I agree with those who state the ending is leaving space for the viewer. I think this is a characteristic of great art; some room for the consumer of the art.That made me think of the ending to "The Graduate." After what seems to be the ending, when Benjamin sweeps Elaine out of her own wedding, things drag out. They catch a bus, all giddy, and take the big seat in the back. We stay with them a long time, long enough to lose the thrill of the escape and start to doubt whether they're going to be very happy, long enough to set us up for a big conversation after we get out of the theater about whether it's going to be much good at all.
Remember the end of Lost in Translation when Bill Murray's character says something to Johanson at the end and the audience never finds out what it is?
So let's have some more examples. And let's try to define some distinctions. Some movies end inconclusively to leave room for a sequel. (This type of movie can have a real, solid tie-up-all-the-loose-threads ending, followed by a coda that introduces new material for the sequel, as is done quite amusingly in "Back to the Future.") And some movies just have botched endings. An inconclusive ending is risky because many viewers will decide that it is just a bad ending -- they didn't know how to end it or they didn't know how to make the ending clear.
These days, they test commercial movies and redo the ending if people aren't satisfied enough. I think one of the reasons movies have gotten worse in the last 8 years is that endings are being tweaked to satisfy lazy, emotionally needy audiences. But I still think the inconclusive ending is a classic narrative strategy. The classic classic example is the story "The Lady or the Tiger."
The question of her decision is one not to be lightly considered, and it is not for me to presume to set myself up as the one person able to answer it. And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door - the lady, or the tiger?After thinking of that, I checked out the Wikipedia entry for the story, and -- things get updated so quickly these days -- found this:
In "The Sopranos" series finale ... [spoilers deleted] ...
A classic "The Lady, or the Tiger?" ending.