September 24, 2008

Compromised Endings

Watching One Way Passage (1932) the other night has caught me at an impressionable stage, just as my love for the romantic has really blossomed with discovering Borzage; classical comedy and romance (and romantic comedy) are structured to end happily and to resolve all the conflicts that have driven the narrative to the final point, but many such endings are too painfully contrived and disobey the logic of the narrative to obey the logic of comedy. Must this be so?

Classical comedy must end with triumph or else the tragic will out-play the comic. Most comedies end with miraculous solutions, everything coming together in harmonic support of the leading players (in romance, everything comes together for the couple). But do such miraculous events need to happen for triumph?

Two of my recent loves have made me question this: Lonesome (1928) and Little Man, What Now? (1934). Both end in miracles for the couples that ensure a happily-ever-after, but both seem to recognize that such an end is necessary only to their cinematic universe. In Lonesome the end is almost a deserved respite after such great anxiety; in Little Man, What Now? the ending is a gift to everyday saints who have accepted fatalism. I couldn't help but feel relief at both these endings, but in my mind I knew they were unnecessary. Why should one fear letting the tragic consume the romantic? Or: Why can't a tragic ending be triumphant?

It was Marie, legende hongroise (1932) and One Way Passage that really told me the miracle need not be so. Of course Marie is tragic throughout, but it plays lightly (which makes it all the more wonderful in my eyes) and the ending subverts the tragic into something triumphant, while One Way Passage can end only in tragedy, but again subverts the tragic and preserves the romantic tone of the rest of the film. The triumph is this: the human spirit. The world does not conform to your dreams--it continues to beat you and hurt you and keep you mortal--but your dreams still survive and it is the very survival of those dreams that makes life so beautiful. This is the romantic-comic ending that wins out. This is why I love comedy so dearly.

In this absurd and impossible universe, we are still driven by a uniquely human will. Comedy is the preservation of this will, the recognition of its nobility (or ignobility) in the face of absurdity.

Hmm... I still have much to think about before further formulating my classical romantic-comedy outlook.

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