Hello, dear readers,
Endings: the bane of any writer’s existence. Not only do they have the pressure of tying up countless threads elegantly and satisfyingly, they can also make or break a story. This is why I find conclusions daunting to write. But when all the right notes are hit, and the final chord strikes home, it’s absolutely worth it.
I recently watched The Dark Knight Rises, the third movie in the Dark Knight trilogy, and the writing, acting, and score were excellent throughout. However, when I got to the ending, I was blown away by how well it was handled. Being the writing nerd that I am, I started analyzing what made it particularly good and found three, distinct elements.
In terms of the 3 Act Structure, I’m going to be looking at just what I consider to be the climax of act 3 through the denouement/wrap up. There will be spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk as I delve into the three elements that made this ending work so well.
(And yes, I do realize the pun I made in the opening line. You’re welcome for that. 😉 )
When I watched The Dark Knight Rises, I was so impressed with the emotional weight they managed to pack into the climax of act 3 when Batman “sacrifices” himself to save Gotham.
We later learn he survived, but in that moment, they wove in the themes of heroism, sacrifice, and facing down fear that are often sadly underscored in superhero films (which is strange, because the opportunity for those themes seems so obvious and plays to the strength of the genre. But no one asked me, so…). This action brought Bruce Wayne’s character arc to completion by showing how far he was willing to go to save innocent people.
A story sticks so much stronger if it’s not just exciting, but also meaningful. When there’s a point where emotional gravity hits you, the book or movie is far more likely to linger in your mind after it’s finished. Fulfilling a character’s arc in a deep, impactful way is a huge piece of a satisfying ending.
2. Fulfillment of Foreshadowing
Another aspect of a good conclusion is fulfilling previous foreshadowing. The Dark Knight Rises does this through Alfred seeing Bruce sitting with Selina at the outdoor cafe. This hearkens back to an earlier conversation between the two men that established what a happy would look like. When the viewer sees this brief interaction, no explanation is needed, since they know what the scene is referencing and how much it means.
Playing off of something from earlier in the story is the perfect way to convey the feeling of coming full circle. It organically caps the journey of the protagonist and audience alike, and I find it makes an ending so much more satisfying.
While this could refer to the fact that Batman didn’t die, I actually think it’s the introduction of Robin that truly weaves this in. After everything Batman goes through, culminating in his almost sacrifice, there’s no doubt that he deserves to hang up this cape and enjoy his life. It doesn’t feel like a cop out.
However, by adding Robin, we know Gotham will continue to have a protector, and the mantle of vigilante passes to the next generation. In this lies the promise of life going on with new people rising to heroism, even as Wayne’s story draws to a close.
This hope brings a poignancy to the ending along with an “aha!” moment. It ties up the story satisfactorily while still leaving it open enough to not seem phony.
There are plenty of other aspects that impact the quality of an ending, but these three– meaning, fulfillment of foreshadowing, and hope— are ones that I think The Dark Knight Rises does exceptionally well. Hopefully these give you some ideas of what to pay attention to as you write endings for your own books.
What stories do you think have exceptional endings? Let me know in the comments!