Jim Bennett: It's OK when a story turns out OK in the end

Published: Thursday, Feb. 28 2013 3:35 p.m. MST

Tom Holland and Naomi Watts in "The Impossible."

Jose Haro

Enlarge photo»

As is my custom, I skipped the Academy Awards, so I didn’t get the chance to see “The Impossible” not win anything.

Certainly it was one of the best movies of the year, or, at the very least, one of the best movies of the year that I actually saw, which is admittedly a tiny subset of the films that are Oscar-eligible. I’m going to wander into some serious spoiler territory here, so if you haven’t seen “The Impossible” and you don’t want to have any clue as to how it turns out, I warn you to bail out now.

If you’re still here, know that I won’t serve up many details, but I am going to give away the ending, which is the biggest possible spoiler of all. All right, I’ve done my duty; you’ve received fair warning. So here I go:

“The Impossible” ends on a happy note.

The fictional Bennett family — no relation to my real Bennett family — ends up finding each other against all odds. Reunited, they all make it out alive, and the implication is that Naomi Watts’ character is going to fully recover. That’s a highly implausible outcome, hence the title “The Impossible,” but that’s exactly the way I hoped it would end.

As I grow older, I find that I take after my mother in that I have less and less patience with stories that don’t have happy endings. Mom goes to extremes, though. If she finds out in the middle of the movie that things end poorly, she’ll get up and walk out. When I was growing up, we would watch “West Side Story” on TV and she’d always turn it off before the rumble. For years, I didn’t know Tony died at the end. (Oops. I didn’t put in a spoiler warning for a 50-year-old movie. Plus, Darth Vader is Luke’s father. And Bruce Wayne and Batman? They’re the same guy!)

Mom even called me after I’d finished the final Harry Potter book and demanded to know whether or not Harry survives.

“You don’t really want to know that, do you?” I asked her.

“Yes, I do,” she said. “If he dies, I’m not reading it.”

I told her he “sort of” dies, which is true, but that wasn’t enough. If she was going to invest emotional energy into the book, she had to know Harry was going to be all right. So I spoiled the whole ending, which she very much appreciated. Now I’m not that discriminating — I’d have read the last Harry Potter even if he’d been eaten by thestrals — but I’m grateful when a storyteller doesn’t feel it necessary to dump fictional misery into an already sufficiently miserable world.

I didn’t used to feel this way. In fact, I once appreciated tragedies because they offered crucial insights into the human condition. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve had plenty of direct experience with actual tragedy, so I’ve lost my taste for most of the vicarious ones. I no longer need as many warnings about what terrible ends that await me if I make flawed choices. I prefer to consider the prospect of redemption for the choices I’ve already made. It’s also far easier to find access to the darkest parts of our collective experience than it is to extract a sufficient measure of hope amid the gloom. That’s why stories that encourage and edify are the ones that resonate with me.

Oh, and spoiler alert — if you haven’t read it, know that in the last Harry Potter book, Harry comes out OK, but both Ron and Hermione get eaten by thestrals. Just thought you might like to know.

Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.

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