit age 18 or so.

Perhaps that's why all my favorite directors are all auteurs.

Numanoid
07-13-07, 01:37 AM
I don't think anyone would accuse Andrei Tarkovsky, Francis Ford Coppola, Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman, and Abbas Kiarostami of making incoherent movies.I take it that you've never actually met a member of the general public. ;)

jessecrx
07-13-07, 01:39 AM
Wow, what a juicy topic!

First movie that comes to mind is Eyes Wide Shut

I remember reading a post about a year ago about the possibilities and it blew my mind.

tylergfoster
07-13-07, 03:10 AM
I've been thinking about this since I saw the thread this morning and I think anything, no matter how good or bad, can be considered open to interpretation as long as you can figure out three solid theories that can be figured out solely based on what happens during the movie. If you need any sort of outside information, I would consider that a cheat and not really an interpretation of what you saw and more of a theory on what the filmmakers were thinking.

Supermallet
07-13-07, 03:25 AM
The only incoherent mess David Lynch ever made is Inland Empire. Everything else he's done has been generally pretty brilliant, especially Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, and Mulholland Drive.

Eyes Wide Shut is a good catch. There's a lot going on in that movie.

fmian
07-13-07, 04:02 AM
Pulp Fiction re: What's actually in the suitcase?

Reservoir Dogs re: Whether Mr Pink lives or dies at the end.

It's good that Tarantino himself has said there is no answer to those questions and that he prefers to leave it up to the fans to decide.

7Keys
07-13-07, 10:05 AM
It's good that Tarantino himself has said there is no answer to those questions and that he prefers to leave it up to the fans to decide.

I guess its that kind of thinking that started this thread. Does he really want to leave it up to the fans, or can he just not "complete" the movie?

Tarantino's movies have always been hit or miss with me on whether or not I like them.

Shannon Nutt
07-13-07, 12:43 PM
As a great teacher of mine once said, a true artist never gives you THEIR interpretation of their work...it's left up to you to decide.

Which may be why directors like Lynch and Spielberg NEVER do commentary tracks for DVDs.

Robertwoj
07-13-07, 12:52 PM
Next - totally open to interpretation.

Since they never finished the story, I tend to favor inept writing. Give some closure.

GoldenJCJ
07-13-07, 01:29 PM
Reservoir Dogs re: Whether Mr Pink lives or dies at the end.
I always assumed Pink got away until I read a post here that mentioned he was shot by the cops after he left. After watcing it again you can clearly hear cops screaming and then more gunfire. So I'm not so sure he got away. Although I like to think it's a Hollywood inside joke to allow Steve Buscemi to escape at the end of every one of his films...
Good call on this and Pulp Fiction BTW.



I think 7keys is right, if it's a film you like it's "open to interpretation". If it's a film you don't like, it's "an incoherent mess"

I like listening to other people's theories on movies: Wallace's soul in Pulp Fiction sounds far fetched to me, but the Dream in Mulholland Dr. makes perfect sense to me.



I'd consider Donnie Darko an incoherent mess.

I'd consider Limbo open to interpretation.

wendersfan
07-13-07, 01:45 PM
I take it that you've never actually met a member of the general public. ;)
If the general public doesn't like Tarkovsky, Godard, and Kiarostami, then I have no desire to meet them!

sundog
07-13-07, 02:41 PM
If the general public doesn't like Tarkovsky, Godard, and Kiarostami, then I have no desire to meet them!

Darn. I love Tarkovsky and Kiarostami... but I've grown tired of Godard. (I'll take my French leftist film essays from Chris Marker thank you very much!)

rennervision
07-13-07, 03:59 PM
Wow, what a juicy topic!

First movie that comes to mind is Eyes Wide Shut

I remember reading a post about a year ago about the possibilities and it blew my mind.

That was my post! :)

Yeah, Eyes Wide Shut is one of my all-time favorite Kubrick films since it lends itself so well to multiple viewings.

Funny how some people mention Memento and American Psycho. Personally, I think the ending is so obvious there is actually nothing open to interpretation.

What I don't like is when directors try the "incoherent mess" angle to end a film, in a cheap attempt to spark discussion about it and get people to talk about how brilliant it was. I'm sorry, but I feel there is a fine line between open to interpretation vs. incoherent mess, and an incoherent mess is not brilliant.

I also think there are situations where people see things in movies that they want to see, but it isn't actually there, nor was it ever intended by the director. I have a cozy interpretation of Mulholland Drive that allows me to sleep at night, but I doubt if even David Lynch can truly explain aspects of this movie.

wilky61
07-18-07, 04:35 AM
OK, I just watched Barton Fink and I really don't know what the hell to think of that other than I didn't really like it. The more theories and interpretations I read about the movie (and there are MANY) the more I think it's just deliberately an incoherent mess... Anybody care to weigh in on what they think about this movie?

Supermallet
07-18-07, 05:58 AM
Yes, I will weigh in.

It's an awesome movie.

"I will show you the eye of the mind!"

wendersfan
07-18-07, 06:40 AM
<b>Barton Fink</b> is a masterpiece.

starman9000
07-18-07, 07:29 AM
I always assumed Pink got away until I read a post here that mentioned he was shot by the cops after he left. After watcing it again you can clearly hear cops screaming and then more gunfire. So I'm not so sure he got away. Although I like to think it's a Hollywood inside joke to allow Steve Buscemi to escape at the end of every one of his films...



So that wasn't him in the woodchipper then? Or being spread over the bosom of the Pacific Ocean, which he loved so well?